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Review: Vikas Bahl’s Queen

queen1

This is a story of girl meets girl.

The girl, a pink-sweatered doll showered with sticky compliments by her mithaiwallah parents, is all set to be married. She wishes she could learn the dance steps from Cocktail her grandmothers are practicing, and that her best friend showed up in time for the best sangeet-selfies. She doesn’t get married. Instead, after a lifetime of making the most of what is dealt to her, she goes away and finds a version of herself she never knew existed.

This is a story of girl meets girl, and you should know upfront that this is not a love story.

Unless, of course, we refer to the relationship between the audience and the protagonist. Because I dare you to watch Queen and not fall in love with the character.

Vikas Bahl’s film starts off  looking like yet another entry to the increasingly cluttered Delhi-Shaadi subgenre, but it is clear soon enough that this is a film etched more acutely than most. A crying girl grabs a laddoo because it’s nearby, college girls wolf down golgappas on credit, and, after a fiancée gets dumped in a coffee shop, her former man dusts the table free of the mehndi flakes that fell there when her desperate hands chafed helplessly around her cellphone. Relationship detritus comes in the oddest of shapes.

What happens in this film isn’t as important as the way it does. The plot is a mishmash of Meg Ryan’s French Kiss and Sridevi’s English Vinglish, but Bahl’s treatment is fresher and more vibrant, and — incredible as this may sound — his leading lady is better.

Kangana Ranaut is gobstoppingly spectacular. The actress has always flirted with the unfamiliar but here — at her most real, at her most gorgeously guileless — she absolutely shines and the film stands back and lets her rule. There are many natural actresses in Hindi cinema today, but what Ranaut does here, the way she captures both the squeals and the silences of the character, is very special indeed. Her character is built to be endearing and Ranaut, while playing her Rani with wide-eyed candour, is ever sweet but never cloying. It’s a bold but immaculately measured performance, internalised and powerful while simultaneously as overt as it needs to be to moisten every eye in the house.

Having a name that literally means royalty, a name that feels more like a monarchist suffix than a name, can make for awkward conversation when one is forced to explain it to those from farflung shores, and Rani does better than I ever did, enchanting Frenchmen and Italians and Japanese with an irresistibly proud “Queen!” chirrup. The girl goes to Paris and Amsterdam and has many an adventure, and even as Rani steps out to discover her own character, Ranaut stays firmly and impressively in character. In a bar with a waitress ready to pour a spigot of booze down her throat, for example, Rani opens her mouth more out of an obedient instinct than a willingness to drink.

And so this girl from Delhi’s Rajouri Garden traipses around the world, Skyping with her family upto ten times a day, and yet finding liberation around every corner. The cast is mostly excellent — most notably Rani’s family, particularly her grandmother and kid brother/chaperone, and her best friend from college who laments her own shitty life — and Rajkummar Rao is perfectly cringeworthy as a wannabe who believes a London trip makes him better than those around him.

queen2This is a massively entertaining film, even though it does run too long, and Rani’s fun travails are bogged down by a sense of tokenism, by her friends being White, Black and Asian (and the Asian being one of the most annoying Japanese caricatures since Mr Yunioshi from Breakfast At Tiffany’s). The unbelievably hot Lisa Haydon — with Mick Jagger’s tongue tattooed on her thigh — drapes her legs around everything in a seemingly relentless quest for stripper-poles, and her accent is atrociously inconsistent, but ah well. This isn’t about her. Everyone in this film is playing a supporting role, even the director. When nothing else works in the shot, you can turn unfailingly to Rani, besotted, and smile at her with an affection you saved for your teenage crushes. She’s a wonder.

Kudos, then, to screenwriters Parveez Shaikh, Chaitally Parmar and Bahl, but those applauding the great writing shouldn’t forget Ranaut herself, credited for Additional Dialogue. She made Rani as much as Rani’s making her, and to that we must tip our hats.

Ranaut always seemed like a misfit in mainstream Hindi cinema, a stunning but strange creature who belonged to a different jigsaw, but now our movies are beginning to catch up with her. Queen is a good entertainer, sure, but, more critically, it is a showcase for an actress poised to reign. This is one of those monumental moments when you feel the movies shift, and nothing remains the same. I’ve seen the future, baby, and it’s Kangana.

Rating: Four stars

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First published Rediff, March 7, 2014

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Review: Ali Abbas Zafar’s Gunday

gunday1Gunday is the sort of film some people may mistakenly call a bromance. There is, however, nothing bro-tastic at all about this loud and slow-motion actioner, a film that tries hard to be old-school but proves only that its makers need to be schooled. This is, as a matter of fact, a more blatantly homoerotic film than any in our history. If you’ve played a little nudgenudgewinkwink at Sholay subtexts, your mind will explode when the Gunday leads — with coaldust blown into their faces by a guy about to kill them — look at each other and… well, pucker.

That’s right, these two are always on the verge of jumping each other’s bones. Chests shaven, oiled and heaving — in sickeningly slow-motion — Ranveer Singh and Arjun Kapoor consistently look at each other with maddeningly lusty eyes. Theirs is a physically demonstrative friendship, to the extent that whenever Ranveer hugs Arjun he sinks his face into the nape of Arjun’s neck, and when they are both aroused by the sight of Priyanka Chopra inserting herself into a classic song, the sexiest in Hindi film history, they feel the need to immediately hold each other’s hands. It coulda been a progressive film if it wasn’t constantly trying to call itself macho.

They could have called it Gun-Gay but that’d mislead us into believing this could be a quieter film.

Not so, ladies and gents, not so. Director Ali Abbas Zafar has directed a monstrous film, one with a repellent 70s-set storyline that makes no sense whatsoever, and a cast who should all hang their heads and offer up a minute’s silence for assaulting their respective filmographies. This is garbage.

Now, some of the films of the 70s and 80s — those loud and over-the-top actioners with wicked zamindars and wronged fathers and disabled mothers and avenging heroes — were trashy as hell, but they added up. They had solid, meaty plots and, more importantly, they had really good actors as villains being defeated by the likes of Amitabh Bachchan and Sunny Deol and Sunny Deol’s dad. These were men with great presence facing off against solid actors who made careers out of being evil, and the meaty plot — the twists and turns of which would always take more than a few lines to summarise — only made them more fun.

This has none of that, with a plot thinner than sliced cheese, hacky characters and actors who don’t know what to do with themselves. Ranveer and Arjun essentially play a couple of gangsters — and very repressed men in love with each other who get off seeing each other do Baywatch runs — who find everything going for a toss when a heroine walks in on them with their dhutis up. Neither is in love with the girl, but both overcompensate, playing a game of chicken as they clinch each other tighter. That, in a nutshell, is all there is to it.

