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

September 29, 2017

Twin troubles

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 8:33 pm

September 29, 2017

Cast: Varun Dhawan, Jacqueline Fernandez, Tapsee Pannu, Rajpal Yadav, Vivaan Bhatena, Upasana Singh, Anupam Kher, Sachin Khedekar, Manoj Pahwa

Director: David Dhawan

Judwaa 2 starring Varun Dhawan is a remake of the Salman Khan hit Judwaa from 1997, which itself was a remake of the Telugu film Hello Brother starring Nagarjuna from 1994, which incidentally, was inspired by the Jackie Chan film Twin Dragons from 1992. So it’s a story that’s been in circulation for nearly 25 years, and I’m afraid it hasn’t aged very well.

There was an innocence and naivete that Salman Khan and director David Dhawan brought to the admittedly pedestrian plot involving a pair of lookalike twins separated at birth. But the same ideas feel jaded now. David, who has directed the new film too, does a mostly copy-paste job without making allowances for changing times and tastes.

Varun plays Prem, the mild-mannered, straitlaced one raised in London, and also Raja, the tapori from a fishing colony in Mumbai, whose fists fly as fast as his tongue. Varun’s got terrific timing, but his crotch-adjusting Raja, frankly a pervert if he can’t walk away from the sight of a woman’s butt without slapping it, belongs in the 90s and should’ve stayed there.

There are other things too that are decidedly out of place in 2017. The sexist portrayal of the film’s female characters for one. Jacqueline Fernandez and Tapsee Pannu show up strictly to giggle, shake a leg when required, and to be forcibly kissed by the hero. Tapsee still does the best she can with the part, but there’s just so little to work with. Equally troubling is Upasana Singh’s character, the sort of mother that’s basically pimping her daughter to the rich, eligible bachelor. She’s routinely referred to as ‘buddhi’, ‘khatara gaadi’ and other such ageist names.

Everything about Judwaa 2 – from the treatment to the one-liners – has a distinctly outdated feel to it. But it’s also true that some of the gags work. Much of that is because of the heavy lifting left to Varun Dhawan, who knows how to make a joke land. His cocky lafanga character Raja – squeezed into very tight tees, and satin shirts when he isn’t stripped down to his boxers showing off his abs – is unmistakably evocative of Salman in the earlier film.

There’s no question that if there had to be a remake of Judwaa, it had to have Varun Dhawan. The more important question is – did there really have to be a remake of Judwaa in the first place?

I’m going with two out of five. I laughed a few times.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

Flying high

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 8:32 pm

September 29, 2017

Cast: Tom Cruise, Sarah Wright, Domhnall Gleeson, Jayma Mays, Jesse Plemons, Caleb Landry Jones

Director: Doug Liman

It’s been a while since Tom Cruise made a really good movie, but the dry spell may have ended with his latest, the entertaining romp that is American Made.

Reteaming with his Edge of Tomorrow director Doug Liman for this wildly implausible, but as it turns out, based-on-true-events comedic drama, Cruise reminds us just what he can do when he’s working with solid material. He plays Barry Seal, a bored commercial airline pilot who’s recruited by a smarmy CIA agent (Domhnall Gleeson) to “serve his country” by helping the department gather vital intelligence. All he’s got to do is fly over Latin American hotspots and take photos of resistance movements.

These surveillance missions are only the start of an adventure that sees him getting involved in arms-transporting, drug-trafficking, and money-laundering businesses that make him very rich very soon. Before you know it, he’s stacking away bags of cash, pampering the wife silly, and – believe it or not – getting away with all of it.

Fact is indeed stranger than fiction, and Liman keeps the tone decidedly light even as he’s showing us the extent of Barry’s misdoings and all the parties involved – from the White House to the Colombian jungles. A scene in which he crashes his plane into a residential street to escape Border Patrol who’re on his tail is flat-out hilarious, and also very telling of just how far he was willing to go. Amidst the laughs, we slowly learn the significance of Barry’s work in the larger political context.

