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

August 25, 2017

Oak, meet timber

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

August 25, 2017

Cast: Sidharth Malhotra, Jacqueline Fernandez, Sunil Shetty, Darshan Kumar, Hussain Dalal, Amit Mistry

Directors: Raj Nidimoru & Krishna DK

In the vast cinematic wasteland where Half Girlfriend and Raabta gather fungus and hopefully wither away from our memories, there is need to make space for another stinker. That film is A Gentleman: Sundar, Susheel, Risky, although a more appropriate title might have been: A Mistake: Pointless, Overlong, Silly.

It’s particularly disheartening that this tumor dressed up to look like a film was directed by Raj Nidimoru & Krishna DK, the duo whose anarchist humor and flair for the inventive yielded such promising titles as 99, Shor in the City, and Go Goa Gone. Their last film, the Saif Ali Khan starrer Happy Ending was the cinematic equivalent of a toothache. With this one they’ve dialed up the pain to the point where watching the movie feels a lot like getting a tooth extraction but without the anesthesia. Not my idea of fun.

The plot – if you can call it that – is centered on Sidharth Malhotra, who plays both sundar/susheel and risky. He is Gaurav, a Miami-based worker drone who’s just bought his own house, traded his Mustang for a family car, and now yearns to be hitched to his pretty colleague Kavya (Jacqueline Fernandez). He’s also playing Rishi, an ass-kicking, flirting-with-danger undercover agent who wants to get as far as he can from his shady boss (Sunil Shetty).

It’s a harebrained set-up and over the next 132 minutes, the makers manage to offend everyone from gays, to African-Americans, to fat people, and just about anyone with a modicum of taste and common sense. The action shifts between Miami, Bangkok, Goa and Mumbai, and you realize that the chunk of the budget that ought to have gone towards developing a solid script has been squandered on swanky locations and trimmings.

Good, charismatic actors have been known to elevate shoddy material on the strength of their charm alone. No such luck in this film, which boasts the finest quality of timber this side of the Equator. Sidharth Malhotra makes an earnest bid for credibility, throwing himself into the action scenes, but coming up short when required to underplay. In the case of Jacqueline Fernandez, her acting and her expressions are so exaggerated, it’s like watching a character in an animation film. As for Sunil Shetty, who’s returning to the screen after eons…well, let’s just say, not much has changed.

It’s the supporting cast that packs a few surprises. My favorite character in the film was Gaurav’s colleague and best friend Dikshit, whose name is routinely mangled by the Americans. Played by the terrific Hussain Dalal, Dixit gets some of the best lines in the film. Also worthy of mention is Amit Mistry who inspires many laughs as Jignesh, a Gujarati don in Miami.

But these are small mercies in a misguided film that long overstays its welcome and offers little by way of relief. The action scenes are consistently slick, but they go on and on till you’ve forgotten the point of who’s chasing whom and why. There are only flashes of Raj and DK’s off-kilter humor that powered some of their earlier films. By the time the film finally ended, I was bored and slumped over in my seat.

I’m going with one-and-a-half out five for A Gentleman: Sundar, Susheel, Risky. You have to wonder how films like this continue to get made.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

Bullets over badlands

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

August 25, 2017

Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Bidita Bag, Jatin Goswami, Divya Dutta, Murli Sharma, Shraddha Das, Bhagwan Tiwari

Director: Kushan Nandy

It’s a pity Bollywood doesn’t seem to know what to do with Nawazuddin Siddiqui anymore. He’s a terrific actor, ever willing to take bold risks, but lately he’s been made to do the same thing over and over again. Just how many variations of the smart-talking, trigger-happy criminal does he have to play before he starts to sleepwalk through such roles?

In Babumoshai Bandookbaaz, directed by Kushan Nandy, Nawazuddin plays a famed contract killer in the badlands of Uttar Pradesh. A cocky fella who goes by the name Babu Bihari, and frequently carries out the dirty work of local politicians and vengeful businessmen.

Both the film’s characters and the landscape evoke the memory of the far superior Gangs of Wasseypur, but the plot here is threadbare. Frankly the film is all treatment, and as it turns out, the treatment is all Tarantino.

