Review: Luv Ranjan’s Pyaar Ka Punchnama 2

pkp2aLet’s start by setting the record straight: misogyny is not the problem here.

Sure, misogyny is certainly a giant (and growing) problem, but the beliefs of the filmmaker should never get in the way of an appreciation of their film. Luv Ranjan, going by the first Pyaar Ka Punchnama and this sequel, may well be a man who has lost all faith in the fairer sex (or, indeed, in their fairness), but the only question that must be asked of Pyaar Ka Punchnama 2 is simply whether it is funny enough.

No, no it isn’t.

Watching Pyaar Ka Punchnama 2 is like watching an online Indian comedy sketch. It contains some genuine belly laughs, significant stereotyping and much generalisation, and some original insightful zingers. This would all be perfectly great were it not for its feature-length running time. (Imagine TVF’s sketch with the father asking for Twitter advice lasting more than two hours.)

The idea is that men are doormats and women wreck their lives. This is not in itself a premise we haven’t laughed at before, in sharper sitcoms or better-written films, but Ranjan’s commitment to his cause is alarmingly militant. In what is scripted almost like a work of cautionary propaganda, all the men are superlatively sterling, and all the women plain evil. The jokes aren’t bad per se but the fact that they all seem to be heading toward this demented kind of lecturing, well, robs them of any good humour. More than laughing I felt instead like stepping away, slowly.

It starts off with three boys — relatively well-to-do man-children living together in the kind of mancave that has a motorcycle as an accessory — meeting their three girls. These encounters range from sweet to utterly tasteless but there is something refreshing (and, to me, surprising) about how all these boys and girls look at dating and courtship as a sport built on awareness. A boy tosses a line, a girl lobs it back, and the fact that they’re hooking up is already a given. Who has time for even verbal foreplay anymore? All you need, the film explains, is confidence.

There are a couple of decent gags here. Sunny Singh, the most endearing performer in the film, a gullible but sincere computer engineer, meets his girl at a wedding. She starts off calling him “Siddharth Bhaiya” but bites her tongue at the “bhaiya” later on when he’s driving her home, and Singh’s quiet jubilation at this, um, bhaiyalessness is almost Thackeray-like. Later the boys reference the ultimate male-bonding film, the genius that is Chashm-e-Buddoor, by appropriating the line “muh kadwa kar le” but using it for beer, not cigarettes, and Singh describes a girl’s name as so sweet as if sung by LataJi.

The girls get a couple of stray laughs, with one girl who works at a BPO constantly stung and correcting anyone who uses the words “call-centre”, and another girl in shorts — Nushrat Bharucha, who takes on her hammy role with genuine, almost infectious enthusiasm — who feigns enthusiasm for a cricket match a couple of times before she stops pretending that it’s more interesting than her Whatsapp.

Yet, despite a few good gags, these are not characters but merely types, all of whom are sacrificed at the altar of Ranjan’s Jugheaded belief system. One of the boys who was so confident he picked up a girl by asking her to tattoo his name on her hand lest she forget it, himself forgets all this confidence as he turns, overnight, into a slave. As do the other boys. Meanwhile, just in case we haven’t noticed, the soundtrack starts telling us that they literally ‘have become dogs.’

Okay then.

pkp2bThis is not a bad film per se, but a genuinely misguided one. The first film had three grown men reduced to snivelling, sobbing losers by the end, but it did show some crackling camaraderie between its leads. This time the men don’t cry but emerge even more pathetic, chained to a trio of witches who seem to have enchanted them while never giving them an ounce of happiness.

And forget about hurting our sentiments, this juvenile single-minded immaturity hurts the comedy. It hurts the writing. It hurts the characters. It hurts the film. As for Mr Ranjan, I’m hoping the film’s climax was merely a feeble joke and not an indicator that he idolises Norman Bates.

Rating: 2 stars


First published Rediff, October 16, 2015

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Review: Sanjay Gupta’s Jazbaa

jazbaa1In many ways, Jazbaa is the Irrfan Khan acid test.