Meanwhile Irrfan Khan, who apparently gets paid pretty good money for films these days, does his bit and says a few lines and makes them count. He isn’t around much, but if bilge like this helps actors like him make a buck, long may he spend counting out his money.

gunday2Naturally, the two idiots fight over the girl. And it is in the film’s asinine second half, where they stop embracing and start yelling at each other, that it becomes clear these aren’t heroes at all. They might be the best looters of coal this side of Dhanbad, and may have amassed a fortune — wealthy enough to buy anything but shirt-buttons, clearly — but these are two villains in the lead roles, two villains lacking the charisma to be the main baddies. Basically, we’re seeing a three hour film featuring the kinda guys who’d take orders from Sadashiv Amrapurkar or Amrish Puri to go get biffed by Sunny paaji.

Somewhere in this mess is Priyanka Chopra, looking like a bobble-head and making about as much sense. Her commitment to the part is in the way she sashays, and while she delivers most dialogues better than the boys, she’s given a maddeningly inconsistent character. At one point when pushed onto a pile of coal, she falls down straight but in the next shot is lying on her side with her butt stuck out, possibly in the hope that she can Rihanna her way out of a graceless film. (Spoiler: She can’t.)

The film starts off weak, with accidentally fun moments every now and then — the only one that stayed with me involves Pankaj Tripathi stretching out his arms in a Shah Rukh Khan pose after being shot — and we begin with a couple of annoying kids who refuse to grow up. That Bachchan-defining shot, of a child running and kid-legs turning into Amitabh-legs as the camera pulls out, finds many echoes here, but despite many slow-motion opportunities, the running kids exasperatingly enough stay running kids. That’s about the only suspense in this film until the two leads finally appear, Ranveer’s nipple bouncing alarmingly, as if it’s been paid extra.

Everything goes further downhill from there. These are protagonists who wear white pants with red hearts on the bottom, and yet this film doesn’t pick up on opportunities for irony or kitsch. Calling it a throwback seems insulting enough; imagine the Once Upon A Time In Mumbai films without Ajay Devgan, Emraan Hashmi and Akshay Kumar. That’s what Gunday is. And Ali Abbas Zafar should have his directorial license revoked for daring to end this godawful film with a Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid finish.

Rating: Half a star

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First published Rediff, February 14 , 2014

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Review: Sohail Khan’s Jai Ho

jaiho2Like with Alok Nath jokes, it all began with Maine Pyar Kiya. That Sooraj Barjatya hit had characters (with “friend” written on their baseball caps) moronically state that friends don’t thank each other or apologise, a preposterous declaration which must have led the next generations into an era of boorish dickishness in the name of dosti.

Not much has changed 25 years later as Salman Khan, in his latest film — an uncredited and inexplicably violent take on Pay It Forward — starts telling people not to say thanks, but instead help three people in need, and tell them to help three other people, and so on. (In the film this leads to Salman passionately drawing stick figures while people stand around him, cheering as they help him multiply numbers by 3. Um, yeah.)

Sohail Khan, Bhai’s bhai and the director of Jai Ho, obviously likes the idea and extends this welfare policy charitably towards familiar but out-of-work actors, thus negating the need for extra. Everyone from the rickshaw-wallah (Mahesh Manjrekar) to Nameless Corrupt Cop No 2 (Sharad Kapoor) is a recognizable face; even the neighbourhood drunk is “Khopdi” from Nukkad.

In the middle of this world stands Salman Khan, playing himself. Khan, Bollywood’s real-life answer to Derek Zoolander, does his thing like only he can. And the crowd responds. Sitting in a single-screen theatre, the air was filled with shrill, thrilled whistles as soon as the censor certificate hit the screen. The first glimpse of Khan — via braceleted wrist — had the crowd in paroxysms. Imagine a movie theatre full of 14-year-old girls getting their first glimpse of Michael Jackson (Or McCartney. Or Bieber. Pick a generation) except with grown men shrieking instead of preteen girls. (During the climactic fight sequence, these men raucously yelled “kapda utaar”, breathlessly exhorting their bhai to peel off his shirt and make their day. It’s more blatantly than any of our leading ladies get objectified, that’s for sure.)

jaiho1People get attacked; Salman helps. People need stenographers; Salman helps. A little girl needs to go to the restroom; Salman helps. Someone grabs his sister’s collar, Salman snarls. You get where this film is going, yes? In his own lunkheaded manner, perhaps this very choice of film is Salman being sensitive. Perhaps he feels that people watching his film will go out and help other people… But to what end? Despite the hamfisted direction (at one point Suniel Shetty shows up on a highway and starts shooting people with a goddamned tank) the film’s main problem is that Jai Ho isn’t about being a samaritan or paying it forward; it’s about a man who can smash the system all by himself. Not entirely relatable, nope.

Meanwhile, amid the sea of familiar faces peeks the new girl, Daisy Shah. She makes her way onto the screen doing pseudo-Indian classical dance steps while wearing cowboy boots. She’s trying really hard to be MTV but is only applauded, rather disturbingly, by middle-aged folks while the kids watching don’t seem to care. After some silly bickering — and a ghastly recurring joke about her innerwear — Salman falls for her, but it isn’t as if she matters. There are too many characters, you see, to create and set-up and conveniently resolve, and mercifully a lot more screentime is given to the lady who plays Salman’s sister. Tabu’s still got it, and as evidenced by the seetis from my neighbours when she did a brief jig, she can still rock it hard.

The one thing that left me truly touched, however? The fact that Sohail Khan took forward that lament from Austin Powers, that “people never think how things affect the family of a henchman” and showed a goon who had been beaten up watching TV with his family and lamenting his actions. Its… It’s hard to make up, really.

As for Khan, there’s nothing new to see here. But that’s probably the point. For a man who’s pushing 50, he’s looking spry and seems to be having fun playing to type, though the absurd amounts of money his movies rake in obviously help. Having said that, my one and only laugh in Jai Ho came when Khan punched a car window and — in a film where he throws people through all manner of doors and walls and vehicles — explained himself saying he didn’t know it had been rolled up. Does he really want to be in on the joke now? Or maybe he already is.

Rating: 2 stars

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First published Rediff, January 24, 2014 

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The best Hindi films of 2013

Well done, 2013.

It’s been a truly solid year, one where we don’t just have ten movies worth applauding — compared to most years where I have to cobble together lists full of caveats — but, incredibly enough, we now have more films that deserve a special mention.

For me, the films that almost made it to the list were Bombay Talkies, D Day, Kai Po Che and Special 26. They each tick intriguing boxes with novelty and vigour, and would certainly have made the cut in a lesser year. But 2013’s been gracious to the moviegoer.

This has been a tough list to rank, and what stands out for me is the fact that it is studded with genuinely extraordinary directorial debuts, with almost half the films on this list made by first-timers. Our filmi future seems, then, to be in safe hands.