Nandy and writer Ghalib Asad Bhopali conjure up a heady cocktail of violence, sex, and dark humor, and populate the film with a gallery of rogues. These are men and women with no moral compass, no lasting loyalties, and very little by way of redeeming features. Divya Dutta is particularly menacing as a shrewd politician, and Jatin Goswami shines as a younger hitman who idolizes our hero. In one of the film’s best scenes, the two gangsters, fresh off a killing, complain about inflation and compare salaries like normal middle-class folk. Another recurring joke involves a policeman routinely taking his wife’s calls in the middle of tense shootouts, making a mental note of the chores she has heaped upon him.

Typically, these men love as passionately as they kill, and the narrative is propelled as much by their tumultuous relationships with their women. Bidita Bag plays the feisty cobbler Babu takes up with, and she’s a good find, confidently holding her own in Nawaz’s presence.

This film is like that pulpy bestseller that’s hard to put down even though it’s predictable and offers nothing by way of insight or profound discovery. It’s a guilty pleasure at best, provocative and titillating. But it’s also overlong and derivative, and gives one of our finest actors little room to do much more than repeat himself.

My problem with this kind of film is the desensitizing effect it tends to have on us with regards to crime and killings. So many shootouts, such scant regard for consequence. I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five for Babumoshai Bandookbaaz.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

Leads by the nose

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

August 25, 2017

Cast: Khushmeet Gill, Sushmita Mukherjee, Surekha Sikri, Amole Gupte

Director: Amole Gupte

Many Mumbaikars would look upon the prospect of going through life without a sense of smell as a blessing, but it’s a condition that makes little Sunny Gill sad.

Sunny (Khushmeet Gill) is the eight-year-old protagonist of Sniff, an otherwise happy-go-lucky Sikh boy who is heartbroken that he has never been able to appreciate the myriad smells of spices in his family’s famed pickles, or that he can’t tell when he’s accidentally stepped in dog-poo and stunk up the classroom. Then a botched chemistry experiment ends up giving him super-strong smelling powers; he can literally catch a whiff of things from a mile away.

Stanley Ka Dabba director Amole Gupte has a way with kids, and gives us some charming scenes between his pint-sized hero and his friends. Children, in Gupte’s films, have distinct personalities and defining characteristics, unlike most Hindi films where they fall into one of two broad categories: precocious or cutesy. The kids in “Sniff” are bright, enterprising and yet innocent, and refreshingly neither Gupte nor the adult characters in the film patronize them.

Sunny uses his heightened sense of smell as a superpower of sorts, happily helping out neighbors with day-to-day domestic challenges. When a car in their suburban colony goes missing, he rounds up two of his friends and decides to investigate the incident.

It’s a slim idea, and unfortunately the script never feels adequately developed. The film also suffers from an identity crisis in that it seems confused about who it is intended for. Much of the humor, particularly the physical jokes, will appeal to a younger audience, but there’s a cheating husband, an abusive wife, dangerous criminals, and a scene of child torture that might have benefitted from some rethinking. There’s also a needless Ganesh aarti song that appears to have been inserted with the sole purpose of cashing in on the current festive spirit. These may be minor complaints, but they’re the reason this only 90-minute film still feels a tad stretched.

Sniff isn’t a terrible film by any accounts. Khushmeet Gill aka Sunny makes for a determined little detective and he’s good in the part. But there’s just not enough by way of a compelling plot to allow our young Sherlock to shine. I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

August 18, 2017

Sweet nothings

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 6:30 pm

August 18, 2017

Cast: Ayushmann Khurrana, Kriti Sanon, Rajkummar Rao, Pankaj Tripathi, Seema Pahwa, Rohit Choudhury, Swati Semwal

Director: Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari

Bareilly Ki Barfi is what you’d get if you took Saajan and gave it the Basu Chatterjee or Sai Paranjpye treatment. It’s a sweet, inoffensive romantic comedy based on a slim premise, but buoyed by strong performances, the unmistakable charm and texture of small-town India, and garnished with moments of crackling humor.

Director Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari transports the viewer to the bustling by-lanes of Bareilly where we meet our protagonist Bitti Mishra (Kriti Sanon), a free-spirited young girl who could well be a distant cousin of Kangana Ranaut’s character Tanu from the first Tanu Weds Manu film. Bitti is the complete antithesis of the small-town girl as depicted in most Hindi movies. She sneaks off and smokes cigarettes, rides pillion with the boys in the neighborhood, and routinely puts off prospective grooms by refusing to play the coy virginal cliché.

