Review: Nishikant Kamat’s Drishyam

drishyam1Some movies appear on our viewing doorstep carrying far too much baggage. Drishyam, for instance, is a Hindi remake of a Malayalam film of the same name made into several languages with leading men of exceptional pedigree, and which has also, I believe, stolen its set-up from a Japanese mystery thriller, The Devotion Of Suspect X. That’s an awful lot of suitcases all right. As with too-eager houseguests, there are ways for filmgoers (and critics) to deal with such visitors, and in this particular case I decided against homework, invited the film in and asked it to leave its luggage out by the door.

I’m glad I did, because while I haven’t watched any of the other Drishyams or read Suspect X, this Hindi version is an utterly unremarkable thriller, one that could have been potentially cool and wily, but one that falls well short of being memorable. It’s a depressingly ordinary film, and the allegedly stolen plot — about a crime being covered-up — is something we’ve seen many, many times before.

Heck, if you want to see a genuinely great thriller about a movie-inspired protagonist buying tickets and meeting people to construct a watertight alibi, go watch Sriram Raghavan’s fantastic Johnny Gaddaar instead of reading the rest of this review.

Ordinariness aside, Nishikant Kamat’s Drishyam is watchable and even builds tension effectively from time to time, but ends up an overlong, overbaked drudge, largely because of Ajay Devgn in the lead, trying to look cerebral and calm while assuming solid-coloured shirts will absolve him of the artlessness he has flaunted in recent movies. It would be unfair to compare most leading men to masters Mohanlal and Kamal Haasan, but Devgn — who used to be a striking brooder, a man who appeared to know how to simmer on the inside — is now just talking softly while essentially swaggering along regardless. Vulnerability? Perish the thought. The idea of subtle internalisation has led this man to sheer cardboard.

The way the film sees him doesn’t help. Even while playing an everyman who loves his family, a song montage in Drishyam has Devgn standing away from his wife and daughters, wearing sunglasses and striking a hero pose till the family comes and coos over him. (Later in the same sequence his wife tries on heels and slips; Devgn sits back and laughs, making no effort to help her.)

Devgn’s Vijay is a cable-operator who lives in a giant villa with a fawning family, and one day things go quite bizarrely awry. Something must be done to save his world, and Vijay — a film-lovin’ orphan who prefers spending most nights with a tiny TV in his office instead of his moronically indulgent wife — takes inspiration from the movies. Except, and here is one fundamental problem with this meta film-within-film setup, he doesn’t really do or learn anything of actual brilliance, with films having apparently taught him the mere value of being stubborn. There are times he gets a lump in his throat watching Bachchan ham it up hard (or one in his trousers watching Sunny Leone do the same), but it all appears too forced. Save for a couple of scenes, the cinema-beats-life trope doesn’t really pay off.

drishyam2What does pay off, as always, is casting Tabu in a meaty role. Despite first showing up in a bewilderingly tight police shirt — which then leads to her striding through a corridor in slow-motion, almost a la Baywatch — the actress is characteristically impressive in her role of a no-nonsense cop. There’s a case, she has a stake in it, and she knows what she’s doing — something Tabu expresses with brilliant weariness as she rolls her eyes at her husband who objects to her brutal methods. She’s a badass superstar who looks like she means it when she munches over dialogue about ‘visual memory’ et al, but her epiphanies are too conveniently arrived at, while her methods are too thickheaded.

Drishyam starts far too snoozily. The narrative intent is clear — to normalise the world (and Devgn) before shifting into thriller-mode — but the film is clumsily written, with dialogue that sounds wooden; the first hour of the film sounds like an amateurishly dubbed film instead of one we’re watching natively. There are a few smart flourishes, but the filmmakers linger on the one or two good twists for so long that they render them tedious. (There is even a cheeky reference to Suspect X, I believe, in the throwaway mention of a “retired professor” who lives nearby.) But mostly there is more tackiness than craft, demonstrated best by the ill-produced recreations of the movies Vijay watches and in the way fake newspapers are visibly made up of computer printouts with Times New Roman taken too literally.