It’s a smartly made film that moves briskly, and Cruise, at the center of it, brings his mega-watt charm. He’s terrific as a cocksure fella involved in all manner of offences while cheerily fulfilling his domestic responsibilities to his wife and kids.

American Made is consistently rollicking, although at the heart of it, you can’t miss the deep cynicism, the mistrust of the authorities involved. It’s what grounds the film, gives it relevance, beneath all of Barry’s crazy shenanigans. I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five. Just very good fun!

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

September 23, 2017

Rumble in the jungle

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 1:11 pm

September 22, 2017

Cast: Rajkummar Rao, Pankaj Tripathi, Raghubir Yadav, Anjali Patil, Mukesh Prajapati

Director: Amit V Masurkar

Above all things, Newton, directed by Amit Masurkar, is about the clash between idealism and reality.

It’s a sharp black comedy about a young man named Nutan Kumar aka Newton, an upright election officer played by Rajkummar Rao, who’s packed off to the jungles of Chhattisgarh to conduct polls for the 76 eligible voters in that troubled region. Because he’s idealistic to a fault, he immediately locks horns with Pankaj Tripathi’s character Aatma Singh, a cynical military officer assigned to protect the booth against the insurgents who’re likely to disrupt the voting process.

Masurkar, who has co-written the film with Mayank Tewari, mines humor from the most unlikely places. But it’s also a remarkably perceptive film that casts an honest, unflinching eye on the farce of the electoral process, imploring us to consider the notion of democracy that we take such pride in. It is moving too, especially the portions that reveal the extent to which tribals and poor rural folk are unscrupulously manipulated.

This is a film that raises burning questions but never pretends to have all the answers. It presents multiple points of view through its many characters, including Raghubir Yadav as Newton’s skeptic colleague Loknath, and Anjali Patil as practical-minded schoolteacher Malko. Both actors are terrific in their roles, never missing a beat, inhabiting their characters completely.

The heavy lifting, however, is left to Rajkummar Rao and Pankaj Tripathi, and expectedly they’re in rock solid form. Tripathi, who has been on a roll this year with substantial parts in Ankarkali of AarahGurgaon and Bareilly Ki Barfi injects a dry, humorless quality to the world-weary Aatma Singh, who has little concern for protocol or procedure, and just wants to get everyone out of there alive, indifferent to Newton’s desperate need to conduct a free and fair election. Rao, meanwhile, offering another winning performance in another ‘everyman’ role, gets under the skin of Newton, bringing little details, little touches to round off the part. It’s hard to separate the actor from the character, and not many of our artistes can claim to possess that gift.

Newton is relevant and timely without being boring or inaccessible. You could say it lays on its message too thick in the end, or that the pace occasionally slips. But these are minor nigglings that never dent the impact of its thrust. I’m going with four out of five. It’s easily one of, if not the best Hindi film you’ll see this year. Make sure you make the time for it.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

September 22, 2017

Fifty shades darker

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 8:33 pm

September 22, 2017

Cast: Shraddha Kapoor, Siddhant Kapoor, Ankur Bhatia

Director: Apoorva Lakhia

It’s bad enough that Shraddha Kapoor looks nothing like the real Haseena Parkar whom she plays in Apoorva Lakhia’s film, the makers have gone and padded her cheeks, filled out her frame, and, crucially, slathered her face with dusky make up. That might’ve still been okay, if they’d just stuck to one shade. It’s a muddy brown for the most part, she’s unmistakably grey in some places, and I could swear I spotted a yellow-orange tinge occasionally. Haseena Parkar, you say? More like ‘Haseena Darker’, if you think about it.

But frankly that’s the least of this film’s problems. Lakhia’s biopic of the ‘Godmother of Nagpada’, the younger sister of underworld don Dawood Ibrahim, is a shallow, lazy affair. Haseena’s transformation from the meek, uneducated daughter of an honest police constable to the powerful, intimidating figure believed to have run Dawood’s illegal operations in India is half-baked and strictly surface level. The script feels like a Wikipedia entry of sorts, a checklist of key events and incidents that supposedly shaped her life.

