Monday, 10 October 2016

M.S.Dhoni:The Untold Story (2016)

The perils of real-to-reel interpretation are many, especially when you make a film on the impenetrable and probably India's greatest cricket captain ever, Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

Deserving Story
First, certainly a story waiting to be told. From the quietness and constricted ambitions of growing up in small-town Ranchi, his unconventional knack for big-hitting, frustrating time as a railway ticket collector and a tough, cliffhanger climb to cement his place in the Indian cricket team, all high voltage film material. 
Only, story & screenplay writers Neeraj Pandey (also director) and Dilip Jha could have worked out the content selection better, especially in the film's melodramatic second half. We are left with a hero-worshiping culmination, rather than an insightful study of Dhoni and cricket.

Great First Hour
M.S.Dhoni:The Untold Story sparkles in its first hour and half, seeping with the routine ordinariness and time-wrap of a sleepy town. 
An aspiring and gifted cricketer MS Dhoni (Sushant Singh Rajput, path-breaking lead role) has to convince his stubborn yet reasonable father (Anupam Kher, excellent) about his fiery, single-path ambition - cricket, cricket and cricket. 
He is supported by his elder sister (Bhumika Chawla,efficient), faithful friends, coach (Rajesh Sharma, the film's scene-stealer) and first employer (Kumud Mishra, in fine form). The love tracks are the film's weak link (Disha Patani & Kiara Advani, both adequate), bordering on cheesy, despite an unexpected tragic bit.  

Weak Links
All through the punishing running time, even in the slack second half, events occurring outside the cricket field repeatedly absorb us. Booming background music (Sanjoy Chowdhury) and a pathetic soundtrack (Amaal Mallik, Rochak Kohli) almost clean-bowl the movie. Several scenes would have worked better with minimal background score and certainly minus songs.

Cricketing Hiccups
Cricketing scenes require mentioning other cricketers and controversies. But nobody is mentioned unfavourably, reducing the match scenes to diplomatic mockery. 
A craftier, snipped screenplay would have worked wonders. From Dhoni's decisive abandon of his mundane job at Kharagpur railway station to his legendary first century at Vizag in April 2005, the film could have stuck to unraveling in daring detail two prime matches - the 2007 Twenty20 World Cup Final and the 2011 One-Day World Cup Final.

M.S.Dhoni:The Untold Story is not a lost cause for director Neeraj Pandey (Special 26). There are so many moments to indicate that the film could have hit all the balls out of the park. It is undone by lack of judgement in what to retain, how much to retain and a curbed freedom in storytelling. 
A valiant, sincere attempt, undone by its own dilemma - just how much safe do you play that BCCI and people depicted on screen don't sue or raise objection to the content?

M.S.Dhoni:The Untold Story is stumped by its own defiant safety, a feeling of 'missed opportunity' lingers big. Watch it for the wonderful performances and some real charming bits. If only it could have come together cohesively, like a MS Dhoni innings.  

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Pink (2016)

Three boys and three girls meet each other through a common friend at a rock show in Delhi. The girls are then persuaded by the guys to join them at a resort for dinner. Even these basic facts trickle into audience knowledge over a series of tense, gripping scenes. The film opens with one of the guys profusely bleeding with a deep cut in the skull, even as his panicky friends rush him to hospital. Meanwhile, the girls return to their rented apartment, stunned and disturbed. 

Deft Screenplay 
Pink kept me riveted thanks to a killer screenplay (Ritesh Shah) that tersely, harrowing reveals the details of 'the incident' in bits and pieces. A visual depiction of what actually happened unveils only at the end credits. By then, you are knocked out cold and numb, by the horror, starkness, and fierceness of it all.

Truth & Dare
The brutal truth of how women are perceived in Indian society at large, how stereotypes and the idea of male domination persist, down to an animalist level, is expressed in balanced, original and searing storytelling. The emotionally draining experience of defending one's case in an Indian court is effectively depicted. Insensitivity and police indifference is craftily rendered into proceedings.  