Not that Irrfan needs to be tested, of course. He is a superlative actor in the middle of an incredible run of form, and as we have seen from his sensational recent outings, he seems to just get better and better and better. However, those are wonderfully written parts in films helmed by fine directors, but does Irrfan have the bulletproof screen-presence required for blockbuster buffoonery? Can he commit to a moronic script? Does he have, I dare ask, the Khanhood?

Sanjay Gupta’s Jazbaa says no. (And for that we should all heave a sigh of relief.)

Jazbaa begins with Aishwarya Rai jogging across Bombay in a black catsuit. (In case Gupta decides to switch genres midstream, I assume.) She drops her daughter off to school, goes and kicks ass in court, and then tells her childhood friend, Yohaan (Irrfan) — a “highly decorated” cop in the middle of some extortionate cops-only blackmail racket — that she is a lawyer who defends the guilty because “bekasoor hamaare fees afford nahin kar sakte”, the innocent can’t afford her.

All this after Khan, who wears dark shades indoors — probably to shield himself from Gupta’s relentlessly radioactive green lighting — is accused by fellow cops of an Amitabh Bachchan swagger, which, it must be said, is the weirdest way to reference his heroine’s father in law.

Later Rai, back in her catsuit, runs a race at her daughter’s school with all the other mothers briefed not to overtake her (and given comfortable, normal clothing as a payoff). She wins and looks for the kid, but as she shouts “Sanaya” over and over, her eyes are bloodshot by the third yell — which seems a bit much considering, for all Rai knows at this point, the kid could just have gone to the little girl’s room, right? The hysterics have begun, and the rest of the film is an excuse for Rai to bawl her increasingly red eyes out while Amar Mohile, the man who ruined Ram Gopal Varma’s oeuvre (and eardrums) with maddeningly loud background music, amps it up so our ears bleed.

In one line, the idea of the film — about a mother trying to save her daughter by getting a murder suspect off trial, thereby betraying a victim’s mother in the process — is a strong backbone for any melodrama and, naturally, comes from a Korean film. It is Gupta’s hyperactive treatment that is the culprit, swooshing cameras and oversaturated visuals and an edit-pattern that prides itself on how audible the cuts are. Sigh.

The dialogue is horrendous, with Irrfan getting the kind of lines you’d find on a sticker behind an auto-rickshaw. But while he has to spout weird analogies about relationships and mobile networks, he isn’t alone. A sly beardo tells Rai, with much import, that “what has never happened some day happens.” Shabana Azmi, who plays the victim’s mother, and her daughter exchange some perplexing lines about how holding a cup by its handle increases the distance between the tea and the drinker, and somebody who wants to live would want to feel life with her naked fingers. Why even a cup then, Mr Gupta? Why not have characters bathing their hands in tea and licking it off? (Sorry. Didn’t mean to give you a visual idea. Don’t use this next time. Please.)

jazbaa2Gupta is a slickly efficient action director, but there aren’t even worthwhile setpieces in Jazbaa. It is a mercifully brief movie, just about two hours long, and goes by briskly enough, but that’s about it in terms of the good part. Nothing is consistent here. Chandan Roy Sanyal, who plays the convicted murder suspect, goes from ferocious to cool-headed, from smiling to schizophrenic, for no apparent reason. Rai cries a lot but seems emotionally frozen. Meanwhile, the heart bleeds for Atul Kulkarni, the fine actor playing a lawyer in this tacky film, while his wife Geetanjali wowed us as a lawyer in the striking Court.

Khan struggles with a horrid part where, after he learns his friend’s daughter has been kidnapped, he instantly throws a tremendous tantrum, a hissy-fit about why he wasn’t told first instead of helping this visibly unstable woman.

At some point Gupta wants to make Khan appear pensive and lonely, so he sits at a giant table in a restaurant, by himself, and then — being a character given to talking to himself and to the camera — he tells himself to run. But it is too late. Gupta has cut to a generic hip-hop song, a ‘party song’, the kind Irrfan himself satirised so well recently. That says it all, the gulf between the lampooned and the lampooner. Earlier, Khan offers a fellow policeman a bribe of the very purest shilajit, but that might have come in handier for Gupta’s flaccid film.

You can give us red eyes in a green film, Mr Gupta, but that doesn’t make it Christmas.