To be fair, it’s hard to pinpoint the weakest link here: the writing which is full of clichés, the performances that are uniformly disappointing, or Lakhia’s treatment of the subject, typically overblown but hollow. Wait, I’ll tell you what truly cripples the film – it’s the fact that you never get a real sense of who Haseena was, even after watching her life on screen for a little over two hours.

Shraddha is both miscast and woefully out of depth in the role of the protagonist, who is portrayed as a victim of circumstances. The actress, doing her best Brando-in-The Godfather impression, inspires laughs instead of dread, although in her defense she’s working with such weak material.

In the role of her brother Dawood the makers cast the actress’ real-life brother Siddhant Kapoor, but it’s an unconvincing portrayal and one that doesn’t bring us any closer to understanding the psyche of this dreaded gangster. An earnest Ankur Bhatia fares better as Haseena’s husband Ibrahim Parkar, who runs a small restaurant in the neighborhood and moonlights as a junior artiste in Hindi films. A scene on a movie set, intended to illustrate Haseena’s naivete, is so poorly written and performed, it hints at the collective cluelessness of everyone involved.

Nevertheless, the piece de resistance is the character of the public prosecutor, played by Priyanka Setia who makes a meal of what is at best a secondary part. Sniggering, baiting, provoking Haseena while trying to link her to Dawood’s nefarious businesses, she takes a battering-ram approach to making her point in court. It’s one of the few unintentional joys in an otherwise soulless film.

From the gang-wars and the fear of the underworld that gripped Mumbai for over two decades, to the communal riots, and the serial blasts of ’93, the landscape that Lakhia recreates to frame his story against has a distinctly second-hand feel to it. This is the bargain basement version of those better underworld films by Ramgopal Varma, Anurag Kashyap, and yes, even Sanjay Gupta. It’s a movie that lacks flair, inventiveness, atmospherics, and just about everything required to deliver a compelling cinematic experience.

The most dramatic portion in Haseena Parkar is its opening scene – her arrival in court, amidst much drama. But that’s done with in the first seven or eight minutes. It’s all downhill from there.

I’m going with one out of five.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)


September 15, 2017

(Wo)man of Steal

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 8:30 pm

September 15, 2017

Cast: Kangana Ranaut, Sohum Shah, Mark Justice, Hiten Kumar, Kishori Shahane

Director: Hansal Mehta

Hansal Mehta’s cleverly titled new film Simran, starring Kangana Ranaut, has that rarest of things that’s practically gone missing from the movies lately – a compelling story at its core. Inspired by true events, the film is a fascinating account of an NRI woman who comes undone by her addiction to gambling. It’s an interesting premise, and the film delivers despite glaring contrivances.

Praful Patel is thirty, divorced, and lives in Atlanta with her parents, although it’s clear they don’t agree on anything. The scenes at home are some of the film’s best and most authentic; a Gujarati family routinely at each other’s throats. Praful works in housekeeping at an upscale hotel, scrubbing toilets and dusting surfaces while trying desperately to cobble together the funds she needs to buy her own place so she can get out of their hair.

Kangana sinks her teeth into the part, and makes a meal of it. Praful is a flawed, complex woman, and Kangana plays her as alternately childlike and selfish, all the while walking a tightrope to ensure that the character never comes off as entirely unlikeable…even when she’s robbing banks to pay off a Vegas loan shark for a gambling debt.

The apparent ease with which she holds up banks – by slipping a piece of paper on which a bomb threat has been scribbled with lipstick – is intended as a comment on post-9/11 paranoia and racial prejudices, but these scenes look way too convenient, depicting both bank staff and the cops as complete idiots. Mehta explores some dark themes but adopts a bittersweet approach in doing so. Through the character of Praful’s father, a desperate, impatient man constantly complaining about money or his stubborn daughter, the film holds a mirror to what is often the harsh reality of immigrants and the hollowness of the American Dream.

