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

February 22, 2019

Brain Drain

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 11:34 pm

February 22, 2019

Cast: Anil Kapoor, Ajay Devgan, Madhuri Dixit, Ritesh Deshmukh, Arshad Warsi, Javed Jaffrey, Boman Irani, Sanjay Mishra, Pitobash, Vijay Patkar, Esha Gupta

Director: Indra Kumar

We’ve made peace with the fact that there’s a brand of films that requires us to leave our brain at home. But Total Dhamaal, third in the comedy franchise from director Indra Kumar, doesn’t just ask you to leave your brain behind, it also expects you to wipe clean your memory before entering the cinema.

Erase all recollection of the better movies Anil Kapoor and Madhuri Dixit have made together. Forget that Ritesh Deshmukh, Boman Irani and Sanjay Mishra are some of the finest comic actors in Bollywood. And pretend that Ajay Devgan doesn’t frequently deliver terrific poker-face timing. Because there’s no way to get through Total Dhamaal if these better memories still linger.

If you think about it, Total Dhamaal is basically a remake of Dhamaal from 2007. Both films are about a bunch of strangers and their madcap pursuit of stolen wealth hidden in a far-flung spot. But don’t forget, that was the premise of the 1963 classic It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World. So what you’re watching is essentially a rehash of a rip-off.

Indra Kumar pairs up his actors to chase 50 crore rupees in loot. Anil Kapoor and Madhuri Dixit are a constantly bickering couple at the cusp of divorce. Ajay Devgan and his sidekick Sanjay Mishra are well-groomed thugs. Ritesh Deshmukh and Pitobash are firemen who charge a premium for priority rescue of residents from a burning building. Arshad Warsi and Javed Jaffrey are not-so-bright siblings who get into a scrape with a smart car. And Boman Irani is a corrupt police commissioner joined at the hip by his wisecracking subordinate Vijay Patkar.

The film feels more like an obstacle race than a coherent narrative as these pairs traverse land, sea and sky to get to the money. Total Dhamaal is really a series of set pieces strung together to resemble a plot. Some of these are genuinely funny, like a bit where Ritesh Deshmukh, stranded at the top of an under-construction building with Pitobash, makes false pledges to God. Or Johnny Lever’s cameo as a fellow who’s refashioned his auto-rickshaw into a helicopter. The real tragedy is watching Anil Kapoor and Madhuri Dixit’s easy chemistry wasted in a film that has very little use of it.

As you probably know if you’ve watched the trailer, it all culminates in a zoo with a bunch of tacky computer-generated animals running amok. Presumably by this time even the filmmakers have realised that no sane adult could still be invested in the movie so the final act is a shameless attempt to woo younger, potentially more forgiving audiences.

I want to say here that I’m not against comedies that require complete suspension of disbelief. But even that requires thought, clever writing, and a lightness of touch. Total Dhamaal has none of those things. It’s a cash-grab film that believes ‘bigger is better’. Alas it’s not. From multiple remix songs, to the low-IQ racist and sexist humour, and a reliance on familiar gags and tropes, this is lazy, cynical filmmaking. I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

February 14, 2019

Gift rap!

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 8:56 pm

February 14, 2019

Cast: Ranveer Singh, Alia Bhatt, Siddhant Chaturvedi, Vijay Raaz, Vijay Verma, Amruta Subhash, Sheeba Chaddha, Kalki Koechlin, Vijay Maurya

Director: Zoya Akhtar

Zoya Akhtar’s new film Gully Boy is an underdog story about a poor fellow from Dharavi whose dreams are bigger than his reality. It’s loosely based on the lives of Naezy and Divine, who made the journey from rags to rap-stars. Like them Murad, our protagonist, is determined not to let his circumstances restrict his ambition.

But there are many layers to the film: it’s also about Murad’s coming-of-age and his discovery and understanding of who he truly is and what he stands for. It’s about finding one’s expression…in this case, through poetry and rap. It’s also a beautiful love story, and on some level it’s a love letter to Mumbai – a city where the haves and the have-nots exist in a tentative sort of peace, where skyscrapers overlook slums, where you can be poor and still have integrity, and where dreams frequently come true.

What powers these different strands are essentially two things: an extraordinary performance from Ranveer Singh as Murad. And the music and lyrics, which have as much feeling as the story and performances.

In her last film Dil Dhadakne Do, Zoya tapped into a quieter, more thoughtful side of Ranveer. They build on that in Gully Boy. A big chunk of his performance in this film plays out on his face in his expressions. There are stray moments that bristle with honesty. He gets even the little things down superbly; it’s clear that he’s an extremely intuitive, perceptive actor.

The songs are potent, and loaded with powerful words that especially resonate in their respective situations. Murad, who has an abusive father, raps about his mother’s plight, about seeking freedom, about fulfilling his dreams, and about the importance of being authentic.

Authentic, in fact, is a word that’s thrown around quite often in the film. The rappers have an integrity and authenticity that is important to them, and they take great pride in repeating that over and over again. Authentic is also the word I’d use to describe the storytelling and the filmmaking. This is a world that the writers have clearly embedded themselves in. This is not an outsider’s view of these people and their lives and homes; this is a keenly observed portrait, a lived-in world and that’s why it never feels fake. The dialogue, the lingo, the punchlines, they’re real. But much of that credit must be shared with the technical team who seamlessly create such an immersive cinematic experience.

One of the things I most enjoyed in Gully Boy is the love story between Murad and Safeena, the character that Alia Bhatt plays. From their very first moments on screen – marked by a lovely wordless scene in a BEST bus – it becomes clear that they have a beautiful understanding which comes from being together for many years. Safeena is a medical student and belongs to a conservative Muslim family; but Zoya and her co-writer Reema Kagti have written such a spunky character in Safeena. She loves Murad; she’s marked her territory and you don’t want to fight her. Alia is terrific in the role.