Rating: 1 star


First published Rediff, October 9, 2015


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Review: Prabhudeva’s Singh Is Bliing

sib1It’s as if Akshay Kumar is daring us to like him.

The man has genuine acting chops, drips with screen presence, is significantly fitter than his contemporaries, and has the kind of reassuringly goofy grin that makes him appear likeable even in truly mediocre movies. Why must he then subject us to such ghastly movies? He’s a gifted comic actor, but his current comedy template is so harebrained that, well, it would embarrass Adam Sandler.

This particular misadventure begins with Kumar as Raftaar Singh, the kind of lassi-chugging wastrel who is good at everything but has serious attention deficit order. He can do everything except pay attention. Because of this, his brutal father cruelly sentences him to a job in…. Goa? On a floating casino? What a tyrant. But then arrives an ass-kicking white girl who bashes up many a buffoon and steals Raftaar’s beturbanned heart.

That setup could still potentially make for a few laughs, but then there’s a missing mother, a hat-twirling villain and an old man who looks like Ajit — not to mention an interpreter who sleepwalks and hits boys in the groin with coconuts. It’s all happening, and it’s all horrid.

Why, Mr Kumar, why? Spend maybe a tenth of your pagri budget on a decent screenplay? Is it that you — and director Prabhudeva — are completely opposed to the idea of a watchable film? Must a comedy be this… pathetic? Considering that the director gave himself a cameo where he pees on people (I wish I were kidding), the question seems tragically rhetorical.

The girl in the film is Amy Jackson — a girl so generic she might as well be called Any Jackson — but thankfully we don’t have to suffer the sound of her Hindi. She doesn’t understand the language and mercifully only speaks English — when she isn’t talking with her fists and feet, that is. Her character is a fierce fighter who, refreshingly, saves the leading man’s skin a fair few times in the film. Which is why it’s all the more disappointing when she abruptly turns into a damsel-in-distress at the climax.

Kay Kay Menon, meanwhile, hams it up as the baddie and flips around a hat — an act which reminded me of his climactic hat-flinging in Bombay Velvet — and constantly calls himself “too good”, in a clumsy echo, perhaps, of Gulshan Grover labelling himself “bad man” all those years ago in Ram Lakhan. Everything in this film is a clumsy echo, in fact, and even the product placements seem too underbudget to be real: Rasna, Rapidex, BestDeal? Please tell me this was all in jest.

Lara Dutta, playing the sleep-challenged interpreter, tries hard to full-bloodedly embrace the lunacy, and there is a moment where she offers a glimmer of hope as the Sardar takes his girl into a song sequence and they take Dutta along to interpret his thoughts to her. If only all of it were even slightly tolerably written — as it stands, Dutta comes off looking like an impressively sportsmanlike buffoon.

Despite all this, Kumar, bless his soul, still makes us laugh. From the way he nonchalantly tosses car keys into a swimming pool to the way he pillow-fights with his mother — and frequently crouches down in front of his father, as if giving a pitch report — Kumar shows off the spontaneity that makes him hard to resist. Unlike Singh Is King, however, Singh Is Bliing is far too moronic to be saved.

In a stupid early scene featuring a dog dressed as a lion — with the scenes distractingly labelled “Shot in a zoo” and “Shot in South Africa” as if locations were cigarettes — I thought I spotted one of the old Flop Show actors on stage. I might be mistaken, but not as much as this film. Those spoofy “misdirected by” credits would suit Prabhudeva just fine.

Rating: 1.5 stars

First published Rediff, October 2, 2015

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Review: Meghna Gulzar’s Talvar

The scariest part of Meghna Gulzar’s Talvar is when it makes us laugh.

A tightly-coiled procedural made with such dryness that it seems, in parts, documentarian — resembling a reenactment more than a feature film — Talvar is one of those rare films that remains constantly aware of what it is doing and what buttons it is pushing. It is an unflinching film, hard to swallow, and when — somewhere near the end — it breaks down into round-table absurdity, with opposing investigators laughing off each other’s theories, the scene is brutally, irresistibly hilarious. Investigators and senior intelligence officials poke holes, guffaw at the language used, and one team even literally calls the other a joke. It is scythe-sharp writing, and, after being horrified by a narrative this terse, it feels good to finally kick back and snigger as things get funny.