Here, in ascending order, are 2013’s cinematic champions:

10. Fukrey

The best thing in Mrighdeep Singh Lamba’s uproarious comedy is a stray, unnamed character. Encountered outside a gurudwara, this gentleman speaks exclusively in non-sequiturs, resulting in much befuddlement for eternally hapless Lalli, played by Manjot Singh. It is a deceptively simple gag which provides the greatest laugh out loud moment in our movies this year. The film brings us a bunch of spot-on Delhi deadbeats — with names like Hunny and Choocha — and while it eventually turns into a bit of a muddle and criminally ignores the womenfolk, there is much to yuk at in this very spirited production.

mdkm29. Mere Dad Ki Maruti

Aashima Chhiber’s directorial debut lampoons Chandigarh and exploits the stereotypical accents, but does so with genuinely witty dialogue and fine actors who keep it from being just another farce. Ram Kapoor is excellent as the titular dad, bombastic and easily angered, and talented youngsters Saqib Saleem and Prabal Panjabi have a rollicking time hitting each other with rat-a-tat dialogue. It’s a goofy film, sure, but has heart: in one outstanding scene, a bride-to-be dances to an incredibly lewd song at her own sangeet, and while the assembled gathering is suitably shocked, her own mother nods along, mouthing dirty lyrics and counting the much-rehearsed steps, utterly and merrily blinded to all scandalousness.

8. Sahib Biwi Aur Gangster Returns

Few can write as flavourfully as Tigmanshu Dhulia, and the director allows his imagination full rein in this fantastically loopy B-movie. The first Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster, in trying to pay tribute to an iconic masterpiece, was weighed down by comparisons and tenuous in-jokes; the new film is magnificently unhinged and contains merits all its own. One of which, notably, is a politician who, in his urge to find just the right simile to explain his persona to a journalist, calls himself a “sensitive tomato.” It’s mad awesome stuff, bolstered by a wonderfully fine and nuanced performance from Jimmy Shergill.

7. Ship Of Theseus

Rarely has an Indian independent film shown such scope and ambition, and Anand Gandhi’s directorial debut must be hailed for those very qualities. A visually striking film that perhaps bites off more than it tries to chew — choosing, instead, to spend a great deal of time talking about chewing — Ship Of Theseus is uneven but thought-provoking, a flawed yet, on occasion, genuinely beautiful motion picture. Quite a feat for a first-time director. Singular applause must also be saved for Neeraj Kabi, who, as an ailing monk, presents us with a truly special performance, one that is being lauded for literal starvation but should be equally hailed for its remarkable consistency.

6. Shahid

The story of slain human rights activist Shahid Azmi, Hansal Mehta’s film eschewed the spectacular for the straightforward and punched audiences in the gut the way only realism can. The screenplay asks tough questions, questions we keep out of polite conversation, and delivers a searing verdict with a flourish. Raj Kumar Yadav, in the title role, is superlative in the way he fleshes out the character, in how he makes Shahid a real person and not, as is commonly seen in the Indian biopic, an act of mimicry. Yadav is so subtle, and so self-aware, that there are long stretches in the film — in this snappy, crisply assembled film — where you have trouble believing it is a performance at all. Masterful.

sdr15. Shuddh Desi Romance

The girls wore the pants in Maneesh Sharma’s Shuddh Desi Romance. This, despite a leading man who lies for a living, a creature sharp of tongue and possessing significant charm, and yet a character more than glad to fork his neck over to women who look better with reins in hand. Writer Jaideep Sahni, focussing on wedding parties for hire in Western India, introduces us to a quirky world while questioning the very need for marriage as a modern-day institution. It’s a clever film with smashing female characters — one of whom asks for a cold cola instead of bursting into woebegone tears — and all three actors Parineeti Chopra, newcomer Vaani Kapoor (holder of an inscrutably great smile) and Sushant Singh Rajput do Shuddh Desi Romance justice.

4. BA Pass

Hindi cinema is so used to making excuses for female amorality that BA Pass, a genre-faithful noir film with a bonafide femme fatale, comes across as rather revolutionary. A freshly orphaned youngster faces a life of nondescript bleakness, of jeering guardians and a college degree that smacks of non-committal desperation, but finds his world turned on its head by a cougar who doesn’t hide her hunger. Shilpa Shukla’s Sarika is a character unique to our cinema, a ravenous housewife who unapologetically seduces and corrupts and haunts. Based on Mohan Sikka’s Railway Aunty, Ajay Bahl’s directorial debut draws us in from the start with a fine attention to detail — the sort of details usually lost because they’re doodled along the margins — and, because it keeps the noose ruthlessly taut, strangles our preconceived notions quite effectively indeed.

3. Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola

Lunacy rules the roost in Vishal Bhardwaj’s sociopolitical satire, a work of delicious absurdity anchored into greatness by one immaculate performance from our best-ever actor. There lies many a nugget of joy in Bhardwaj’s latest — from the sharply, cannily chosen words to the characters to the sheer whimsy on display across every frame — but much of it is overtaken by Pankaj Kapoor’s Mandola, a fascist who finds Socialism at the bottom of a bottle. This Dr Jekyll and Comrade Hyde routine requires tremendous balance, and Kapoor delivers breathtakingly well. And this while Bhardwaj, paying tribute to Emir Kusturica, goes bonkers in almost Wodehousian vein.

2. Lootera

Vikramaditya Motwane takes O Henry’s most famous short story, The Last Leaf, and treats it fondly, like a fable. The result is an artfully made and immensely lyrical film that comes together with much sophistry. Lootera begins with a father telling his daughter a fairytale, and continues in similar vein, with poetic license tying loose ends with style. The two leads are in sensational form, with Ranveer Singh conjuring up Heathcliff snarls and Sonakshi Sinha essaying her part with grand dignity as well as a sad fragility. It is a film, as I mentioned in my review, that has more than a bit of a nose fetish, and also an adaptation that understands the subject matter and expresses it as dreamily as possible.

lunchbox11. The Lunchbox

I began my review of Ritesh Batra’s directorial debut by singling out my single favourite moment from the film, and yet — while that sequence is gorgeously sublime — ruminating on The Lunchbox throws up more and more magic, every bit as special as the others. What is most impressive about this masterpiece is the restraint constantly shown by Batra and his terrific cast. Here is a grounded, realistic film that unfolds with graceful happenstance, a film that is never showy, yet always sensational. Nimrat Kaur is an actress to marvel at, Nawazuddin Siddiqui endows the narrative with unpredictable energy, Bharati Achrekar isn’t seen but invariably felt, and the one and only Irrfan Khan is frighteningly good. And Bombay — bewildering, beautiful, broken, belief-stretching Bombay — makes all of its romance real.