Amitabh Bachchan's characterization as a retired lawyer begins in a mitigating, all-knowing Hindi film hero mold. This despite the bipolar disorder background and a bed-ridden wife. The court proceedings redeem Bachchan the actor to a great extent though.

Tapasee Pannu, Kirti Kulhari, and Andrea Tairang are the showstoppers here. Tapasee, her character the eye of the storm and story, deserves special mention. Piyush Mishra comes across as the stereotypical prosecution lawyer. Angad Bedi makes a believable, ominous antagonist. Dhritiman Chatterjee adds nuances to an otherwise mundane role of a judge, adding to his reputation as a legendary Bengali actor. 

Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury's calculated, sensible direction and co-writers Ritesh Shah and Shoojit Sircar make Pink a triumph. A subject that could so easily be judgmental and dipped in rhetoric, escapes most overdone film-making pitfalls.  

Despite A Few Good Men (1992) inspired witness-provoking climax, leading to a propped-up and unconvincing happy ending, Pink is a story that is rarely told in a largely dream-selling Hindi film world and seldom, very seldom, told so well. Don't miss it on the big screen.  

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Boyhood (2014)

2002: Six-year-old Mason and his elder sister Samantha are raised by their single mother Olivia in Texas. 

2005: Mason now lives in Houston with his family, stepfather, their two children.

2008: The real father, Mason Sr. talks to Mason and a 'now with boyfriend' Samantha about contraception. Yes, that kind of talk will take a long way coming to India.Meanwhile, Olivia escapes an abusive second marriage and files for divorce. 

2012: Mason has already experienced drugs, alcohol, love, and heartbreak. A budding photographer, he is at the crossroads of life as a teenager. 

Boyhood's crux is not the much-advertised byline '12 years in the making'. It is director Richard Linklater's ode to life's ordinariness, how it sometimes just quietly passes by, but for some upheavals, intermittent chaos and adventures while you are at it. A gentle nod to childhood, parenting and that strong tradition we call family.  

Unlike Linklater's Before Trilogy (where I loved that nothing overtly plot-altering is happening), after a point you want things to get moving here. Scenes, like a drunken abusive father, a cowering wife; an alcoholic taking his children on a dangerous, infuriated car ride, add necessary zing to an otherwise linear tale.

But Linklater's making his signature moments here. Among steady conversations, free-flowing monologues, bad haircuts, first girlfriend and a touching cathartic mother moment, Boyhood shines in what it reveals in passing, and not always necessarily in dialogue. This is where it kept me riveted.  

I wouldn't have thought more of Boyhood, but for its last bit of conversation and how it loops back to the entire film. The enigma of the final scene, that perfect last cut (applause for editor Sandra Adair); makes this little more than a one-time watch. There's more to its deceptive quietness. For light drama/coming of age movie fans, this is a treat.

If you end up loving Boyhood, don't miss Linklater's Before Sunrise (1995) and for dramatic contrast, the rock'n'roll infused, cute school comedy School of Rock (2003).    

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Suicide Squad (2016)

Suicide Squad is the latest comic-books-to-film-adaptation casualty. Following events after Superman's death from the disappointing DC-Zack Synder venture, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), the same multi-starer vs story problems plague Suicide Squad. 

A superb anti-hero crime-fighting team premise is strangled by lazy (snore!) screenplay writing. Character introductions are mandatory, assembly-line stuff. Antagonists are 'whatever', no-purpose world destroyers. Somebody always has to make a world-destructing appearance that superheroes make their reputation. 

There is some crackle in the humor and backtalk, that soon dies a non-exploding death. Glimpses of inspired performances are badly let down by the biggest cinema villain ever: Non-existent story. 

Jared Leto's rocking Joker interpretation barely gets screen space. Margot Robbie gives her best performance yet as the crazy Harley Quinn, Will Smith tries resurrecting a flimsily built hitman role.The rest are all good, but movie making buffoonery can't be carried around for long.      

We have seen too much of VFX in the last two decades, thanks to the superhero and fantasy film flood. If anything awes cinema-goers timelessly, it is story and treatment. Suicide Squad shockingly lacks both, its first half barely standing and to call the latter part 'a drag' is grossly understating it. 