That hilarious scene, and our relieved reaction to it, is symptomatic of who we are and how we now consume even the most nightmarish of facts. It betrays our desperate need to move on, our hunger to be quickly amused, our desire to skip past the facts and find the Kafkaesque vein so we can tut-tut and shake our heads bemusedly.

talvar1After news of the real-life Talwar murder case broke seven years ago, we as a nation constantly switched sides, easily aroused by the mainstream media first flinging mud at the victim’s parents, sensationalist news-channel tickers ablaze, and then lulled by the liberal media with their longform think-pieces showing the lack of evidence against these parents. There is a new book out — Aarushi, by Avirook Sen — in support of the parents who remain incarcerated despite inadequate evidence, and Ms Gulzar’s film, while attempting to prismatically show many sides of the unknown, clearly also takes their side. The fact that it takes sides so staunchly is great, both because it works as a war cry against an unjust system, but also, more importantly, because it doesn’t pretend to be impartial. Because you, the viewer, know where the film stands, you can make up your mind in agreement or dissent.

What you cannot doubt is doubt itself.

The maid comes by in the morning. There is some fumbling for keys because the servant is missing. Then the girl, fourteen, is found in her bed, slain and bloodied. The cops arrive, agree that the servant has done it, and declare it an open-and-shut case. Except another door opens: the suspected servant is found dead on the roof, cut up in the same way as the girl. What the hell happened?

Ms Gulzar’s film, with a script by Vishal Bhardwaj, tries to answer that very question by following several discordant theories to their rightful conclusions — and so we see what-might-have-been several times over, with parents Ramesh and Nutan Tandon taking turns slaughtering their own child or discovering her dead. We see the servant and his friends, the investigative officer and his attempts at hunting down the truth, the policemen and their lunkheaded laziness. And through it all we watch and we doubt — and we doubt and we doubt — and therein lies the sharpness of Talvar.

It is a cleanly-crafted film. Pankaj Kumar, one of the most fascinating cinematographers on the scene today, here keeps things unshowy and murky, his compositions frequently voyeuristic — enhancing the suggestion that we may suddenly be privy to what is usually outside our jurisdiction, be looking at something we aren’t normally meant to. The background score by Ketan Sodha is effective, even if a touch inspired by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, and the snatches of song we hear are excellent, especially the haunting final track sung by Rekha Bhardwaj that floats over the end-titles. The art-direction is immaculate; a lot of Talvar’s triumph lies in how little it looks like a film.

talvar2Yet a film it certainly is, and for all its dry treatment, it is a sufficiently dramatic one as it goes about hitting the right evocative beats. Things are held in place by a devastatingly good ensemble cast, each of the players bringing something to the table: Konkona Sensharma and Neeraj Kabi play the girl’s parents, doing so with heartbreaking normality, Sensharma particularly lovely as she remains, believably, too stunned to react (despite what a certain columnist once screamed); Gajraj Rao is terrific as a pan-chewing cop eager to hurry things along; Sohum Shah is superb as the investigator’s assistant, so eager to please that he bangs a spoon on a pot to give his boss a beat; Atul Kumar, throwing around hardcore Hindi, is spot-on as a cold and canny intelligence man; and Prakash Belawadi, as the outgoing chief of the Department of Investigation, is fantastic as he articulates increasingly nuanced Hindi verses in his AR Rahman accent.

The table itself belongs, however, to one man. Irrfan Khan plays the investigative officer who gets sucked into the case, and the film singles him out as the protagonist, taking us along for the ride as he messily but determinedly unravels his version of the truth. Khan, arguably the finest working actor in Hindi cinema today, is in flawless form as he keeps things consistently wry — be it while interrogating or making a Gulzar reference to his wife. It’s a stunning, stunning performance, and there are these little touches Khan conjures up — like the way he grimaces for a split-second while trying to remember the name of his wife’s pills, as if he were flexing a memory muscle — that are an absolute marvel.