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First published Rediff, January 2, 2014

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Review: Abhishek Chaubey’s Dedh Ishqiya

Public recitation is as fine an art as poetry itself, and — like in a magic trick — so much depends on the reveal, on teasing the audience into expecting a certain completion to the thought, a certain rhyme, and then to deny them that (but with a flourish.) It is this taunting of the listener that makes shayri so special, the wizards of Urdu repeating their half-lines over and over, forcing those present to fork over applause even before the punch line. And when that final line falls into place just right, surprisingly and cleverly, the abracadabra moment is one of rapture.

Abhishek Chaubey’s Dedh Ishqiya, true to its fractional title, lives for those half-lines, teasing and wheedling and coaxing its audience so that we fall in love even before the charms of the final act are upon us. Calling a film “One and a half” instead of “Two” could signal varied intent — including tributes to Federico Fellini and/or the Naked Gun franchise — but I’d like to believe Chaubey’s superb sophomore effort shies away from the obvious name because it’d rather be called an equal than a sequel.

dedh1Rarely is a Hindi film as mischievously besotted with wordplay, but one look at Chaubey’s co-conspirators confirms that no syllable has been picked accidentally. In this sleight-of-hand tale where gangsters point with iambic-meter before pointing with guns, Chaubey has master wordsmiths Vishal Bhardwaj and Gulzar alongside him, making for a script that balances words as deftly — and, crucially, with as much nervous energy — as a knife-juggler with a case of the hiccups. It’s a marvel.

(It’s also a marvel we may not have been able to understand. Most of us, even those who drop stray Urdu words into conversation, could scarcely navigate the many nuances on offer without the sharp subtitling job. Having the lines present in spirited (and non-literal) translations helps enormously, and it’s a very wise decision to keep the subtitles around even for us Hindi-speaking philistines.)

Set in the fictional town of Mahmudabad, the film sees returning anti-heroes Babban and his dear Khalujaan Iftekhaar back and, as ever, on the run. The two ignoble opportunists are, in a way, like a very amoral Asterix and Obelix: one shrewdly has his eye on the prize while the other frequently squanders his menhirs in the name of love. Questing thus for inaam and inamorata, the leads — played by Arshad Warsi and Naseeruddin Shah — wade through increasingly muddy waters.

Yet is it fair to call these lovable oafs the leads? For this is the tale also of an enchantress, a bonafide beauty whose gorgeousness and fortune brings forth many a suitor from across the land, poetry-lined notebooks in hand. Because, you see, this winsome widow wants to be charmed by couplets, swept away by sentences, ribbed by rhyme. And thus we have a swayamvara where instead of bows and arrows — as her sassy handmaiden explains — a line must be tossed into the air and a challenger must shoot it down with a lyric. The one and only Madhuri Dixit is the suitably unattainable lady in question, with Huma Qureshi as her first mate, so to speak.

Speaking of challengers, however, Dedh Ishqiya may perhaps be the story not of the first-billed impostors or either woman, but of the yearning lover who kidnaps poets to furnish his chance at romance. A slaphappy politician who is a bully, one suspects, because brooding isn’t considered macho enough. A plum role played masterfully by the scene-stealing Vijay Raaz, this gent too is part of the mix, then, putting the ‘verse’ in ‘adversary.’

Voila, what an ensemble. Unlike the first Ishqiya which was — even to those like me who loved it — at best a glorious mess, the plot this time, while rollicking enough, is fiendishly simple. The focus, instead, is on the characters. And, as mentioned, on what exactly they say.

A fair bit of the film admittedly takes its time staring at Madhuri, and this is no complaint for the legend gleams brighter than we’re used to seeing in our movies nowadays. She’s old-world, breathtaking and so utterly graceful it’s like someone draped a saree around a Rolls Royce. Her performance — one that demands small, precise shifts in tone instead of showy histrionics — is pitched perfectly. And it’s a privilege to see her dance the classics.

dedh2The actors are uniformly smashing. Naseeruddin Shah is great, wistful and dreamy and unashamedly wicked, chewing luxuriantly on the dialogues as if they came wrapped in betel-leaf. Arshad Warsi has always been instantly loveable, but he equips his character with a flammable fury that makes him very compelling indeed. Huma Qureshi uses her fiercely intelligent eyes to great effect as she keeps things unpredictable, while Manoj Pahwa and Salman Shahid make themselves indispensable with mere scraps of screen-time.

And then there’s Vijay Raaz. Too often do we Hindi cinema audiences unfairly sideline villains and comedians, but here is a gem of a part, a truly meaty role — the kind of character that, in a Hollywood film, would have been played by Christian Bale or Javier Bardem — and Raaz sinks his teeth into it magnificently. A lanky man given a leonine mane, Raaz here looks disconcertingly like the director himself, and it may even be this doppelgangering that sees his character so well-etched. He performs with an all-knowing weariness so masterfully that he emerges not just a memorable villain, but, like the most memorable villains of all, impossible to root against.

This is a rare joy. It’s a genuinely smart film. It’s beautifully, lovingly shot. The music aids the narrative instead of distractingly taking it hostage. It’s the most quotable Hindi movie in years. It’s a sequel that leaves even a highly original first-part far behind. And, for a film so accessible, it’s armed with the most cunning, most delicious twist. It’s terrific — and a half. Dedhriffic, then.

Rating: 5 stars

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First published Rediff, January 10, 2014

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The worst Hindi films of 2013

himmatwalaIt’s always harder to make a Worst-Of list than one chronicling the best of Hindi cinema, largely because we’re all so spoilt for choice. 

Thumb-rules, therefore, come into play. My basic rule is to pick films that come with certain expectations (as opposed to something that stars Sunny Leone or Shahid Kapoor), to look at films made by directors (or featuring actors) who should know what they’re doing, and to leave small B-grade films out of the mix unless they are, of course, truly ghastly.

Here then, in alphabetical order, are the films that make up the bottom of 2013’s barrel:

Besharam

Ranbir Kapoor, who can’t seem to get enough of mooning us in mediocre movies, strikes again with this film. Not just does Dabanng director Abhinav Kashyap squander Kapoor’s considerable talents, but he unforgivably ropes in Ranbir’s parents and makes them plod through this execrable film. This is bilge.

Chashme Baddoor

The disease called remake-fever has scarcely been more shameless than in David Dhawan’s massacre of Sai Paranjpye’s immortal Chashm-E-Buddoor. That Dhawan takes a modest masterpiece and turns it into trash isn’t surprising, but the true crime lies in the way something so remarkable is turned into something so unbearably generic. Ugh.

Himmatwala

Boasting that this would be the highest grossing film of Ajay Devgn’s career, director Sajid Khan clearly didn’t expect audiences to throw up all over his planned walk to the bank. The first Himmatwala was schlock, and this remake is schlock as if manufactured by a particularly sadistic director who doesn’t know what a scene is. For once, the mandate from audiences and critics was unanimous.

prateikbabbarinissaqIssaq

Manish Tiwary’s offensively bad take on Romeo And Juliet mightn’t normally have made this list, if not for a leading man who provides arguably one of the worst performances of all time. Prateik Babbar is dismal here, so so goddamned awful that anybody you can think of — Uday Chopra, Suniel Shetty, your kid brother who’s never acted — would be a fair bit better.