Don’t get me wrong, several parts of the film work and, for the most part, Drishyam motors along far more efficiently than most Hindi films — but isn’t that too low a bar? Is it too much to ask for a ingenious, tight thriller?

At one point in the film Tabu makes the link about Vijay and the movies, and this is where I rubbed my hands together and thought we were (finally) in for some intriguing traps that subvert or mock cinematic cliché, a truly brilliant cat and mouse game. Alas, nothing comes of it and we never get a battle between equals. Perhaps because she’d have eaten him alive: lug, luggage and all.

Rating: 2.5 stars

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First published Rediff, July 31, 2015

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Column: Scandal Point-less

It’s bloody hard to create controversy, you know? Yes, I know it’s all done for release-dates and ratings and eyeballs, and you’re right, naturally, but the very act of it — of summoning up scandal or sparking off a storm — is damn near impossible in this day and age. Just think, if you will, of the last time something genuinely shocked you. A piece of news that made you sit up and take notice, made you call up a friend to discuss it, got you gobsmacked enough to keep you from tweeting sarcastically about it for five dumbfounded minutes. It doesn’t happen anymore, it just doesn’t.

We’ve all heard the weirdest rumours — about everyone from Amitabh Bachchan to Shah Rukh Khan to men named Modi — and read about the saddest exposés — involving everyone from Cary Grant to Bill Cosby — and I don’t think anything can significantly raise our eyebrows anymore. In a world where everyone is constantly out to “break the Internet,” all we have left are a few cracks.

Can controversy sell a film? No. The public today is too cynical to really care if x slept with y — unless they like how x and y look on screen together, in which case, of course, they’ll queue up for their movies anyway. According to the old-school publicity pundits, what controversy does is keep a film’s name in the headlines, but my point is that when a blockbuster is coming up, we’re bombarded with its name regardless of gossip. It doesn’t matter how little we may care, we know when the next Rohit Shetty film will release. And smaller independent films have budgets too measly — and are too star-less — to manufacture any effective buzz through the grapevine. Who would care if two actors the public doesn’t know about are brawling? (The few hundred people who already revere these actors too good to be super-famous could care less about a blind-item column.)

The truth of the matter is that visibility does not equal success. We go to the movies for all kinds of reasons — we like the actors/filmmakers/posters, we’ve heard good things about what’s playing, or, in some cases involving certain superstars, we go because we are comforted by the fact that we know exactly what we’re going to get — but I don’t think any of us think someone else’s scandal is worth spending our own money on. People tallying up ‘trending topics’ should remember that retweets don’t cost a rupee. The loudest of the noise comes from preaching to the choirs. If success could be determined by the amount of newsprint one can swallow, Bombay Velvet would be a historic hit. And Gajendra Chauhan would be our megastar.

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First published The Hindustan Times, July 25, 2015

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Review: Peyton Reed’s Ant-Man

Some superheroes have the same problems we do.

The tiny Ant-Man and his equally puny adversary, Yellowjacket, rattle around waging war locked inside a briefcase and one of them trampolines against an iPhone’s home-button while saying the words “I’m going to disintegrate you.” Siri, confounding in that sweet, untimely way of hers, decides to obey an unsaid command and plays Disintegration, by The Cure. Bravo.

Over the last few years, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has buffed the superhero story into a squeaky-clean template, but the blockbuster goalposts keep moving. At a time when we’re coming alive to the cheeky action stylings of Kingsman and the exposition-free awesomeness of Mad Max Fury Road, can an Ant-Man movie drop our jaw and make us say wow? No. So, no, we don’t care if honey, you shrunk the superhero, and no, we don’t fear a supervillain best sized to ruin picnics. The wow simply will not happen.