What works in comic books doesn't always translate to film, a reoccurring event at cinema screens lately. Suicide Squad is guaranteed to leave you in shreds.

Final Word 
Box-office collections have nothing to do with cinematic quality. Ever.  

Happy Bhag Jayegi (2016)

Attuned to the spirit and tone of last year's contrived yet very very funny Tanu Weds Manu Returns (2015), Happy Bhag Jayegi isn't half as funny and not too bad either.

Amritsar runaway bride Happy (Diana Penty, competent) jumps into wrong flower truck and gets transported across the border to Pakistan. 

Getting her back to India, reuniting her with her lover (Ali Fazal, one-tone), saving her from the rowdy small town goon cum groom (Jimmy Shergill, reprising rejected groom act, is in great form), and not falling for her - falls into Pakistan's young dad-repressed politician Bilal's hands (Abhay Deol, confident, self-assured turn). 

Pakistani actors, (incidentally father and daughter in real life) Javed Sheikh (nice one) and Momal Sheikh (gorgeous, decent act) add charm to the cast. Piyush Mishra makes a sketchily written role his own by sheer brilliance, and deserves special mention.   

Co-produced by Tanu Weds Manu Returns director Anand L. Rai, well-directed by Mudassar Aziz, Happy Bhag Jayegi is saved by its performances and intermittent, genuinely funny one-liners, a drag when it goes into uninspired soap-opera emotions. Aziz, also the film's writer has a flair of lines, but treads tired, trodden territory often.

But there is promise in Aziz, until he makes a better film, this is an OK watch.       

Friday, 24 June 2016

Whiplash (2014)

Terence Fletcher: "Truth is I don't thing people ..understood..what it was I was doing at Shaffer. 
I was there to push people beyond what is expected out of them.... 
I believe that is an absolute necessity...otherwise we are depriving the world of the next Louie Armstrong, next Charlie Parker...I told you that story about how Charlie Parker became Charlie Parker, right?" 

Andrew Neiman: "Joe Jones threw a cymbal at his head." 

Terence Fletcher: "Exactly." 

Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller), a 19 year-old drummer at Shaffer Music Conservatory, New York, seeks the attention of Terence Fletcher (J.K.Simmons) a reputed teacher /composer. Aspiration meets reality when he is selected as alternate drummer in the Fletcher-headed conservatory band. Then all hell breaks loose.  

Neiman experiences firsthand why other band members cower like nervous school children at Fletcher's arrival. In his cream-lighted indoor dark room sessions (recurring movie ambiance), the teacher subjects the band and especially Neiman to utter humiliation, abuses and insults. Always wanting to be a great drummer and nothing else, a demonic rush to please Fletcher seizes Neiman. Drumming becomes a sole, life-threatening obsession. Everything else becomes insignificant, even as his love life lies ruptured.    

Intense, Fiery 
There is no escaping Whiplash's well-directed intensity. The major storytelling triumph is the minimalist, straight-forward character-driven approach. The story vein stays with the two main protagonists, both fiery, unyielding, turbulent and riveting. Fletcher and Neiman are the film's metaphorical wrestlers and bookends. Barely a dull moment, barely

Beyond the Music
Whiplash is not dependent on its jazz-based soundtrack for inducing overwhelming emotions from the audience. Instead, unlike many other music-based movies, it banks on revealing the uneasy, stormy, agitated human spirit. That demented spirit behind the seemingly tranquil music making. Top grade performances by Teller and Simmons, a clean screenplay and razor sharp editing (love the abrupt ending) makes Whiplash a mini-classic, a must-watch.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Udta Punjab (2016)

Udta Punjab is as immediate, relevant and contemporary a movie you will see on anti-drugs. No film could be as clear with its 'Say No to Drugs' message as Udta Punjab. The censor board's 89-cut recommendation (cleared by Bombay High Court with one cut, three disclaimers prior to release) seems even more bewildering in that context. An 'A' certificate, minus cuts, would have saved a lot of people a hell lot of time and energy. 