One of the small joys of this film is the relationship between Bitti and her father, a sweetshop owner (Pankaj Tripathi), who has raised her with all the freedom he’d give to a son. Unlike her permanently exasperated mother (Seema Pahwa) who is having a hard time reconciling with her rebellious spirit, Daddy Dearest lets her fly. A voice-over by Javed Akhtar describes the family as a zany, eccentric bunch but the irony is that in their very oddities and contradictions they’re your average Indian family.

The plot kicks into motion when Bitti chances upon a pulpy novel and discovers that the feisty heroine is a lot like her. Thrilled that there’s someone out there who understands and appreciates her kind, Bitti becomes obsessed with tracking down the author, a fella named Pritam Vidrohi. For this she enlists the help of printing press owner Chirag Dubey (Ayushmann Khurrana), who, in fact, is the real author of the book.

You see, Chirag banged out the novel while struggling with heartbreak and bullied his friend Pritam (Rajkummar Rao) into putting his name and photograph on it. Now clearly smitten by Bitti, Chirag forcibly coaches the mild-mannered Pritam into behaving like an arrogant oaf in order to repel Bitti and clear the path to her heart for himself.

The film’s script, by Nitesh Tiwari and Shreyas Jain, bubbles with situational humor and terrific one-liners. The writers evoke a strong sense of place, rooting the story and the characters in a landscape that’s both rich and real. For a film so specific in texture, the casting of the supporting players is crucial, and Pankaj Tripathi and Seema Pahwa shine as Bitti’s parents, while Rohit Choudhary is very good too as Chirag’s devoted best friend Munna. Yet the plot itself is thin and frankly predictable; hence much of the film feels stretched, particularly in the first hour. Too much screen-time is committed to establishing Chirag’s growing feelings for Bitti. We get it.

Bareilly Ki Barfi really takes flight with the arrival of Pritam, whose transformation into a boorish lout gives the film some of its best moments. Rajkummar Rao is in superb form, and pretty much chews up the scenery each time he’s on the screen. His performance is in all in the little touches: the accent, the body language, slipping from the soft-spoken Pritam to the obnoxious ‘rangbaaz’. He’s got it all down to the last detail.

Ayushmann Khurrana holds up well too, although it’s a familiar role for him, having played both shades of Chirag – cunning North Indian ‘fixer’ and doomed romantic – a few times already.

At the center of this love triangle is Bitti, and it’s easily Kriti Sanon’s most fleshed-out character yet. She’s sincere and throws herself into the part, but the rawness shows. The accent and the lines don’t roll off her tongue quite as naturally, and Kriti never feels entirely convincing as the small-town-bred firecracker.

There is a lot to enjoy here but the script contrivances rankle. This is a movie that works on account of the trimmings: the acting, the clap-trap dialogues, and the authentic texture of the world that it’s set in. If only there was more meat to the main dish. Nevertheless, Bareilly Ki Barfi is appropriately sweet and not a bad way at all to spend two hours. I’m going with three out of five.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)


Hello again, dolly!

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 6:29 pm

August 18, 2017

Cast: Anthony LaPaglia, Miranda Otto, Stephanie Sigman, Samara Lee, Lulu Wilson

Director: David F Sandberg

Remember that hideous doll from The Conjuring? The one that wreaked havoc in perfectly decent homes by stealing the souls of people? Well, after landing a starring role in its own spin-off movie, 2014’s Annabelle, we now get a prequel in Annabelle: Creation which tells the origin story of that grotesque toy, how it became such a formidable force of evil.

Somewhere in rural America in the 1940s, a doll-maker, the creator of that bug-eyed specimen, loses his young daughter in a road accident. Twelve years later, he and his bedridden wife open their home to six girls from a Catholic orphanage and their accompanying nun. While exploring their new home, one of the girls enters a locked room and stumbles upon – you guessed it – that ratty Victorian doll.