But it’s also true that the film has very little interest in anything other than celebrating its leading lady. Frankly Simran is the Kangana Ranaut show, and boy, what a show she puts on. The first hour coasts along nicely, giving the actress every opportunity to flex her comic chops. She befriends a bartender, flirts with a handsome fella, and mimics being shocked at the price of a dress. It’s breezy stuff, and deliberately evocative of her goofy character Rani from Queen.

Except that Praful is no Rani. And this is not a breezy, lighthearted ride. Sandeep Kaur, aka the Bombshell Bandit, from whose true story this film is inspired, was arrested after a long car chase and sentenced to imprisonment for 66 months. The makers of Simran make the bold decision to ‘sunny up’ this decidedly dark tale, employing broad humor to blunt the edges. The result is hit and miss.

Another problem with Simran, and a problem with focusing so heavily on a single character, is that the rest of the parts often end up being underdeveloped. None of the supporting players – except perhaps Sohum Shah as Praful’s determined suitor Sameer – get the scope to register their presence.

There’s ample meat in the story, yet the writing itself is weak. The film’s second half feels particularly sloppy, and don’t even get me started on the caricaturish villains. But it’s a testament to Kangana’s full-blooded performance that Simran works despite these complaints. She’s in excellent form, an artiste at the top of her game, as she gives us another indelible character in the perplexing Praful Patel.

Come to think of it, the movie’s no slog. Mehta keeps the pace going, and delivers some terrific moments that’ll make you smile. I’m going with three out of five for Simran.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)


Jailhouse crock!

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 8:29 pm

September 15, 2017

Cast: Farhan Akhtar, Deepak Dobriyal, Rajesh Sharma, Gippy Grewal, Inaamulhaq, Ronit Roy, Diana Penty, Ravi Kishan

Director: Ranjit Tiwari

In Lucknow Central, a bunch of desperate prison inmates turn to music in the hope of securing their freedom. Surface-level similarities to Qaidi Band notwithstanding, this is a premise with some potential, and first-time director Ranjit Tiwari delivers an inoffensive film with some moving scenes. But the inert script never powers the film with enough fuel to fly.

Farhan Akhtar plays Kishan, an aspiring singer in Muradabad, who is falsely accused of murder and thrown into jail. All his dreams of becoming a musical sensation are likely quashed forever…that is until he meets and befriends four fellow inmates who form a band to distract their despotic jailor while they secretly hatch an escape plan.

To begin with, the makers of this film spend more than an hour on set up. Introductions, back-stories, new rivalries in prison…frankly it’s exhausting. The band is finally set up just moments before intermission, so there’s a long way to go until we find out if they’re able to pull off their audacious plan.

Surprisingly one of the film’s big weaknesses is its leading man Farhan Akhtar, who appears so invested in playing ‘hero’ that he forgets to play the character. Both his toned physique and his physique-accentuating costumes look out of place in this movie. Casting Ronit Roy as the nostril-flaring jailor who inspires dread in his inmates has got to be the laziest decision, and Diana Penty is just blah in the role of an NGO worker convinced that forming a band and performing at an inter-jail concert will help reform these hardened criminals.

It’s all by-the-numbers storytelling, particularly the big escape plan and the way it unfolds. There is literally no surprise, no unpredictability in how things go down.

That’s a shame because there are some good actors on screen here, starting with Ravi Kishan as the shrewd chief minister who came up with idea of the concert to make himself look good. There’s also Deepak Dobriyal and Rajesh Sharma who bring the only genuine pathos you’ll find in this film.