Ishqk In Paris

A feature-length commercial for producer Preity Zinta to flaunt her dimples, this monstrous vanity project is truly hard to sit through. A man called Prem Raj directs a flimsy film so besotted with its Parisian setting it doesn’t bother to have a storyline, and Zinta is insufferable in the lead.

Krrish 3

Many a bad blockbuster minted money this year, but Krrish 3 stood significantly below even the Chennai Expresses and Dhoom3s of the world with this spectacularly stupid film, a film that — going by the box office receipts — has instantly lowered the collective IQ of our nation’s children by at least 20 points. And then it sold them wristbands, making them (and indeed, all of us) pay to watch the commercial.

Rajdhani Express

It isn’t cricket to poke at a target this soft, but tennis champ Leander Paes talked up his own acting debut far too much, going on to state that he wanted to win Oscars as an actor. Displaying all the thespian bravado of a Wimbledon ticket-stub, Paes is laughably bad in this inexplicable project.

Satya-2-posterSatya 2

Putting a Ram Gopal Varma film in a Worst Of The Year list isn’t sport either these days, but special allowances have to be made for the godfather-of-the-gimmick putting his own credibility on the line by making a sequel to his single-greatest triumph. The question was never one of the new Satya proving worthy of the classic, but the amateurishness on display makes it abundantly clear that this Ram Gopal Varma is nothing but a poor, watered-down Part II of what he once was. The name is the same, but that’s about it.

Satyagraha

Directed by Prakash Jha and featuring an all-star cast — Amitabh Bachchan, Kareena Kapoor, Ajay Devgn — alongside Jha regulars Manoj Bajpayee and Arjun Rampal, this is a mammoth waste of time. A remarkably patchy and inconsistent film, Satyagraha tries hard to draw Kejriwal/Hazare parallels but does so with all the subtlety of a BJP speech. What a drag.

Zanjeer

Shame on you, Apoorva Lakhia. Shame on you, Priyanka Chopra. Shame on you, Sanjay Dutt. And shame on you, Ram Charan, for trying not just to step into the shoes of Amitabh Bachchan’s most incendiary role but for even attempting to mouth that immortal line about police stations and baap ka ghars. This harebrained, tacky, senseless, woefully acted remake is nothing short of a cinematic crime.

~

First published Rediff, December 31, 2013

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Nimrat Kaur: The Actress of 2013

My big Irrfan Khan moment came when I reached the cafe a half-hour late and saw Nimrat Kaur sitting by herself, waiting.

I did spy her from a distance, but unlike Khan’s character Saajan Fernandez in The Lunchbox, I strode right up to the actress who, unlike her own character in that film, sat with an iPad, “doing some serious Facebooking.” For those eager to draw more reel parallels between this piece and the most critically-acclaimed Indian film in decades, I must confess that she hadn’t been downing endless glasses of water. Ah well.

nimrat1

Kaur, in case you’ve been living under a rock for the last few weeks, is the leading lady of Ritesh Batra’s debut film, The Lunchbox, a film every critic in the country hailed unanimously as the right pick to send for the Oscars — and thus, naturally, the one film the government of India decided not to send. But Oscar-Schmoscar, for The Lunchbox has given us much: an exceptional performance from leading man Khan as well as stellar debuts from Batra and his actress, who delivers the kind of performance one should rightfully be thrilled by.

There are precious few actresses to get excited about in Hindi cinema. Most of them are mannequins who learn excruciatingly slowly on the job, after which critics and audiences, numbed by repetition, begin to mistake confidence (and, sometimes, stark make-up) for talent. The last time we got this thrilled about a new heroine was when Chitrangda Singh dazzled us in Sudhir Mishra’s Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi in 2003, and the intervening decade has made us acutely aware of her limited talents. Kaur — who spends most of the film acting by herself, with only a neighbour’s voice for company — appears a lot more promising. An actress worth rooting for, then.

She’s as taken aback as we are about the way the film has connected to people. “Once Ritesh and I were coming back from an interview, and he was saying it’s unnerving sometimes how much adulation [there is], he was like, ‘we were just doing our jobs,’” says Kaur, trying to put mega-hype into perspective. “Actually that’s all it is. Its not a flawless film, its not the best film that’s ever been made. It is a film. It has been made to the best of all of our abilities, with the right intention, and it has taken us as close to the requirements as possible at that time and place. That’s it.” She stops herself for a second and wonders if that’s enough. “But really, yaar, that’s it.”

“The great sense I get is that people are very proud of this film. Not just the people who worked in it, and I hope I don’t sound conceited when I say this, but there is a lot of warmth and pride among people watching the film, who are so happy that the film has been made. And all credit to Ritesh for writing such a film and pulling it off in such a way just to make the film that he wanted to make. And it’s his first, man.”

Kaur is — just to set the record straight, o interested menfolk — nothing like the Ila she plays in The Lunchbox. She’s a smart girl with a sharp tongue and very bright eyes, and a part of her that Batra might have missed out on putting in the film is her gigantic laugh. She throws out breathless rat-a-tat peals, inevitably infectious and childlike, laughs that are almost always triggered off by what she finds preposterous. And show-business provides that in spades.

nimrat2“In this country, we go a lot by how people look,” she says, speaking about perception and advertising, for instance. “And that is meant to decide your personality. Like I used to sometimes sit and talk to agency people, and ask “how do you decide that this girl is Dove or this girl is ICICI?” It’s interesting, because I’ve auditioned for all of these and there’s a category that I’ve never, ever been able to crack. And I know it’s not me, so what is the issue? So then they’ll come up with stuff like, ‘please don’t quote us on this but, you know, see, a girl with a round face and round eyes looks ‘friendly.’” Her peals are waiter-distractingly loud. “A girl with North Indian features — which means a long face and a long nose and small eyes, or whatever — she looks a little bit distant, haha. She’s like ‘Housewife,’ but not ‘Girlfriend.’ What is all this? I don’t understand it, but it’s damn entertaining.”

That stereotyping manifest itself in Kaur’s head when she met Ritesh Batra the first time, with him eager to offer her the role without an audition. “When I met Ritesh, I was like, ‘is he sure? Because I’m not simple, I’m distant!’” Her volume soars just for the laughs, enough to make neighbouring coffee-drinkers gape, and settles down as quickly. “I better not say all of this, better keep my mouth shut. Can we just sign this somewhere so he can’t go back on his word?” There was no fear of the latter because Batra, who had seen Kaur in a small role in a still-unreleased film called Peddlers and as a lead in a theatre production called Baghdad Wedding, was more than impressed. “It was a very demanding, tricky role,” Ritesh explains, about the stage-part, “and she gave it so much. I knew she could do a lot with the film.”