Purely on merit
On sheer merit, Udta Punjab stands on its own as a harrowing, (sometimes) humorous and (mostly) steely portrayal of Punjab's drug-tainted culture. The narrative sears through the lives of its four main characters - corrupt policeman Sartaj Singh (Diljit Dosanjh), Preet Sahani - a doctor dedicated to addiction patients (Kareena Kapoor), addiction-crazed rap star Tommy Singh (Shahid Kapoor) and a hapless migrant farm labourer (Alia Bhatt).

A gritty, balanced and well-set up first half fumbles in its converging of characters for the final act. Splendid performances especially by Alia, Diljit and Shahid (in that order), the crazy swirl of expletive-ridden (essential) dialogues, keeps this one alive and kicking. 

The classic film-making irony
That director Abhishek Chaubey and writer Sudip Sharma take a strong anti-drug stance, rather than just tell the story, lessens the impact. A classic film-making irony. The starkness and reality of its theme both powers and burdens the film.  
The 'change of heart' parts, especially how Tommy Singh turns over a new leaf (though gradual), is contrived as the marathon bicycle ride he embarks on. So is the film's gun-banging culmination. By the end credits, I wished the film to be more forgiving and light. 

But finally, Udta Punjab is a damn sincere film, that entertains and engages with a drab conviction. It is certainly a necessary watch for cinema lovers.   

The stand out moment          
A sportsman flings a drug packet across the border with a matter-of-fact expertise. There is no escaping the invention and wit of this wacky opening scene.  

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Sairat (2016)

A poor boy and a rich girl from rural Maharashtra fall for each other. Girl's parents just hate it, guy's folks act no different. The lovers go on the run then, forced to scratch out a new life in the Hyderabad slums. 

The plot may seem familiar, but Sairat is refreshing and real, thanks to its beautifully etched screenplay. It is easily the Marathi movie of the year. 

The lead pair of Akash Thosar and Rinku Rajguru make stellar film debuts. Rajguru, not yet 16, delivers an astonishing performance. Ajay-Atul's songs and background score are rousing additions. 

This is finally director Nagraj Manjule's triumph of lively storytelling while keeping it all grounded and achingly believable. A heart-stealing movie experience, best seen on the big screen.   

Sunday, 22 May 2016

X-Men:Apocalypse (2016)

X-Men: Apocalypse is a decent superhero venture that ticks the right boxes in engaging characters, well-placed humour and casting. Considering that superhero films release oh-too-often nowadays and are always about saving the world, you know the template well enough. This is where story, bad-guy-quotient and fight sequences matter. X-Men:Apocalypse has a grim, not-so-fun villain, not much of a story and OK fight sequences. 

While the first half almost slumbers through in setting up the fight, the second half is more interesting, only in comparison. That the X-Men gel well as a team is an advantage as compared to the contrived teamwork in Marvel's Avengers and DC's Justice League film franchise. 

The standout sequence - Quicksilver's (Evan Peters, great casting) slow-mo rescue of fellow X-Men complete with a Michael Jackson moonwalk and this-is-so-easy attitude.  

Finally, X-Men: Apocalypse is not a letdown with a few sparkling, signature Bryan Singer moments salvaging it. It is certainly better than the last franchise release X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014). Wanna check the best X-Men movies out? Revisit X2 (2003) and X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), the best yet of the X-Men movies.  

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Kung Fu Panda 3 (2016)

Despite the recurring story blueprint of fat Panda vs menacing villain and kung fu chit-chat, Kung Fu Panda 3 works for the same reason, the first two did. The damn good humor! 

The third part is easily the most hilarious of the lot, despite some hiccups in the story (unconvincing 'Spirit Realm' afterlife concept). 

Considering that Kung Fu Panda and Kung Fu Panda 2 are a laugh-fest, writers Jonathan Aibel & Glenn Berger border on the genius here. Genuine ROFL moments await you, no kidding. More so, if you are a Kung Fu Panda fan already, watch out for the lovely deja vu touches. 