A better title for Lucknow Central might have been Boredom Central. At nearly 2 hours and 30 minutes, it’s far too long and far too dull to inspire any other response. I’m going with a generous two out of five.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

September 8, 2017

Gangsta rap

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 7:00 pm

September 08, 2017

Cast: Arjun Rampal, Nishikant Kamat, Aishwarya Rajesh, Anand Ingale, Rajesh Shringarpure

Director: Ashim Ahluwalia

A scene in director Ashim Ahluwalia’s Daddy nicely captures the very dichotomy that makes the film’s protagonist, famed Mumbai gangster Arun Gawli such a fascinating figure. Interrupted by his crying baby daughter while discussing business with an associate, Gawli (played by Arjun Rampal) comforts the infant, picking up a rattle in one hand, while never putting down the gun he’s holding in the other.

It’s a small throwaway moment, but it serves as an analogy for the big picture. Gawli, currently serving life imprisonment, has some 120 odd cases of murder, extortion, and the like against him. Curiously, in the mid 90s he formed his own political party and in 2004 he was elected as an MLA from the Chinchpokli constituency, having positioned and reinvented himself as a modern-day Robin Hood of sorts, committed to the cause of the Marathi manoos. And hence the moniker Daddy.

Ahluwalia’s film, made with the blessings of the Gawli family, shines a spotlight on many of the characters that played key roles in the gangster’s life, including his partners in the BRA gang Babu Reshim and Rama Naik, former ally-turned-arch rival Dawood (referred to as Maqsood in the film), an obsessed cop determined to bring him to task, and the wife who stood firmly by his side.

Beginning in the 70s and culminating in Gawli’s conviction in 2012, the film benefits greatly from the filmmaker’s keen eye for period and atmospheric detail. Ahluwalia conjures up an authentic Bombay of the past – the chawls, the docks, seedy bars and brothels that instantly look and feel real. That meticulous recreation is evocative of his own last film Miss Lovely, a dark drama set against the underbelly of the city’s B-movie industry.

Problem is that Daddy sacrifices plot and pace at the altar of craft and visual aesthetic. The back and forth narrative is distracting, and the film unfolds slower than a snail race. The first half is particularly testing and feels much longer than it actually is.

What’s also disappointing is that the film fully sympathizes with the Dagdi Chawl don. Although the narrative is pieced together from the memories and testimonies of others, this is a version skewed unmistakably in Gawli’s favor. So while he may have been a mafia boss with blood on his hands, we’re told he was ‘forced’ into a life of crime, that he fought to get out of it but was sucked back in, that he tried to stride back into respectability but was never given a chance. This is Arun Gawli, more victim-of-circumstance, family man and do-gooder, less ruthless don.

Nevertheless, Ahluwalia stages some impressive scenes, particularly a visceral elevator shootout, and one in which a chillum is cleverly smuggled into Gawli’s jail cell. Rampal, who has produced the film and is credited as one if its writers, looks eerily like the man he plays, particularly in his later years, sporting his trademark Gandhian topi, gold watch, and white kurta pyjama. It’s a shrewd performance, relying almost entirely on body language over histrionics, and the actor doesn’t disappoint.

Less effective is a surprise cameo in the role of Maqsood. It’s a case of bad casting; a weak performance reduces the part to caricature. Thankfully Ahluwalia assembles a fine ensemble to fill out supporting roles, and they add to the authentic texture of the film.

In the end, there’s a lot to appreciate in Daddy, yet sadly it’s not enough. The craft is admirable and the big denouement is thought provoking, but pacing issues cripple the film to the extent that you’re exhausted by the time the lights come back on.

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

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

The kids aren’t alright

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 6:59 pm

September 08, 2017

Cast: Bill Skarsgard, Jaeden Lieberher, Finn Wolfhard, Sophia Lillis, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff, Owen Teague, Chosen Jacobs

Director: Andy Muschietti

A big reason that so many horror movies today feel underwhelming may have little to do with the films at all. We’re too distracted as an audience – mostly on account of our cellphones, and from the light emanating from others’ phones – to allow the movie to transport us to a different world. All films tend to suffer from such distractions, but perhaps no other genre relies so heavily on complete immersion.