For a very acclaimed theatre performer — co-actor Anshuman Jha calls Nimrat “an actress who can do anything” and one of the best he’s seen in his 13-year career on stage — Kaur’s beginnings came with Madhuri Dixit and Sridevi, with Dil and Beta. “It’s strange when you recognise, while growing up, that you’re not really into the hero; you’re more into the women,” she smiles. “You want to be them. I thought Madhuri and Sridevi were goddesses, because they could do anything!” Kaur wasn’t a shy kid, she enjoyed performing, and while she was significantly academically inclined, on some level she knew she’d chuck it all up for the greasepaint soon as she could.

An Army kid who lived all over the place, she did her Bachelors in Commerce from Delhi’s Shri Ram College Of Commerce — but only because it was the shortest course available to her. “It was a 3 year course. There was the Society of Planning and Architecture for 5 years, the Delhi College of Engineering for 4 years, and Shri Ram for 3. Those are the entrances you give, na. So that choice was made on the basis to get here fast,” she says of her Bombay move 9 years ago. It was a move that took her towards modelling and a couple of music videos, but also one that ignited a fierce passion for the stage.

“I love the medium so much,” she gushes. “It’s never been a stepping stone. It started out as a means of learning something or understanding stuff better, but then it became a way of life. Before I knew it, it was my sense of belonging and it has had such a deep impact on my life. How I carry myself. Why I’m able to understand some things better, in life or for work.”

I ask if she has a preference between acting for the screen or the stage, whether one is harder or one is more rewarding. “What if you write a column for a travel magazine, or you write one for a newspaper?  You’re writing, but you just have to understand the dynamics of the space. Or it’s like swimming. Are you swimming in the ocean, or a pool or a Jacuzzi? It’s that. Your challenges are very different. You have to reach out to many people, your devices are different, the tools are different, but the heart of the matter remains the same. Because you will catch on to a lie, whether on stage or on camera, you will catch a lie.

“On stage you are a lot more responsible. A lot more depends on you, because once the bell goes on then until the end, it’s just you. No one really controls your performances. There is nothing to hide behind. You’re there in all physicality. You know, a lot of people say you have to be spontaneous; I don’t think its that. I think you have to really be responsible and alive. There is no time to die. You have to be there. It is a discipline, a superb discipline,” she says, already geared up for her next play but taking time to figure out her next cinematic project. “You may be playing the same part, but on the 86th day there will be a dead audience, no reaction, that’ll change who you are, change the part you are playing. So the mortality of that exchange is within those two hours, within those 400 people. That’s that. That is what they will take back, that is what they will remember at the end of the day. But on film, your luxury of being immortal is far greater. There is much more sophistication in crafting. “

It’s this sophistication she appreciates in the films she likes, like Lootera which she watched thrice — “I loved it, there was something very languid and easy about that film.” — and could have gone for again had it not left theatres. I ask her about Shuddh Desi Romance which released a couple of days ago, and about how refreshing it is to see mainstream Hindi cinema with female characters who take charge. “Yeah, because life is like that, no?,” she asks, with a big smile. “”No, really, you go to any classic household, the man seemingly earns for the family, but the decisions are mostly taken by the women, you know? They really are the co-drivers, they navigate all the decisions. I don’t think that women are that sad and nonexistent in terms of decision-making. From the smallest things to the biggest things. Women quietly have their way with everything.“

She’s going to a taping of a reality show called Comedy Circus tomorrow to promote her film, and while she’s amused by all the promotional hoopla — “I even went to Lakme Fashion Week, imagine!” — she’s more than gratified that it’s making her family take notice. “My mum saw it in Delhi and Irrfan was there as well, so it was a big deal, and I think she’s taken me seriously for the first time. Because so far she’s told me often enough that “hobby ho gayi teri, get a real job, study more, do something else.” My Naani keeps telling me that I should become a newsreader. But now they understand. Otherwise they’ve had no answers for what I do. ‘Ladki yahan plays karti hai.’ ‘Play kya hota hai?’ People don’t even know what acting is!”

nimrat3The biggest trump-card in her hand, she gloats, is Irrfan Khan, claiming she offhandedly drops an “Irrfan ke saith” into her conversation to impress the family. “He’s such a big star. Internationally, my God! In France I saw the reactions and I thought, man, this guy is big, we don’t realise it.  My Mamaji saw it in Toronto, and he got a picture clicked with Irrfan, and now his friends are showing it off.”

Soon, the family will invariably be boasting about their girl, not her leading man. Over at the next table, Karisma Kapoor and Malaika Arora keep constantly turning in Nimrat’s direction, curious and eager, as if sniffing out the shift in spotlight — even if it’s a very different kind of spotlight. They can’t quite place her (even though they can’t stop staring) when we’re talking, before the release of The Lunchbox, but by the time you’re reading this, she’ll have become more relevant than they’ve ever been. With one film.

“I want to keep my life interesting,” Kaur says about future decisions. “I want to surprise myself, more than anything else. And it’s a lot of failings that have got me here, you know, I haven’t always made the right choices; I’ve tried a lot of stuff. I know that now things change, because everything becomes public. Your decisions become public, and your failings become public. That’s the basic difference after you become visible, with a film out there. I don’t want to take on that pressure. ‘Don’t try to be something you’re not,’ they say. I say, ‘I don’t know what I am.’ I’ve never known who I am. And thank God for that.”

~

First published Man’s World, October 2013

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Review: Vijay Krishna Acharya’s Dhoom 3

Twenty minutes into Dhoom 3, reeling from the assault of cinema so amateurish it’s hard to believe it was put together by grown men, I began to ask myself precisely what this film was trying to be.

There was an annoying kid borrowed from the melodrama of Subhash Ghai movies, complete with a moist-eyed Jackie Shroff. There were the cheesiest of dialogues, Kader Khan in Dickensian mode. There were stunts seemingly executed in slow-motion and shown to us even slower, resulting in yawnworthy chase scenes. There was Aamir Khan running down the side of a building for no apparent reason. Everything — repeat, everything — looked too goofy to be either thrilling or realistic or compelling or even plain fun.

And then it hit me. Dhoom 3 is a children’s film made for children who’ve never seen a film.

dhoom31How else can you explain this famine of originality? How else can you possibly justify the lack of a single interesting scene right up to the intermission? And how, after that, can you account for Aamir Khan’s blatant exploitation of yet another Christopher Nolan masterpiece that the actor (by his own admission) doesn’t understand?