Directors Jennifer Yuh Nelson & Alessandro Carloni add numerous little touches to gorgeous animation, best seen on 3D. Jack Black showcases again why he is a steal of a stellar dubbing cast as Po, as are the others. Easily the funniest animation movie (and trilogy) on kung fu that you will see in a long time. 

Thursday, 31 March 2016

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

The only genuine feeling that I took from this disappointing, mostly listless movie is the Batman vs Superman faceoff. There is something of a childhood dream moment in that. It is an emotion as quaint as riding your first toy train in adulthood, with a kiddish relish filling you up like a cool breeze, making it a strange time-travel of sorts. But that is just about it for a Zack Snyder film propped up by its special effects, boring characterizations, contrived story, 0.00001% humour and about five minutes of impressive fight scenes in a crawling 153-min running time.Considering the potential or otherwise, this is a mega letdown. 

I mean, if you buy two plastic Superman & Batman action figures and bang them against each other, you should get more entertainment than this film brings to the mix. 

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Bambi (1942)

Somewhere deep in a forest a young fawn takes its first hesitant steps into the world.Life is an endless parade of curiousity for the young deer,intimately looked after by its gentle mother. Thus pass peaceful days of tending and nurturing.Then man encroaches the forest, tragedy strikes and the fawn is all alone. 

Walt Disney pushed the mark with Bambi. By featuring death, the story's intention is reaffirmed, that growing up is an epic experience, a bitter-sweet mix. A children's film that is still about that one heartbreaking gunshot, Bambi is also about friendship, love, innocence and its loss. 

This was a time of meticulous, painstaking and lovingly hand-drawn animation. Disney sent his team of animators to zoos, that they closely observe creature moments and bring those real nuances on screen. Bambi is still a little gem of an animation film, look out for the restored version. 

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Taare Zameen Par (2007)

Part masterpiece, part emotional blackmail, contradictory to its message in its end reels, Taare Zameen Par wins us over with its intention and warmth. The story, Darsheel Safary's acting and Aamir Khan's directorial debut are the showstoppers here.  

Monday, 14 March 2016

Shahid (2013)

Shahid Azmi, a lawyer and human rights activist, was all of 32 when he was shot dead at his Kurla office on February 11, 2010. Azmi defended those accused of various terrorist acts, earning 17 acquittals. Whether each of the clients Azmi defended were innocent, is left to those who dwell in hard facts and the objectivity of it all.   

Real to Reel
Rajkummar Rao plays the protagonist, restless and simmering for the truth. Shahid's traumatic experience of the 1992 Bombay riots, fleeing to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir to train as a militant, deserting training and serving 7 years in Tihar Jail, is told in a straight-faced, no frills narrative. Shahid subsequently obtains a law degree post his acquittal. In his portrayal of the criminal defence lawyer, Rajkummar and director Hansal Mehta nail the crucial court proceedings in all its rawness, chaos and banality.    

Shahid is an undoubtedly arresting biopic on the late lawyer's life. This is also a harrowing film on life's vulnerabilities. Even when Shahid courts his client Mariam, a single mother (Prabhleen Sandhu), subsequently marries her, asks his elder brother Arif (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub) for help; death looms in the shadows, their turbulent conversations. 

The film depicts Azmi as an uncompromising upholder of truth, not all may agree to this depiction. But it is harrowing when the fatal gunshots sound to a dark fade out. Somewhere between fact and fiction, Shahid is a terse cinematic drama, achingly real and strangely touching.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Amar Akbar Anthony (1977)

Chauffeur-taking-the-blame father.Tuberculosis-ridden suicidal mother. Their three separated kids. Years later, three brothers, each adopted by Hindu, Muslim and Christian families respectively, donate blood that converges into a single bottle (medical atrocity!). Unknown to them, the blood recipient is their ex-ill, ex-suicidal mother, now blind. Meanwhile, ex-chauffeur father is a mob boss raising his ex-boss's daughter (who he had kidnapped) as his niece. Father thinks his wife is dead and children, lost. Blind mother sells flowers. Sons are a policeman, a singer and a good hearted small-time thug.