So is the rest of the cast, including Vijay Verma as Murad’s car mechanic friend Moeen, Vijay Raaz as his brutal father, and Amruta Subhash as his long-suffering mother. The standout though is a young actor named Siddhant Chaturvedi who plays MC Sher, the rapper who takes Murad under his wing, and introduces him to the world of rap battles. He’s got a charming presence and leaves a lasting impression.

Less compelling is a subplot involving Kalki Koechlin’s character Sky, an affluent, US-returned musician who takes a keen interest both in Murad’s music and him. Aside from a few such plot points that I wasn’t entirely convinced about, my only really issue with the film is its length. Perhaps because there’s so much going on on screen, and because the filmmakers take the trouble to tie up each character’s story, the film is way too long. It’s nearly two and a half hours and that’s too long for a film whose basic story arc – the underdog narrative – is actually quite predictable.

But those minor nigglings aside, I think Gully Boy is one of Zoya Akhtar’s stronger films; in fact for me it ranks right up there with her extraordinary first film Luck By Chance. I enjoyed the world she creates here, the characters that inhabit this world, and the paces she puts them through.

Without overtly drawing attention to it, she makes a strong feminist statement in Safeena’s character, some sharp observations about minorities, and also about the world we live in and the place in it for those with lesser means. That’s a lot to pack into a film that works on surface level as a highly entertaining musical drama. I came away with an appreciation for Indian hip-hop, which frankly I knew nothing about until now.

I’m going with four out of five for Gully Boy. I loved this film…from inside my bones.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

February 1, 2019

Show me the love!

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 6:59 pm

February 01, 2019

Cast: Anil Kapoor, Sonam Kapoor, Rajkummar Rao, Juhi Chawla, Abhishek Duhan, Madhumalti Kapoor, Seema Pahwa, Brijendra Kala, Regina Cassandra

Director: Shelly Chopra Dhar

Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga opens on such a homogenous, generic note – amidst celebrations during a big, fat Punjabi wedding – that you’d never guess the unlikely direction it’s headed in. Unless that was exactly the point.

Because, frankly, the film, directed by Shelly Chopra Dhar who has co-written the screenplay with Gazal Dhaliwal, is both admirable and mildly frustrating. It prides itself on being the first mainstream Hindi film to put same-sex love at the centre of the story. And yet the treatment of the story itself is too safe, too sanitised…as if the makers didn’t want to stick their necks out too far. It’s progressive, yes, but far from daring.

Balbir (Anil Kapoor) is an affluent manufacturer of garments, frequently referred to as “the Mukesh Ambani of Moga”, a small town in Punjab. He’s looking for a suitable groom for his introverted daughter Sweety (Sonam Kapoor), except that she’s already romantically involved. When struggling Delhi playwright Sahil Mirza (Rajkummar Rao), who’s been smitten from the moment he first laid eyes on her, follows after her to Punjab, he learns her closely guarded secret. What follows is the staging of a shrewdly scripted play to ease Balbir and his family into accepting Sweety’s truth.

Despite its mostly blunt edges, the film scores on account of its performances. Anil Kapoor is in fine form as Balbir, who’s also had to stifle what he loves – in his case cooking – for the sake of convention. He’s especially good in the comic moments, which this film packs aplenty. Also in exceptionally solid form is Juhi Chawla as Chhatro, a caterer in Sahil’s troupe, who’s convinced she’s a “mind-shattering” actress. Her scenes with Anil Kapoor are some of the best in the film.

Rajkummar Rao leaves the biggest impression. His Sahil comes off as an inherently decent soul, a man of great sensitivity and goodness; a character that could’ve so easily been reduced to a loser. Rajkummar turns even stray lines of dialogue into unforgettable moments.

A word of praise also for Abhishek Duhan as Sweety’s cruel brother Babloo; he’s not a likeable figure in the least, yet he’s every bit convincing. In smaller roles, Brijendra Kala and Seema Pahwa as the family’s domestic help, Madhumalti Kapoor as Balbir’s bossy mother, and Regina Cassandra as the luminous love interest Kuhu are all very good.

Then there’s Sonam Kapoor in the central role. In flashes she effectively conveys the anguish of a young woman forced to hide what’s in her heart, but it’s never a performance that rips your heart out like it should. The problem is Sonam doesn’t dig deep enough to find out who Sweety really is.

Even by the standards of a masala movie Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga is hit and miss. There are some terrific scenes like one in which Sahil sneaks a note to Sweety through the wrong courier. But other bits rankle. There is just no logic to the family’s tolerance of Babloo’s behaviour towards his sister. What’s especially disappointing is the film’s unwillingness to give us any real romance between the lovers at the centre of this film. For a film that’s propagating the acceptance of ‘all love’, it’s ironic that the filmmakers don’t want to risk making heterosexual audiences uncomfortable.

It hasn’t been six months since homosexuality was decriminalised in India by the Supreme Court so perhaps it’s understandable (although not ideal) that terms like ‘normal’, ‘beemari’ and ‘bezzati’ are bandied about by characters frequently. There are a clutch of good songs, particularly the updated version of the title track which is lovely, and ample melodrama to fill out the film’s 2 hour running time.

Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga is a respectable directing debut from Dhar, and a film with its heart in the right place. The writing ought to have been braver. That would’ve made this film something worth crowing about; a film as memorable as the one whose iconic romantic song inspired this title.

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

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

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