The good thing is that Marvel knows it, and thus hands us a surprisingly slack and refreshingly modest superhero film. Paul Rudd, who we love ever since he crushed on his blonde stepsister in Clueless two decades ago, is the incredibly unlikely man in the suit. The entire film is a deliciously old-school heist picture — the kind of heist film where Roy Ayers’ Escape theme from Coffy kicks in every time plans are being hatched, in fact.

It is also rather unmistakably a heist film mostly for children, and thus a film that is never clever enough to be genuinely surprising or enjoyable. There are moments of fleeting fun — including toys blown up to larger-than-life size, and Michael Douglas digitally retouched to look so young you feel Sharon Stone must be contorting her legs somewhere nearby — but this film, while passably entertaining and pop-up-book thrilling in 3D, is by no means anything special even though it sufficiently sets up a potentially endearing character (or two).

Ant-Man, directed by Peyton Reed, was originally an Edgar Wright project before that terrific director was taken off the project. It’s all rather heartbreaking, and while the script still retains his flourishes (and screen-credit), the overwhelming feeling is one of squandered promise, despite the scene-stealingly good Michael Peña. Ant-Man slides around the grooves of a record spinning frantically in a nightclub, which is all swell, but it’s all a bit been-there-done-that, a bit Eega, even. It’s a pretty watchable light movie, but ah, it could have been a Wright movie.

Rating: 3 stars

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First published Rediff, July 24, 2015

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Review: Neeraj Ghaywan’s Masaan

(Full disclosure: Masaan is produced by Drishyam Films and they are the people producing my directorial debut, X, as well.)
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It’s devastatingly hard to crush a skull.

masaan1For all its lifelong fragility, the human skull is a significantly tough nut, which is why crematoriums have assistants on call to shove a stick into a pyre and ram it through what once was head, breaking it down so the flames licking at it can consume it quicker. As a child, I thought this skullcrushing was the reason these people are called Domes. They aren’t, even if it sounds like they are. Doms — or Masaanis, as they’re frequently referred to in North India, the ones who man the Masaans, the crematoriums — are a brutally marginalised people, one the rest of our frequently filthy yet eternally queasy nation considers too filthy to touch.

It is here that Neeraj Ghaywan’s directorial debut Masaan blurs the lines, and in striking relatable fashion: does untouchability even matter on the other end of a Facebook friend request?

This is a fine little film about morality and loss and loneliness and Banaras and… well, and a balloon. At the heart of this film, buoyant like that freshly released scarlet balloon, is a young romance between a girl who likes poetry and a guy who fancies her madly enough to admit he hasn’t heard of any of the poets she mentions. She knows this, of course, she knows only too well that he wouldn’t have heard, say, of Nida Fazli, but she’s playing him because she likes hearing him confess inadequacy. He is smitten by her uproarious ways — screenwriter Varun Grover uses the nearly too-quaint word utpaat — and tells her, conjuring up every bit of male bravado, that he’s there for her and that she should come to him were anyone to make her cry. “But what if you make me cry?,” she asks, smiling, and he can’t help but smile back and, gratefully, drop his ‘macho’ guard. “Well, even in that case, you better tell me.”

The fact that he is a Dom doesn’t faze her, though she’s aware of parental intolerance hitting flagpole highs in the cowbelt. But, in keeping with this film’s serene life-goes-on philosophy, she’s happy to flow along. She suggests they run away from their homes and build some kind of a life together. “Anyway I’ve heard everything gets sorted out after some time.”

This story — enacted by debutants Vicky Kaushal and Shweta Tripathy — is a thing of beauty, something so pure and uncluttered that I could gaze at it for much longer than the film lets us, even though tinting this modern love with 90s nostalgia might be overkill. We’ve seen a lot of this awkward smalltown mooning before, but tthis is a romance with heart, stakes and even, sadly, stakes through hearts. Kaushal is sincere, understated and has eyes brimming with yearning, and Tripathy is effervescent enough to change the film’s intentionally murky tone merely with her eyes. She’s the best thing in Masaan.