Look here, I liked the first and second Dhoom films. The first was brisk enough to breeze by, the second was sheer masala but presented well, an utterly preposterous but very good looking film. The reason I’ve been looking forward to this film, however, was the fact that I was one of the half-dozen people on the planet who actually liked the director’s first film, Tashan. All I wanted from Vijay Krishna Acharya’s third installment, then, was a film that made like a firecracker and went boom — even if it didn’t make sense.

But this is a Christmas debacle.

We start with Chicago in the year 1990, though it may as well be a hundred years ago. An old magician (Shroff), his labrador-brown eyes eternally wet with tears, runs a circus housed in a massive structure the size of the New York Public Library. The bank moves in to cut off his loan and Shroff, instead of perhaps leasing out the place and moving to a humbler venue, decides to kill himself. For how dare the evil bankers remain unmoved by his clown-nose wearing son?

Said son grows up to become Aamir Khan, a frequently shirtless man who sleeps in corduroy trousers. Oh, and robs banks, since banks = evil.

American police seem ill-equipped to handle things (The Rock must have had the month off) and thus, naturally, help is imported from back in India. Where Uday Chopra’s Ali spends several minutes talking up his boss to goons — in “Don’t you know he’s Dirty Harry?” vein — before the aforementioned boss shows up flying through the air in an auto-rickshaw with stickers of Salman Khan films optimistically on either side.

Abhishek Bachchan’s Jai Dikshit seems a nice enough fellow, if somewhat surly, but happens to be a remarkably incompetent police officer. (I mean, if not from Dad, at least take some pointers from Iftekhar Uncle’s movies, Abhishek?) Here’s a fellow who, when he traps a fleeing motorcycle on a bridge, helpfully tilts it up to offer the fugitive a convenient ramp. The rest of the time he scowls.

Ah, and then there’s the girl. Apparently all the “hot Asian ladkiyan” in Chicago have been auditioned for Khan’s Great Indian Circus act but none has enough “liquid electricity,” whatever in innuendo’s name that means. Enter Katrina Kaif, all stuntwoman-flexible and whippety hairdo, looking like a million bucks and speaking, disconcertingly enough, like a twelve-year-old.

The rest of the film is, essentially, a dumbed-down version of Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige, arguably the greatest movie ever made about magicians. Aamir Khan, who claimed Ghajini was a great story but that he didn’t understand Nolan’s groundbreaking Memento, will probably say some such about this bit of shameless pilfering as well. Oh, and he uses a Joker sign too, to boot. (I can already picture ambitious young screenwriters lining up outside Khan’s bungalow with easy-to-understand song-filled scripts titled Sapne Mein Sapna.)

dhoom32The other thing in this film is The Face. If you’ve seen the trailer or the songs or the posters, you know what I’m talking about. It’s the perplexingly weird expression Aamir sticks onto his face throughout, and the smugness with which he wears the A-Face makes me wonder if we’re all — inadvertently and inescapably — seeing his vinegar strokes over and over again. If we’re eskimo brothers now, Aamir Bhai, must say you messed up. Big time.

Not that Khan’s acted badly. Oh no. Outside of The Face, he’s pretty solid and has the charisma to power this film through, especially when he’s being all summery: i.e. all cutesy smirks and grins and chortles, a happy part of his repertoire the actor seemed to have left behind awhile ago. He also deserves credit for being a massive superstar who has agreed to look, occasionally, like an Oompah-Loompah; he’s been shot most unflatteringly. It is purely because of Khan that the (three) dramatic twists in this movie have any heft at all, but even he can’t help the vacant nothingness that engulfs the script before and after those stray moments.

But, you might persist, having already bought into the exorbitantly priced weekend tickets, aren’t the stunts good? Or IMAX-worthy? Well, the locations aren’t bad. It’s mostly shot in Chicago, and some of the vistas used as backgrounds for the bridges look pretty awesome. The stunts themselves, however, are both pointless and badly edited. Khan’s bike (which is a Transformer™, for some reason) is flung around excitably enough but hurling action figures isn’t the same as choreographing an action set-piece. So much time is spent in slow-motion, and so long do we linger on each shot, that the chases appear sluggish. There is no sense of urgency. At one point stationary police cars randomly start to do cartwheels, perhaps only to indulge Acharya’s inner Rohit Shetty. Like I said, if your child doesn’t know what movies are, he might be amused. For a bit.

The trick, of course, is on us. Shroff might have called his act The Box In The Box, but producer Aditya Chopra goes one better, knowing we’ll show up to watch a Dhoom film if only to laugh at it. This time around, Aamir’s The Boy In The Box Office.

Rating: 1.5 stars

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First published Rediff, December 20, 2013

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Review: Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ramleela

Begone, pretenders.

Why must Bollywood try to claw vainly at the works of The Bard? Or, to be fair, why must directors overreach as they aim for instant literary endorsement? In the last year and a half, three directors (who have previously made one good film each) have tried to tell the classic tale of Romeo And Juliet and fatally floundered, creating painful works worthy of great embarrassment. Habib Faisal made the terrific Do Dooni Chaar and then gave us the disgusting Ishaqzaade; Manish Tiwary made the interesting Dil Dosti Etc and then gave us the unwatchable Issaq; and finally Sanjay Leela Bhansali, who once made the impressive Khamoshi, has turned up a movie with a title almost as grotesque as its contents.

May the brilliant Bhardwaj sic his bloodhounds upon you, foul fakers.

Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ramleela — the acronym of which unfailingly reminds me of Greater Kailash Residential associations — is a monstrously excessive film with a riot of colours, a girl who looks very pretty indeed and a daft hero, but despite that being the warning on the tin whenever you attempt (foolhardily) to buy into a Bhansali product, this can’t be what you bargained for. GKRR is an overplotted, bloody mess.

Ranveer Singh, he of that dandruff song, plays Ram, and he does so head and shoulders more effeminately than you’ve seen any Hindi film hero. He throws in the dhak-dhak dance step, for example, and later appears oiled up and wearing a dhoti tied lower than Shilpa Shetty would a sari. He also speaks like a character written for Satish Kaushik in a David Dhawan movie, all poor puns and weird vocal tics and very lame dialogue. Singh pushes himself but the part is too imbecilic, and he only does well when falling down and looking up at the camera — simply because it reminds us of his lovely Lootera.

Deepika Padukone plays his gal, Leela, a cleavage-thrusting princess who looks absolutely luminous but can’t quite handle the sheer, relentless raunch the part demands. She sells some of the dialogue impressively, but stumbles over the tu-tadaak overfamiliarity thrust onto her by the script, and performs the way SLB likes his ladies to: when she’s happy, she’s too happy; horny, too horny; sad, too pouty. She looks like a million bucks, however, and so resplendent is Padukone with screen presence that it feels like watching Angelina Jolie in a bad film — ie, it’s all pointless, but there is something worth staring at. Her hero might carry a water pistol, but this Leela packs the guns.