Khan exonerates the parents and the film takes his side, clearly casting him as the righteous hero. And yet, by the time the credits roll, even this man has given up and, really, fallen on his own talvar. The truth tires. Doubt alone triumphs.

Rating: 4.5 stars


First published Rediff, October 2, 2015


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Review: Ridley Scott’s The Martian

How long can a modern-day space romp go without breaking out the Bowie?

In keeping with pop-scored movies like Guardians Of The Galaxy, it has now become merely a matter of time before movies that have any connection to space start flaunting their Ziggy Stardust credentials, and give us a taste of the sardonic Englishman with the sneery vocals. In Ridley Scott’s new film, the song that plays is Starman, though — given the fact that the film is called The Martian — I’d say Scott missed a trick and should indeed have played Life On Mars.

martian1Because it — Scott’s film, not Bowie’s song, heaven forbid — is, indeed, “a godawful small affair.” And this is surprising. Based on a novel by Andy Weir, The Martian tells the story of an astronaut marooned on the red planet, a man who fights all the odds to stave off madness, to grow food and to stay alive while stuck on a planet unlikely to host visitors for another four years. With Matt Damon in the lead, it all sounds dashed exciting and quite a thrill, and the trailer indeed held much breathless promise, but with no conflict or surprise whatsoever, this remarkably light film plays more like The Swiss Family Robinson with a webcam.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, of course. Damon is a genuinely charming actor who often finds himself stuck in films that arm characters around him with better lines and more smoothness, and it is a pleasure to see him almost single-handedly man this film, with an unlikely botanist braggadocio and his hatred for disco music. He refuses to turn the beat around, and for good reason. Aforementioned groovy tunes come from his Mission Commander, the flawless Jessica Chastain, in place of actually giving her a character. Scott’s film occasionally details out quirks, but the entire well-picked cast is entirely shrouded in soul-sucking vanilla: Kate Mara has nothing to say, Jeff Daniels plays the head of NASA as he would an 80s President, Mackenzie Davis and Donald Glover are around to lend some geek TV cred, Kirsten Wiig has never been more flavourless, and Sean Bean stays — shocker of shockers — alive. What’s the point of that?

Add to this Chiwetel Ejiofor playing the half-Baptist half-Hindu engineer Vincent Kapoor. (I’m assuming Irrfan Khan’s phone was switched off.) Ejiofor, always thoughtful, is nevertheless impressive even in a part that requires him to sigh very awkwardly while texting a man many moons away.

The Martian, as you may have gathered, doesn’t therefore possess much in the way of personality, as movies go. The soundtrack tries its best to be Zimmer-y and bronnng-ing in that Interstellar fashion every so often, a film that furnishes a large part of Scott’s cast. Even the pop-culture figures referenced by Damon are caricatures of machismo: Iron Man and The Fonz.

martian2Yet The Martian proves to be a light, pleasant watch. Scott’s last few films have been ambitious but daft and it’s refreshing to see him efficiently on autopilot here. No new ground (or sonic barrier) is broken conceptually, and while debris looks sexier with each passing 3D film, this one looks muddy and far from spectacular. There is, however, something peaceful about watching Damon indulge himself this hard, and while he stays mostly bland — save for growing fuzz for a few scenes and dubbing himself Captain Blondbeard — he shows how you can go a helluva long way with defiance and duct-tape.

Maybe it is high time Mars-movies became more modest affairs. Anyway the red planet seems less scary now that we know it’s wet.

Rating: 3 stars


First published Rediff, October 2, 2015

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Review: Chimbudeven’s Puli

puli1By the time Sridevi shows up in the massive-budget fantasy epic Puli, its few charms have worn off and the iconic actress appears like an empress who’s shown up at an unimaginative costume party. Chimbudeven’s film is a sluggish and boring affair, despite much going on: babies are Moses’d into baskets (alongside with breakfast), red birds talk in a human tongue but nobody considers this a big deal, and all-powerful vampire creatures wear lots of armour and chainmail to protect themselves from the puny humans. It is also a film where the protagonists, in order to further the narrative, are made to lick a toad — which is blatantly an endorsement for dropping acid but Puli, believe you me, makes for a truly bad trip.