Wisely, the makers of It, a spanking new cinematic stab at Stephen King’s dense but solid horror tome, fashion the movie as a coming-of-age adventure with creepy underpinnings. Set in the 80s, it’s about a group of seven kids who witness and experience a terrifying demonic presence as they set out to solve the mystery behind the disappearance of multiple children in their small town.

Like Rob Reiner’s classic Stand By Me, also based on a Stephen King bestseller, the new film tackles big themes like the loss of innocence and the enduring friendships of youth. But this is a balls-out scary movie that doesn’t skimp on the gore or the thrills. Led by a kid named Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) whose brother went missing the previous year, this group of nerdish teenagers find themselves confronting a wretched clown named Pennywise who feeds on children’s fears.

Director Andy Muschietti stages some intense set pieces, including one involving Beverly (Sophia Lillis), the only girl in the group, and an incident in her bathroom. It’s genuinely disturbing stuff: both the imagery, and the performances which bring out the kids’ emotions. Another scene in which the group projects slides in a garage is also deliciously terrifying.

The film works because you care for the kids. Their performances are authentic as are the scenes in which they just hang out and trash talk, or face off against the school bullies. It’s impossible not to root for them when they find themselves faced with graver dangers.

I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for It. This is a smart, visceral horror movie with charming characters and a sense of time and place that anchors the story. I was so involved, I barely looked at my phone.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

September 1, 2017

Fool’s gold

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 8:50 pm

September 01, 2017

Cast: Ajay Devgan, Emraan Hashmi, Ileana D’Cruz, Esha Gupta, Sanjay Mishra, Vidyut Jamwal, Priyanshu Chatterjee

Director: Milan Luthria

An armored truck transporting ridiculous quantities of gold must be captured by a quartet of amateurs hiding out in the desert in Baadshaho.

Not a bad idea on paper. It’s been a while since Bollywood did a good heist film. But Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai and The Dirty Picture director Milan Luthria, working from a pathetic script that appears to have been written on the go, delivers an overlong clunker that’s neither thrilling nor fresh.

Unfolding in the mid 70s during the Emergency, the film’s plot is set into motion when a character deliberately modeled after Sanjay Gandhi (yes, I kid you not!) decides to go after a Maharani’s wealth when she rebuffs his advances. It’s hard to tell why the film takes this potshot at the late Congress leader other than the fact that in the current political climate, one can. As for why the 70s setting in the first place…well, perhaps because someone remembered that Milan Luthria made two hit films set in the past. Honestly it’s as random as that.

But I’m digressing. The film’s a slog because it takes more than an hour to get to the heist. And because every central character gets an introduction and an entry, when you’d much rather they just got to the action.

Ajay Devgan, Emran Hashmi, Esha Gupta, and Sanjay Mishra make up the team that plots to run the truck off its course as a favour to Rajasthani royal Ileana D’cruz whose gold is being confiscated. Vidyut Jamwal is the army officer protecting the vehicle. There’s a jailbreak, there are shootouts, there are betrayals, and there are twists you can spot from a distance.

But the film left me scratching my head pondering questions to which I could find no answers. For one, the disruptors decide to melt all the precious gold that’s been packed away in multiple boxes in order to transport them more conveniently. So what do they melt these precious coins and treasure into? Gold pellets, which, as it turns out, also require to be packed away and transported in multiple containers. So what was the point in melting the gold in the first place?

The howlers don’t end here. In one scene, the Maharani aka Ileana, insulted by a farmer for being out of touch with the people’s problems, grabs a plough and starts to dig right there in her heels and her chiffon, to show that she cares. I promise, I’m not making this stuff up. But the film’s most unintentionally hilarious scene is Vidyut Jamwal’s entry, who for no good reason whatsoever, appears on screen, sitting naked in a train compartment. Somebody tell me, why does he have no clothes on in a train?