So good, in fact, is this romance that everything else in Masaan seems almost superfluous. There is a bitter yarn of blackmail, of policing moral and immoral, and while handled with much believability, this is an invariably hoary track. Sanjay Mishra is wonderful as an old translator who sits on the Benaras ghats while Richa Chaddha, playing his conflicted daughter, goes through the motions too blankly. An internalised performance is one thing, but here Chaddha, a usually fine actress, builds her character inconsistently and has trouble ‘acting’ when the performance demands it most. In one confrontation with Mishra asking what she’s blaming him for, she spits back the words “Ma ka” (“for Mother”) almost before he says it; in a film this given to naturalism, her performance jars.

Perhaps that is why Masaan could ideally have been less committed to naturalism than it is to the poetry it aspires to. Avinash Arun, who directed the astonishing Killa recently, is the cinematographer and his work here is marvellously fluid, lapping by the water and diving under and above the obvious, his lens barely glancing at words typed on-screen and thus keeping us, the viewer, either alert or wistful. Yet for all its beautiful cinematography, the imagery in Masaan ends up soothing and never scorching, which feels like a bit of a letdown given the stunning potential on display. This is a lovely, lyrical film (with a great soundtrack by Indian Ocean) but I wish the song could have said more than que sera sera.

The trap of telling a greater story using interlinked, dovetailing plotlines is a sticky one, and while Ghaywan acquits himself well, there is some irregularity that yanks the film down, especially when the varied threads of story are being glued together, which smells too convenient. Yet this film is an immense achievement for a first-time filmmaker, and must be applauded.

masaan2At one point, a railway employee, played by Pankaj Tripathi, uses a line — about a station where more trains stop than start, a Hotel California-esque line on how it’s easy to get there but hard to leave — to try and impress a woman. Earlier in the film, Kaushal shyly, falteringly comes up with a line about how he loves his girl because she’s the youngest in her house, riffing off something she said, and we can see the grin run through his body as he feels the thrill of her succumbing to his line. These are the unforgettable bits. The lines work, Ghaywan. Forget life, death, blackmail, Benaras and corpses; balloon is all you need.

Rating: 3.5 stars

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First published Rediff, July 24, 2015

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Review: Kabir Khan’s Bajrangi Bhaijaan

It was merely a matter of time before someone cracked the Rajkumar Hirani code.

The most memorable tent-pole filmmakers — the big mainstream showmen and pleasers of crowds — often create their own self-celebrating genre. They strike upon and cautiously hone a formula (something Manmohan Desai, for example, managed to do with near-mathematical precision) and then they reap. Till, that is, someone new figures out this formula and replicates it to great effect. It is an invariable and unsurprising cycle, and it happens even though some masala filmmakers take longer to milk than others.

bajrangi1Bajrangi Bhaijaan is an overearnest, oversimplified, preposterously sweet and frequently schlocky film, which shouldn’t work because of how predictable and soppy it is. Yet, because of a finely picked supporting cast, some sharp lines of dialogue and, most crucially, because of its overall heart, it works, and works well. This may well be a Kabir Khan film, but for all those who wished to see Salman Khan in a Raju Hirani project, consider that mission accomplished.

Over in the part of Kashmir that lies with our neighbours, a mother-to-be watches a cricket game on television, all but blowing kisses to a handsome green-clad batsman. The match is conquered and the kicking infant is to be named after the swaggering strokemaker, but it happens to be a girl. We meet Shahida at age six, and she’s pretty as a picture but has never spoken a word. The mother decides she’ll take this daughter to the grand wish-fulfilling dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin over in Delhi, but things go wrong and, mostly because the poor child is unable to cry out for help, she’s left behind in India.