What, however, does Sridevi do? When we finally see her — the striking veteran luring us into theatres with her badass maleficence in the trailers — the film has tortured us past intermission point and there may be no turning back. There isn’t. Regal and out of place as she is, Sridevi gamely embraces the lunacy and starts walking up the side of a pillar — despite visual effects specialists from several countries working on this ‘epic,’ the laughable result is closer to Batman walking up walls in the 60s TV show.

The effects, to be fair, aren’t all hideous. The animatronic creatures are well rendered, with frogs pointing out directions and birds laughing at poor jokes, and the horses in this film wear suitably intimidating gear, but that’s about all we can say in terms of positives. Oh, and the second half, full of long one-on-one duels, is significantly better than the first — but that’s largely because Sridevi’s around and because the eternally insufferable Shruti Haasan is bound and (invisibly) gagged through most of it.

puli2A big part of the problem with this fantasy is the hero, Vijay, a childish looking fellow we are supposed to believe is a hardcore warrior and a highly strategic thinker. None of this comes across as we first see him walking out on screen bored and pouting, as if already wary of all this tacky cosplaying. Vijay plays a villager called Magadheera, a well-liked fellow whose dad had his arm sliced off and sister had her neck sliced off, but he seems content to sit back and pretend he’s brave in order to flirt with Shruti Haasan, the chief’s daughter.

The well-armoured vampires kidnap said girl, which leads our hero and his friends — which include a talking bird, three pocket-sized people called Alpha, Beta and Gamma and a toad for them all to lick — into the fearsome fortress to fight evil queen Sridevi, menacingly glaring at them as if English Vinglish had flopped. It’s all quite pathetic, to be honest, what with Magadheera painting his eyeballs blue with poster colour and — in flashback — an older, long-haired Vijay with his mane fanned furiously, grimacing as if he were Sonu Nigam attempting to sing metal.

And somewhere in the middle of all this inanity are tiny dancing women wearing peanut-shells for bustiers. Oh yes.

As a film for children, it may have worked if it had a sharper plot or if it at least hurried along this one. As it stands, Puli is merely exhausting, and — speaking as someone who has never watched a Vijay film before — exposes him as a tremendously limited leading man, utterly lacking in the charisma a role like this requires.

There isn’t much a good hero could have done here either, though. I was reminded mostly of the inane but compellingly watchable Haatim Tai from 25 years ago featuring Jeetendra and Satish Shah. That was a trashy film with hairy-armed women, cheesy fangs and a disturbing amount of giantess-ing, but at least the riddle-filled narrative held our interest. Puli, made on a far bigger scale, is much grander and stupider, with Tinu Anand playing a saint with Marge Simpson hair and a nameless bloodthirsty demon introducing himself as “a bloodthirsty demon” as if he’s run out of business cards.

We must look to Sridevi for the answers, and these she provides whimsically, teleporting several times mid-sentence as she speaks to the heroes. Clearly Puli needs you to make (or carry) your own entertainment.

Rating: 1.5 stars


First published Rediff, October 2, 2015

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Review: Madhur Bhandarkar’s Calendar Girls

Halfway through Calendar Girls, the new film by Madhur Bhandarkar, a young actress is shooting a film when she’s sidetracked by the revelation that some superstar is shooting nearby. She bolts, thrilled, toward the celebrity, and while one might imagine a Khan cameo, the star in question is Bhandarkar, playing himself. There are a couple of scenes where the ingenue OMGingly gushes over his work as the filmmaker puts on a consciously grave baritone, while dressed in bright red and yellow fleece jerseys Shah Rukh Khan may have discarded during Kuch Kuch Hota Hai.

This is all unbelievably meta. Bhandarkar, a maker of tacky cliché masquerading as so-called ‘realistic’ cinema, sitting opposite an actress played by — of all people — Ruhi Singh, who we last saw in Nisha Pahuja’s terrific documentary The World Before Her, which showed Singh’s frightening focus on the Miss India title. Now, as an ambitious actress clambering up the Bollywood rungs, Ruhi seems almost to be playing Part 2 of that true story while Bhandarkar smiles and plays mentor — Which, I suppose, he is doing in real-life by giving the girl her first break. The conversation is singularly bizarre as Bhandarkar says he wants to cast her in a film, but complains she’s already signed another film with some random producer. “Oh sir,” says the girl, chirpy and unperturbed, “I only did that because I wanted to buy a flat in Oberoi Springs.” To this Bhandarkar nods and hmmms with (grave) empathy, as if he condones the act, for that is how things ought to be done.

