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

May 17, 2019

Three’s a crowd!

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:04 pm

May 17, 2019

Cast: Ajay Devgan, Tabu, Rakul Preet Singh, Jimmy Shergill, Kumud Mishra, Alok Nath, Madhumati Kapoor, Inayat Sood, Bhavin Bhanushali

Director: Akiv Ali

In De De Pyaar De, Ajay Devgan plays a man who becomes romantically involved with a girl half his age, and spends the bulk of the film being made to feel terrible about it. Directed by longtime editor Akiv Ali, the film is produced and co-written by Luv Ranjan, whose decidedly misogynistic gaze on modern relationships has yielded such hits as the two Pyaar Ka Punchnama films and Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety.

Ajay plays Ashish, an investment banker in London who is 50. I feel compelled to repeat that the character he’s playing is 50, which shouldn’t be such a big deal especially since Ajay himself turned 50 just weeks ago. But it is a big deal in an industry where leading men have seldom played their age, merrily passing off as many, many years younger – a privilege accorded exclusively to our gender. And we know it is a big deal in the film just from the number of times he’s described as “buddha” by other characters.

Ashish meets Aisha (Rakul Preet Singh) during his friend’s wedding celebrations, and sparks fly. She is 26, and the entire first half of the film feels like a string of cringey jokes. Not just about the age gap between them (or the generation gap as Ashish’s therapist friend describes it), but about their contrasting outlook towards everything from relationships to alcohol consumption and sex. Waking up the morning after she passed out drunk in his house, Aisha can’t remember if anything happened between them. “Jo hua hoga acha hi hua hoga. Kisi ne complain nahin kiya ab tak,” she says. When he insists he doesn’t sleep with drunk women – “Jo mile hosh mein mile” – she is surprised that he could’ve had his way with her but didn’t.

Mercifully the film improves post intermission, mostly because of the presence of the always reliable Tabu. In the second half the action shifts to Manali where Ashish has brought Aisha to meet his family. Tabu plays his wife Manju, from whom he has been separated for 18 years, the mother of his grown up kids.

De De Pyaar De shares its DNA with Luv Ranjan’s sexist films but this time around instead of men putting women down, vilifying them as conniving shrews or ditzy airheads, it pits woman against woman, each shaming the other on matters related to their age, appearance, and dressing. I will admit that although politically incorrect, many of the jokes land, and there are some laughs to be had watching a game of one-upmanship unfold between Tabu and Rakul Preet’s characters. Metaphors about old cars versus newer models are low hanging fruit, but a joke involving dal gets the biggest cheers. Tabu, especially, takes her best crack at the frequently silly material and not surprisingly makes much of it work.

There are some sharp bits like a running joke about Ashish’s reaction to his son crushing on Aisha, and a clutch of laugh-out-loud moments involving Jimmy Shergill and Kumud Mishra’s characters. But to be entirely honest, buried under the comedy and some shriek-y melodrama De De Pyaar De offers interesting questions to ponder: Who is really responsible when a marriage breaks up? Can former spouses still have love for each other even if they aren’t in love with each other? What are the chances of a 50-year-old woman finding love again?

In what is hands down the film’s best scene, and one that Tabu nails completely, we’re asked to consider why it’s almost always the woman who is expected to be strong and hold things together, seldom allowed to take a break from being responsible. That this film – frequently a puerile comedy – even goes to such places is a minor achievement.

Of the cast, Jimmy Shergill is wasted in an underwritten role as Manju’s neighbour and admirer, and ironically Alok Nath gets to crack the film’s tackiest joke as Ashish’s vulgar father. The leads fare better. Ajay Devgan is in good form, both in the comic portions and in the dramatic bits, relying on his gift for restraint in making Ashish a somewhat relatable fellow despite his obvious flaws. Rakul Preet attacks her scenes with confidence, nicely holding her own alongside her seasoned co-stars. But it’s Tabu’s show and she’s easily the best thing in the film. Fitting then that she should get the cheekiest line in the film – about how most older-man-younger-woman relationships tend to go.

Ultimately, watching De De Pyaar De is a frustrating experience because while there are things to admire, including the unconventional ending, there is no escape from the lazy stereotypes, the simplistic moralising, and the episodic, sitcom-style screenplay. Yes I laughed, and it made me think. Some bits crackle too, but the film needed more of that. I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

May 10, 2019

Campus rumpus!

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:18 pm

May 10, 2019

Cast: Tiger Shroff, Tara Sutaria, Ananya Panday, Aditya Seal, Samir Soni, Gul Panag, Manoj Pahwa

Director: Punit Malhotra

The Student of the Year franchise is to film-goers what iOS updates are to Apple users – the latest one doesn’t seem like a big improvement on the last, and nobody asked for a new one yet they keep putting out more.

The first Student of the Year, directed by Karan Johar in 2012, was pointless but inoffensive. Set in a swanky Dehradun school, St Teresa, it was about an annual school event so competitive, and with a title so coveted, that it turned best friends into rivals and broke up romances. What powered that vacuous story was an inherent sense of fun, some memorable tunes, and the curiosity around the potential of the three newcomers who were launched in it.

In Student of the Year 2, directed by Punit Malhotra, the competition has gone inter-school, the main sport is kabaddi, and the Dignity Cup is the big reward. Like Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander, the chief rivalry is between students from a hip, fancy school, and kids from the modest local school. The characters, however, are familiar ‘types’ that you can recognise from dozens of films. There’s the rich bully son of the school trustee (Aditya Seal), the earnest, middle-class kid on a sports scholarship (Tiger Shroff), the pretty girl confused over matters of the heart (Tara Sutaria), and the entitled campus brat (Ananya Panday). You have to pardon my liberal use of the words ‘kids’, especially in the case of Aditya and Tiger, neither of whom looks like they belong on a campus, and both of whom look too old to be squeezed into student uniform.

But let’s not get into authenticity or detail. This is the Student of the Year franchise – or as I like to call it, the films that make you wonder why your parents sent you to such a boring college. At a dance competition in St Teresa, they get fancy judges like Farah Khan and music composers Vishal and Shekhar. Will Smith makes an appearance too. At the college I went to, we were lucky to get a reasonably well-known NGO worker who lived in the next block.

Student of the Year 2 is both predictable, and far from original. But that’s not even the big problem with the film. Unlike the previous instalment this one isn’t grounded in emotion, so it’s hard to be invested in the characters or affected by their conflicts. Doubly so when they look like they’ve stepped straight out of the pages of a fashion magazine. The girls, of course, never have a hair out of place, or a chipped nail in sight, but even Aditya Seal has perfectly blow-dried hair that never gets messed up even after an intense game of kabaddi.

The acting, if you can call it that, is…how do you say this politely….‘basic’. Ananya Panday as the campus enfant terrible has some spunk, but the other two newcomers have all the range and the expressions of your favourite emojis. The film’s singular strength is Tiger Shroff, who kicks, leaps, twirls, twists, and pirouettes in the film’s dance and sports and fight sequences. The camera loves him, and it worships his abs each time he loses his shirt – which he does a lot in this film. Tiger works hard to lift Student of the Year 2 off the page, but he’s pitted against a clunky screenplay that seems determined to weigh it down.

It’s no spoiler to reveal that the film ends with the Hook-Up song that’s filmed on Tiger and Alia Bhatt. Looking back I think we can all agree – except Kangana Ranaut maybe – that giving us Alia Bhatt is what we’ll remember the first Student of the Year for. The new film? I’m not so sure.

I’m going with two out of five for Student of the Year 2. It isn’t unwatchable, it’s just unnecessary.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

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