It is in Kurukshetra that this lost little girl runs into local good-for-nothing Pavan Kumar Chaturvedi, a Hanuman-worshipper who believes she’s a brahmin — “who else could be that fair?”, he reasons — and tries to find her parents. Eventually, after naming every city he can think of, he figures out that she’s “a Mohammedan” from Pakistan, is shocked, but decides to go drop her back across the line, all while chanting Hanuman’s name and bowing to every monkey he sees. A mace-shaped pendant hangs from his thick neck, and it must be said that the well-meaning Pavan has an equally thick head.

bajrangi2Kabir Khan cleverly cast his usually invincible hero as a smiling dullard, a man who took ten years to reach the tenth grade and eleven more years to graduate college (a nice parallel, then, to the much-mocked eternal youth enjoyed by Afridi). The thought of another film with Salman Khan flexing his biceps and ripping his shirt off to beat up a dozen men with one pelvic punch is nauseating, and thus seeing him as an emotional fool (who is too ticklish to wrestle) is automatically refreshing. The little girl is played quite wonderfully by Harshaali Malhotra, a seraphic child with gleaming eyes and it is she who smoothens over the film’s roughest edges — like, for instance, an unnecessary fight scene in a brothel — just by looking at Salman with such sheer awe.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui leads the supporting cast, playing a Pakistani news-scavenger based, oddly enough, on Chand Nawab, a real-life reporter who went viral following a clip where passers-by (and his own concentration) couldn’t make room for his modest intentions. Siddiqui nails that particular scene and brings much credibility to the proceedings, excelling with his body language here while laughing uncontrollably lying on a bed of corn or when grabbing an old man’s hand to get himself forcibly slapped. Siddiqui sinks his teeth into a good part and runs with it; at one point, when putting up a story he has shot himself on YouTube, his character — so used to desperately slapping his credit on the videos he sells to news channels — signs off, out of habit, “cameraman Chand Nawaz ke saath, Chand Nawaz…” Perfect.

Kareena Kapoor Khan looks dazzling but has far too little to do, Sharat Saxena and Rajesh Sharma are routinely excellent in their gruff roles, and Om Puri has a warm little cameo, but the film is set up by the overwhelming earnestness of Meher Vij in the role of Shahida’s mother, who wears her heartbreak very believably indeed. The filmmakers even throw in one of the old men from that great Kashmir film, Haider in a bid for credibility, and having all these fine actors even in tiny parts helps things considerably.

Also helping things along are a few deft writing touches about bigotry, religion and neighbourly love. A lot of this is hamhanded, but a fair bit is rather interesting, like Pavan being the son of an RSS-man and being revulsed by the smell of meat in the morning, and him threatening to throw out a Pakistani Embassy official from India who turns out to be “just another Indian.” Or like the fact that Kashmir and Switzerland look pretty darned alike.

At two hours and forty minutes, Bajrangi Bhaijaan is seriously long and the climax feels it might never end, but hey, haven’t classic Bollywood weepies always gone on forever? At least Kabir Khan has done his tearjerking properly, added in some burkha tomfoolery and, at one point when the young girl wants chicken and her guardian can’t deal with it, even thrown some Benny Hill madness into it. I tell you, that Hirani code stands cracked good.

In one scene a Pakistani cop, suspicious of his quarry, brusquely interrogates them and Nawaz foxily conjures up a tale of star-crossed lovers and elopement. The policeman breaks into a grin, his ears perk up, and he immediately wants to know more. India, Pakistan, whatever: we’re all just suckers for story. Jai Shri Drama.

Rating: 3.5 stars

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First published Rediff, July 17, 2015

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Hindi cinema’s half-yearly report card, 2015: The bad (and the ugly)

Half of 2015 has flown by, and it’s a good time to take stock of Hindi cinema and its latest shenanigans. Yesterday, I looked at the good stuff, the films and performers that impressed us in these last six months. Today, however, the red pen is out and offenders must be informed of their grotesquery. It’s time for the bad and the ugly.

psepmThe bottom of the barrel:

There are some films that smell bad right from their posters and titles, which invariably sound like either softcore pornography or MTV spoofs: Sharafat Gayi Tel Lene, Hey Bro, Dilliwali Zaalim Girlfriend, Sabki Bajegi Band, Kuch Kuch Locha Hai, I Love Desi, Mere Genie Uncle 3D and Barkhaa — which is not a biopic, alas — and P Se PM Tak. I usually refrain from picking on such soft targets, but P Se PM Tak — about a prostitute becoming the Prime Minister — is notable because it is a feeble, satirical dud made by Kundan Shah, the man who made Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, a film with enough bite to last us a lifetime. To see him reduced to such C-grade juvenilia is truly, truly tragic.