I’m afraid it’s hard to review Baadshaho with any seriousness because it’s a laughable effort. The action is strictly serviceable, and the actors are in autopilot mode. Emraan Hashmi’s playing the lothario lout again, and Ajay Devgan simmers and stares intensely as he tends to do. The women are strictly ornamental, and Vidyut Jamwal sports a moustache that looks more like a caterpillar. Only Sanjay Mishra gets a few good lines that inspire a few good laughs.

What’s particularly disappointing about this film is that even the dialogue has a recycled feel to it, although it’s the work of Rajat Arora who has powered many a mediocre film with his clap-trap lines. 15 years ago Baadshaho might not have been an awful film, but today it feels sexist, formulaic and completely outdated. It’s a waste of both time and money. I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)


Standing tall

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 8:49 pm

September 01, 2017

Cast: Ayushmann Khurrana, Bhumi Pednekar, Seema Pahwa, Brijendra Kala

Director: RS Prasanna

When was the last time a Hindi film featured a protagonist by the name of Mudit? Or dealt with a condition like erectile dysfunction?

There’s a lot that’s both fresh and refreshing in Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, starting with its remarkably astute portrait of middle-class ‘Dilli’. Overcrowded DDA flats with walls as thin as paper, middle-aged siblings unable to suppress their egos who break into arguments anytime and anyplace, and characters that throw around words and phrases like ‘loyaltyness’ and ‘gents problem’, and others that understand exactly what they mean.

The film, directed by RS Prasanna is a remake of his own Tamil comedy, but screenplay and dialogue writer Hitesh Kewalia brings texture through language and characters that are distinctly and unmistakably true to their North Indian roots.

After a charming ‘love-cum-arranged-cum-love’ arrangement results in them getting engaged, Pitampura boy Mudit Sharma (Ayushmann Khurrana) and his feisty bride-to-be Sugandha (Bhumi Pednekar) encounter an unforeseen hardship in the bedroom – Oh dear, no, that’s the wrong expression! Matters quickly escalate to the point where entire extended families become aware of the ‘problem’, and just days away from their marriage the tense couple is still struggling to make things work.

It’s an unusual premise and the makers mine it for unending laughs. We get a wide selection of oddball characters that nevertheless feel entirely real, and the dialogue is peppered with laugh-out-loud lines. An exchange between Sugandha and her mother (a terrific Seema Pahwa) in which the older lady uses an Arabian Nights analogy to discuss the birds and the bees is hilarious, as is a visit to an animal doctor in Haridwar seeking a cure for Mudit’s condition.

Admirably, the makers navigate this tricky material without it coming across as crass or making you squirm in your seat. There’s also genuine warmth and heart in the relationship between Mudit and Sugandha, and the script gives them enough room to explore ideas of commitment and adjustment while going through the messiness of love and marriage. Bhumi Pednekar is excellent as a young woman whose response to her partner’s shortcoming is both surprising and mature. She’s on a roll, following up her confident, fiery performance in last month’s Toilet: Ek Prem Katha with another winning turn. In one of the film’s best scenes, which goes seamlessly from comic to affecting, Sugandha reveals her desperation to fix their falling-apart relationship by organizing a picnic with Mudit. Ayushmann Khurrana, himself in solid form since Bareilly Ki Barfi, makes your heart go out to Mudit, investing the fellow with genuine likeability and an understated charm. Ayushmann does some of his best work here.

Too bad the film hits some clumsy roadblocks in its third act, where the writing comes undone. A misguided decision to raise the stakes threatens to derail the film completely, and an entirely pointless cameo offers nothing by way of value addition. Thankfully it’s the film’s excellent ensemble of actors – playing an assortment of parents, uncles and aunts, siblings and best friends – that rescues it from slipping into tedium, and the jokes continue to come fast and furious.

Shubh Mangal Saavdhan rises above its minor problems to deliver plenty laughs. It’s one of the year’s most enjoyable films. I recommend that you make the time for it. I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

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