Now it’s not a half bad premise and there are some good jump scares. But there isn’t a smidgen of novelty or inventiveness in this movie; it trades in the same old clichés and lazy ideas. So before you know it, lights begins to flicker, a record player mysteriously starts playing a tune on its own, and shadowy figures jump out of the dark. To be fair, Lights Out director David F Sandberg has an assured visual style that builds up an atmosphere of dread. But there is neither an interesting story nor particularly compelling characters.

That’s a shame because the acting isn’t bad. Veterans Anthony LaPaglia and Miranda Otto bring a palpable sense of melancholy and impending doom to their roles as the couple that owns the creepy gothic home, and the girls playing the orphans pitch in with competent performances. It’s just that they’re put through the motions in the sort of film that you’ve seen so many times before.

I know that it’s part of the very conceit of horror films, but I’m getting a little tired of having to care for characters that do the stupidest things in the face of danger. Why would you go into an isolated barn? Why would you leave a group and head off on your own? Why would you leave a disabled girl to sleep alone in a room when it’s clear that things aren’t alright in the house?

If you can overlook these nigglings, perhaps you’ll enjoy all the times this movie jolts you out of your seat. I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five for Annabelle: Creation. It’s not bad, it’s just same old, same old.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

August 4, 2017

Dead Ringer

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

August 04, 2017

Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Anushka Sharma, Chandan Roy Sanyal, Evelyn Sharma

Director: Imtiaz Ali

My biggest takeaway from Shah Rukh Khan’s new film Jab Harry Met Sejal is that at 51, after 25 years of cementing his image as this generation’s most popular romantic star, he’s finally transformed into the sort of sexy, dangerous ‘bad boy’ who might actually sleep with the girl. It’s true!

His Harvinder Singh Nehra aka Harry is a far cry from the PG-13 version of the irresistible charmer that he’s played so many times. The one that’s caused women to dump their fiancés at the altar or walk out on their parents, but, ironically, never posed the slightest threat to their modesty. This time, oozing sex appeal and brandishing machismo evocative of Amitabh Bachchan and Vinod Khanna in the seventies, he’s the guy your father warned you against.

Which is why it’s such a shame that he’s trapped in a film that pussyfoots its way around intimacy.

Harry is a tour guide in Europe who reluctantly helps a desperate but determined young woman named Sejal (Anushka Sharma) to retrace their steps in order to locate the engagement ring she lost during her holiday.

It’s a tricky affair. Harry, a bruised, cynical man who finds comfort in meaningless one-night stands doesn’t want Sejal to be another notch on his bedpost. She, of the funny Gujarati accent, is insulted that he doesn’t think she’s “layak” enough to be one of his conquests.

The pair rambles on about love, attraction, sex and marriage as they traverse a gorgeous landscape that includes Amsterdam, Prague, Budapest and Frankfurt in pursuit of the ring. But the ring is merely a metaphor. If you’ve watched any Imtiaz Ali film, you know that what Harry and Sejal are searching for is each other, and of course, their own true selves.

Now the truth is this shtick has gotten old. After successfully exploiting themes of self-discovery in Jab We Met and Rockstar, it became clear watching Tamasha that Imtiaz may be running out of ideas. There are just so many times you can romanticize self-healing and coming-of-age before it all starts to feel contrived. In the case of this film, frankly Harry and Sejal come off as characters in search of a plot.

The film starts out light and breezy. The first half coasts along on the strength of the actors’ charm and their chemistry, even the verbal sparring between them delivers many laughs. But post-intermission it slips into a quagmire of pointlessness and repetition before it becomes a complete slog. There are way too many songs that stretch the already flimsy narrative, and diversions like the run-in with a Bangladeshi goon (Chandan Roy Sanyal) are excruciating.

Imtiaz, who has been frequently – and as it turns out, prematurely – described as the Yash Chopra of this generation, falters on account of an undercooked script. There is just not enough meat on the bones to keep you invested in the protagonists’ journey, or in their relationship, which feels clumsy and muddled but not in an interesting, honest way.

It’s a pity, because Shah Rukh Khan breathes life into a character that could so easily have been a turn-off. His performance is one of the film’s few strengths. Despite the baffling, contradictory nature of Sejal, Anushka Sharma works hard to imbue her with genuine feeling. The two actors deserved a better film, and so did we. I’m going with two out of five.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

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