The colossal disappointments:

shamitabh1Shamitabh

You may level many a complaint against R Balki — his climaxes are unforgivably maudlin, his films rely too heavily on casting gimmicks, he has a weird fetish for precocious, dying children — but one thing you must concede is that he pushes Amitabh Bachchan to absurd extremes. In Shamitabh, not just is Dhanush wasted in a stupid movie about an invention that could revolutionise the lives of ventriloquists worldwide, but Bachchan is forced too far over the hammy line, the film’s nadir coming in a confrontation our legend has with a Robert De Niro poster. It’s a devastatingly bad film.

Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!

I firmly believe Dibakar Banerjee is one of the coolest, cleverest directors we have ever had in Hindi cinema. He’s fearless, uncompromising, visionary… and yet he took a well-loved fictional character — a character he gets, a character he digs, even (as evidenced by his foreword to an English-language translation of three Byomkesh Bakshi stories) — and tossed him from intricately plotted next-door drama to a gigantic but ridiculous plot that didn’t add up to anything. It’s a pretty looking, well-acted film but what’s the point of a Byomkesh film where the mystery isn’t smart enough?

The Unnecessaries — movies that have no reason to exist:

There are many Hindi films that shouldn’t have been made, but there are some that are completely flawed right from a conceptual point of view: Mr X is a film about invisibility where the invisible man is mostly visible; Ab Tak Chhapan 2 is a sequel to a masterful film that makes Nana Patekar shoot blanks; Hawaizaada is a long-debunked myth brought to life very tackily; Broken Horses has Vidhu Vinod Chopra remaking his classic Parinda for a straight-to-video level English release; and Hamari Adhuri Kahani director Mohit Suri and writer Mahesh Bhatt try so hard to make audiences weep in every scene that they end up making talented actors look pathetic. (And, understandably, heartbroken.)

Worst performances:

Shruti Haasan: Is Kamal Haasan’s daughter pretty? Sure. Should she act? No, please, for the love of God, no. Shruti grates on the nerves excruciatingly hard in Gabbar Is Back, shrill and screechy and horrid. Akshay Kumar must have shot the film with cotton stuffed in his ears.

Sonakshi Sinha: One ought perhaps to admire Sinha’s apparent commitment to furthering Bollywood’s bimbette stereotype and making Bhojpuri heroines look progressive by comparison. Tevar features yet another painful I’m-so-dumb performance from Sinha, and while I agree we should all be used to it by now, it still hurts every single time.

Aamir Khan: It’s hard to make an audience hate an adorable dog, but, as we all know, the word Impossible doesn’t exist in Aamir Khan’s dictionary, and he ensures we spend Dil Dhadakne Do hoping someone would throw Pluto the dog overboard. Voicing a dog who goes on holiday and complain judgementally about his extended family, Khan delivers childishly written platitudes about humans and their habits, never quite lifting a paw — or, indeed, giving a woof—  to help people he is supposed to love.

bombayvelvet1Special Award For Achieving Universal Loathing:

Once in a blue moon — and usually never around Eid or Diwali — comes a film that makes critics and audiences agree. Last year it was Queen, that saw us all applauding and buying tickets, and this year from the same production house came, well, Bombay Velvet. Anurag Kashyap tried to channel his inner Milan Luthria (who knows why?) but an odd mix of ambition and pretension got in the way of storytelling, and the result is a film with devastating music and fine actors which is amateurishly plotted, never compelling and where we aren’t made to care about a single character. Even Ranbir Kapoor can’t pretend to like this film.
Special Award For Being A Cautionary Tale:

msg1This goes to the one and only Saint Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Ji Insan, a godman whose history you really should look up. Here, we’re only talking about the already-legendary MSG: The Messenger. In my review I stated that MSG wasn’t a movie, yet, since it wanted to be judged as one, we may as well put its hirsute hero in the dock. If only for believing yes-men, and thinking he — a man who does not watch movies — could effectively be a writer, director, cinematographer, editor, music composer, fight choreographer, and leading man. MSG is incredibly, unbelievably weird — enough to make Saint Ji shoot lasers with his eyes and talk to charred Barbie dolls. Sigh. I almost wish it was in 3D.