This is just a glimpse of the anything-goes set up for Manmohan Desai's weirdly entertaining Amar Akbar Anthony. Pitched as a comedy/drama, full of strange situations, formulaic and catchy Laxmikant-Pyarelal /Anand Bakshi songs and great acting by the lead cast, especially Amitabh Bachchan, Rishi Kapoor and Vinod Khanna (in that order). 

Meanwhile, blind mother regains her sight, thanks to a god-intervened miracle. In the film's climax, three brothers roam about in disguises that the whole audience can see through, except for the dim-witted villains.Yet you have to admit, that there never is a dull moment in the 3 hour, 5 minute running time. 

Stereotypes, slick dialogue-making and maudlin emotions found screen space with this film, in many ways creating the degenerative Hindi potboiler genre. Something changed in Hindi films for the worse, starting with Amar Akbar Anthony. Yet this is the redundant genre's pinnacle film, still worth watching.

Monday, 11 January 2016

Premam (2015)

Much like Kerala, its unchanging culture and quiet, comfortable stillness, a timeless wrap surround Premam

Once upon a time in a sleepy Kerala village, a 16-year-old boy falls for the school beauty. Only, almost every other teenage boy in the vicinity is crazy for the same girl. Love letters, songs, bright-shirted, sun-glassed flirtations, thrashings follow. 

Five years later, the now angry, rebellious, black shirt, the lungi-clad bearded student goes soft on his alluring pimple-ridden college teacher.Cut to nine years later, a subdued, rough high-end bakery owner is whisked away by love again.  

How is it?  
Love stories with a comic touch have rained down incessantly in the film world, yet writer/director/editor Alphonse Putharen's second film Premam stands out for a fresh approach, endearing life-imitating characters, and assured storytelling. 

Deft camerawork, great performances, dialogues, clever editing...Premam is a rare case of several aspects coming together to make memorable cinema. 

Popular Malayalm film culture, Tamil hero-mould touches, innocent flirtations, all converge to form something achingly real and evocative. You don't have to be a Malayalam film regular to enjoy Premam. But if you are, you will connect more.   

Cast and crew
The cast needs special mention, even those with one-line roles lend authenticity to their parts. Kudos to the lead players, Nivin Pauly and the three female leads, Anupama Parameswaran, Sai Pallavi and Madonna Sebastian. 

Also to be lauded, Anand C. Chandran's cinematography, Rajesh Murugesan's brilliant celebratory soundtrack to wacky Shabareesh Varma (also supporting cast) lyrics. As one of the film's songs go in translation - when we look back someday at the life lived, there should be something to laugh at.      

Of wasted, love-slippery youth, yet life-affirming, joyous and breezy, it will be hard to equal a romantic comedy like Premam for a long time. 

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Wazir (2016)

Wazir is a quality thriller that works on the force of its tight performances (Amitabh Bachchan-Farhan Akhtar chemistry, primarily), well-written script & editing (Vidhu Vinod Chopra & Abhijat Joshi), steady direction (Bejoy Nambiar) and wisely clipped running time (102 min).

Daanish (Farhan Akhtar, thick moustache, a first) is a dedicated officer of the anti-terrorist squad. He also adores his beautiful Kathak dancing wife Ruhana (Aditi Rao Hydari) and little daughter. But an offhand terrorist operation soon rips their life apart.Post a cathartic revenge, Daanish is sent on leave, when he ends up meeting the wheelchair-bound chess teacher, Pandit Omkar Nath Dhar (Amitabh Bachchan, apt casting).The two become close friends, even as the chess teacher views his daughter's seemingly accidental death as murder.

Post a taut first half, the pace slackens a little in the second, the twist-in-the-tail climax saves it. You may well see the ending, if not for an explosion that acts as a good diversion, to an extent. Certainly a satisfying, convincing thriller, if not great.

High/Giveaway Point
A touch of poetry in Neil Nitin Mukesh's bit part, though for an attentive viewer, it acts as the film's giveaway point.