Speaking of which, GKRR marks Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s discovery of arms and ammunition, one that leads to his attempting dialogue more suited to Anurag Kashyap: the result is very poor indeed, awful rhymes alternated with soap-operatic exposition. Performers like Supriya Pathak and Gulshan Devaiah are reduced to cardboard caricatures and hamming, and the ever-effective Richa Chaddha isn’t given elbow room.

Somewhere in Gujarat, there are a pair of warring families, and while even a typical Sarpunch-and-Judy show can be a blast despite the cliches surrounding it, this one plays out like a bad street-play with an unjustly fantastic budget. The frames look luscious, the palette is eyewateringly vivid, and cinematographer Ravi Varman clearly has more of a blast than any audience member ever can. Meanwhile the director, who has also written the film, keeps adding twists to thicken the plot and ends up with a loopy bloodbath that — in the end — serves no purpose whatsoever. Save perhaps to warn us that SLB can be quite a sadist when he wants to.

Even the songs fall disappointingly short of memorable, and each of them sound like such a rehash of Bhansali’s own hits that it’s a wonder he — instead of turning composer here — didn’t simply license rights to his own glorious soundtracks of yore.

At one point in this silly, wasteful, loud film with many a shifting accent, Ranveer Singh’s Ram, a leading man addicted to selfies, takes a picture of himself and Deepika’s Leela, proclaiming that it be announced immediately across Twitter (!) that Ram-Leela are now one.

Go ahead, then, make his day: tweet this film’s score.

Rating: 1 star

~

First published Rediff, November 15, 2013

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Review: Rakesh Roshan’s Krrish 3

If your idea of a fantastic time at the movies involves Hrithik Roshan wrestling with a man’s tongue, then, my friend, you’re in for a blessed treat at the movies this week. Ditto if you’re a retailer of friendship-bands.

The rest of us, on the other hand, best stay away from this beastly big-budget juggernaut, a film ostensibly made for kids but one so abysmal that you should be most concerned if your children (or your nephews or your neighbour’s kids) want to see this. If they grow up actually liking movies like this, well, there goes the next bloody generation, conditioned for mediocrity from the get-go.

k31What if, for example, a child asks why Rakesh Roshan’s new film is called Krrish 3 when there is no Krrish 2 in existence? No reasonable answer exists, save the possibility that the new Krrish, for some oddball reason, is named after the number of thumbs its protagonist possesses. What the dashing young Krrish doesn’t possess is a power not to bore. In fact he — and his pot-bellied father, also played by Hrithik — are blessed with the ability to take a massively budgeted opportunity and suck it dry of all promise, leaving us with a Diwali release that can’t possibly be recommended for any reason whatsoever.

Look, I didn’t mind the first Krrish. It wasn’t a good film or anything, but Hrithik sold the character effectively enough to leave the door ajar for other Bollywood superheroes. One of the few that showed up, showered in hype, was Shah Rukh Khan’s catastrophic Ra One, one of the biggest disappointments in movie history. Now, since it isn’t right to expect big-screen miracles from the man who made Koyla and Karan Arjun, the only reason Krrish 3 might escape being labelled as bad as Ra One is merely because expectations were lower: all we wanted was a fun film for the kids.

Krrish 3 — which ends up borrowing a whole lot from Ra One, for the record — is not that film. There is no reason Indian children should be allowed to watch it unless tickets are sold really cheap, because the new Thor film releases next week and it’ll offer them a true superhero spectacle, with much more relative bang for their buck. There is much brouhaha about the visual effects in the new Krrish film, and while occasionally competent, they remain so dismally derivative of iconic superhero films that one can’t take them seriously. And the fact that the Pirates Of The Caribbean theme kicks in every time Krrish is in mid air doesn’t help. (Danny Elfman’s Spider-Man theme, conversely, plays whenever the hero’s truly tense. Every alternate scene, pretty much.)

So there are two Hrithiks, and its harder to say which is more excruciating. In one corner is old Rohit The Demented, a developmentally-disabled old man an alien refused to cure a couple of movies ago. If you close your eyes (which is not bad advice at any point during this film) he sounds like an Anil Kapoor mimic trying to do a very drunk voice. He’s a scientist, however, which means he is fiendishly smart and at least knows what he’s doing. His son, Krrish, has become bewilderingly stupid since we last met him, probably because the filmmakers want to make sure we don’t confuse his role with that of papa. There is thus much BigMoose-ian lumbering about in alarmingly tight vests, except when he’s Krrish and his jaw is perpetually quivering with rage. That or the mask is way too snug.

And there’s the baddie. “Fusion is the future,” says Vivek Oberoi’s Kaal, sounding for all the world like Bally Sagoo did back when he mattered. Immobile from the neck down, Kaal is a sinister mastermind who creates man-animal hybrids that lead to a bunch of poorly-constructed mutants with long tongues et al. Kangna Ranaut, for example, plays a shapeshifting creature born out of human and chameleon DNA. Many unanswered questions are born out of Kaal’s setup, the most crucial being why Ranaut doesn’t have a bad prosthetic orange forehead/nose like her fellow “maanwar” brethren, and who on earth has been applying the eyeliner for Kaal for all these years?

k32Still, a strapped-down Oberoi is mostly bearable even if he’s basically Magneto and Professor X rolled into one. Priyanka Chopra, who plays Krrish’s wife Priya, is anything but that, a shrill giggler with the most inane role possible. Ranaut makes the most of a far better part, and emerges the only plus in this C-minus production. She’s intriguing, she’s cold, she’s sexy and she holds our interest — at least till she randomly starts assaulting people with drop-kicks and even a Boston Crab. (Are you watching, Mr McMahon?)

The film is 152 minutes long, a fact corroborated by my wristwatch, but we might as well call Ripley’s. It stretches on forever, never amusing, never exciting, never anything but a wasted effort. The songs are almost intentionally horrid, each of them. Daftness abounds in every direction: the bad guys covered in green goop as if they just won Nickelodeon awards; scientists talk to themselves all the time and Surpanakha from the Ramayana is their first go-to example for mutation; a pregnant Priyanka is laid out on what has to be a funky ping-pong table; and there are hulking black statues celebrating Krrish — as if Mayawati’s taken a shine to the lad.

And twenty minutes of the film are spent in hawking Krrish-shaped wristbands that ‘make you a part of Krrish’s team.’ Krrish even delivers the “don’t try this at home” message in the flesh. It’s all very well until the climax, where a kid rebels against his mom who says they’ll give their lives for Krrish. No, exclaims he, we’ll take the villain’s life instead. Ookay then, that’s the message we’re going with. (And we thought Man Of Steel had an ethics issue.) Then Krrish shows up as the statue of liberty. It’s all positively krrishastrous.

Just stay away, will you? It’s the responsible thing to do. An empty wrist will serve you best.

Rating: 1 star

~

First published Rediff, November 1, 2013

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