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First published Rediff, July 2, 2015

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Hindi cinema’s half-yearly report card, 2015: The good stuff

Half of 2015 has flown by, and it’s a good time to take stock of Hindi cinema and its latest shenanigans. Today, I’ll focus on the good stuff, the films and performers that have impressed us in these last six months — while keeping the red pen ready for tomorrow’s more ominous instalment of the report card.

nh10aThe best films

Piku: Without a doubt, this is the A+. Shoojit Sircar’s finely crafted and emotional film about a constipated father and his irritable daughter is something special, challenging and conceptually very ambitious indeed. The acting is top-notch, the storytelling is warm and relatable, and it is a film worthy of many a viewing.

Badlapur: Sriram Raghavan’s intense slow-burn drama about revenge is a compelling and visceral work of art, with an arresting, unpredictable narrative, heaps of style, and a deeply introspective core that lifts it above the genre.

NH10: We haven’t done many true slasher movies in India, and Navdeep Singh’s gritty tale of a woman on the run is made unforgettable because of how believable the whole nightmare seems.

The interesting attempts

Dil Dhadakne Do: Sure, it’s a bit too long and there’s that insufferable talking-dog voiceover, but Zoya Akhtar’s film does indeed feature some genuine and rather quotable gems.

Hunterr: Harshvardhan Kulkarni’s film about a horny hero never quite takes off, but has some seriously quirky stuff going on and is bolstered by its performances.

Dum Laga Ke Haisha: There is a lot of marvellous flavour to Sharat Katariya’s film which gets a lot of things right but ends up being a paean to arranged marriage and how we must all settle.

*Tanu Weds Manu Returns: I must confess I was travelling when this released and haven’t yet caught the film, but even trailer-length glimpses of the short-haired (and electrifying) Kangna Ranaut ensure it being ‘interesting.’

The best actors piku1

Deepika Padukone: Is Padukone our best leading lady right now? She’s certainly not playing it safe, pushing it with every role. Piku sees her flanked by two legendary actors, but she is, impressively enough, the one who shoulders the film.

Irrfan Khan: What can one say about the marvellous Mr Khan? Piku features him as the most wonderfully nonplussed leading man, and as always, he brings tremendous nuance to a role that would, in less capable hands, be a mere comic foil.

Anushka Sharma: Sharma is exceptionally good in NH10, stripped of makeup and believably panicked as she tries to survive a hellacious night. A powerful performance.

Anil Kapoor: Kapoor, one of our most consistent performers, rises to his belligerent best in Dil Dhadakne Do, steamrolling over the talented ensemble to ensure you go home wowed by him.

Radhika Apte: Does this actress know what a false note is? It sure doesn’t look like it, and Apte — who is superb in both Badlapur and Hunterr — is excelling with a truly eclectic filmography.

The big surprises ranveer1

Varun Dhawan: Dhawan, so spontaneous and buoyant in Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhaniya just last year and, heck, bouncing off walls in ABCD2 a few days ago, dialled it all down and went gruff and bearded and mature for Badlapur. The gradual slide of man to monster is slow and challenging, and Dhawan nails it.

Ranveer Singh: Similarly, Singh, known for his far-out frippery and hammy flamboyance, peels off the moustache and swagger and plays it straight (and bemused) in Dil Dhadakne Do, giving us the kind of calm, internalised performance we really aren’t used to anymore. Bravo.

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First published Rediff, July 1, 2015

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