Look, either Madhur Bhandarkar is messing with all of us and is genuinely waging war on the way the industry works by sacrificing his own brand at the altar of truth, or he is blessed with a complete and utter lack of self-awareness.

calendargirls1The latter is more likely, considering the way this film has been made. It’s a preposterously sloppy production, a film where the casting brief apparently insisted on excluding all those with any talent. A few new girls are wrung through an excruciatingly bad script and the film is inconsistent on every level: visually, tonally, and in terms of narrative. Take the name off the poster and it’s hard to believe this film has been made by someone who makes films. Sadly, Bhandarkar might not even get the difference, and thus the scene plays out — entirely without irony — as he poses smilingly for selfies with Singh.

The film is about five young ladies who make it big as Calendar Girls, following which they are all expected to have a career in the world of glamour. One of them becomes the aforementioned actress and charges money to attend funerals, one (in a cruel moment of unintentional hilarity) becomes the brand ambassador of a spastic society and then marries a millionaire, one ends up seducing cricketers to fix matches, one is Pakistani and because Indians can’t stand the sight of Pakistani actors (but don’t tell Fawad Khan that) she ends up turning into an exclusive escort — in this she’s schooled by Mita Vashisht, wearing bottle-openers for rings and breathily saying “power-broker” as if it were the opposite of a safe-word. (Yes, it’s like several rejected Vishesh Films story-ideas all moved in together.)

Girl 5, meanwhile, goes to a party and hears that the head of her talent management agency is spreading scurrilous rumours about her. In a strange scene she confronts the man who nudges her about the gossip and so, mid-party, he calls up the owner of the agency and puts the phone on speaker — all while one token white guy looks alarmed by the goings on. “What’s going on?” he wonders, like the rest of us, but is quickly shushed as the owner, sitting in a club, boasts graphically on the phone about his conquest of Girl 5. The next scene has Girl 5 walking into an office and slapping the boss, but while he and the time of day seem to have changed, her dress hasn’t. It just goes to show how little has been thought through before making this movie. But at least Kyra Dutt, who plays Girl 5, does something that resembles acting.

calendargirls2The rest are a trainwreck. There are spin bowlers who introduce themselves hopefully at a party, saying “Hi, hope you know me?”; there are women saying “Setterday” and, delightful as it would be to have a day celebrating Irish Setters, they just mean Saturday; wine-glasses are used as accessories; and then there’s Kiran Kumar talking about philandering as grand tradition, while Suhel Seth plays Vijay Mallya.

My sensibilities need a shower.

Back during that unforgettable director cameo, Bhandarkar complains about an actress making him wait on the sets, declaring that“I make heroine-oriented films because heroes have too many hang-ups, and now look at the heroines.” Indeed, Mr Bhandarkar. How dare heroines act like heroes? How dare female characters in your movies dream of a slightly better life? Ah, but do remember we all live in — as one of your Calendar Girls calls it — “a free choice world,” and we can thus choose not to watch your sexist, racist, stereotyped films.

After a while, I often try and tune out horrible narratives and focus on the extras. The people who try and put their best foot forward come what may, in the hope that maybe they’ll get noticed. By someone, anyone. The waiters, the nameless models, the random Rajasthani turban’d footmen, the young man leading a chant outside the Pakistani model’s house in Bandra… They’re all trying to get noticed by standing out, and Bhandarkar never seems to care that each of these aspirants — in their desperate urge to be different — renders the entire scene incoherent.

Either Bhandarkar magnanimously chooses to allow all of them a platform, or he doesn’t know better. Or wait, have I just given him the idea for his next, Extras? Sorry, world.

Rating: Zero Stars

First published Rediff, September 25, 2015

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