Review: Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury’s Pink

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An old man stares ferociously at a girl in the park.

The girl — white Apple earbuds in place, out on a jog, sweaty and out of breath as she does her stretches — stares back, unblinking. She looks wary of the stare but not afraid of it.

It is an uncomfortable moment with the starer boring a hole with his eyes and the girl confronting it confidently with her own, and, coming as it does rather early in Pink, I began to wonder about a possible connection, a relationship, an estrangement. It is because the girl appears to know the stare so well. As the movie rolled on and it became clear there was no connection between the two at the time, I realised the reason she knew the stare is because all girls do.

All girls. Pink, directed by Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury, isn’t about heroines or crusaders or activisty girls who know how to generate social media buzz. It is, simply and effectively, a film about girls and the brush with which they are often painted in this country. Three girls go to a rock concert on the outskirts of Delhi — the de facto badlands in current Hindi cinema — and find themselves in a situation with three boys. We aren’t shown what happened. The film adroitly opens on a black screen with the voices of a pleasant situation in the background — a male voice protests the very idea of a last drink, and so on — before things go awry.

We see the girls run home and the boys run to hospital. One of them has been struck and could lose an eye. The girls are nervous, skittish, fearing for their lives and, tellingly, apologetic about the incident. The fear is real on both sides. Flatmates housed in a quieter Delhi suburb, the girls close the blinds and conversation between them is highly stilted, till the three declare it time to smile and attempt to tickle themselves into normalcy. But normalcy, as we see, isn’t as easily amused.

The film is remarkably well-cast. Taapsee Pannu is Meenal, the one who seems to have impulsively caused it all and keeps blubbering sorry. Kirti Kulhari is Falak, the reasonable, mature one who wants to avoid trouble at all cost. Andrea Tariang is Andrea, a sweet girl frequently and realistically described as ‘North-Eastern,’ as if that is all that counts. There is nothing unusual or exaggerated in these girls or the bond they share, and as the opposing lawyer (played by an arch Piyush Mishra) continues to brand them ‘women of low character,’ you see them crumble, not rise. It’s devastating.

The reason it hits so hard is because the film is made with a fair bit of restraint, and all the detailing appears free of gimmickry. The old man goes for his morning constitutional at pranayam-o’clock, a persecuted prisoner crouches behind a policeman’s desk like a personal stress-toy, an academic admits he “can either be truthful or be liberal,” and politically powerful men sit in court and grumble helplessly instead of cinematically throwing their weight around. The first half of the film — steadfast in its refusal to either show the incident or even let us hear an account — is built on silences, on unmet gazes, on leaving it all between the lines.

Pink puts the girls — and, by extension, the audience — through the wringer. There is nothing pleasant about the way we see them broken down by the patriarchy, threatened by a lout who wasn’t even there at the rock show, but, desperate to prove his ballsiness, wants to take charge to terrorise and punish the girls. How dare they.

This is when the old man steps up. Amitabh Bachchan, a retired lawyer suffering from bipolar disorder, takes up cudgels on behalf of the girls, delivering courtroom blows with pugilistic grace. Like we know from Prakash Mehra movies, into each life some Bachchan must fall. The girls hang on to him with incredulous desperation, and he bats for them with all he has. At one point Meenal hangs by Bachchan’s elbow, words entirely unnecessary.

Bachchan towers through Pink — the way he bellows “et cetera” is alone worth having the heavy-hitter at play — but there are softer moments like one where he appears to have dozed off in court, or where he lays his head by his convalescent wife’s bedside and needs his hair ruffled and his conviction validated. It is a role that goes from saying nothing to talking too much, and that gear-shift is managed impressively by the actor, even though the film dismisses his mental condition quite conveniently as it goes on.

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Other hiccups include Pannu’s freshly painted collarbone tattoo that gleams wetly throughout the proceedings even as the boy’s injuries fade away, and Bachchan’s law-library made up of books with comically unlabelled spines, yet these — like the poorly chosen name of the film — are but niggles. This is a solid, terse film that makes its points in mainstream fashion with an appropriate lack of subtlety. Pink is a barnstormer — and it doesn’t pull its punches.

All three girls, as said, are excellent. Pannu has the film on her shoulders and she is consistently, impressively credible, Kulhari is marvellous especially when — belatedly exploding — she shockingly changes the ‘what if’ question to a ‘so what if’ argument, and Tariang doesn’t hit a false note, grounding the film in both reality and vulnerability. Angad Bedi is spot-on as the entitled, injured scoundrel, and Vijay Varma is scene-stealingly brilliant at expressing the casually misogynistic ruthlessness we now tragically but inevitably associate with the Delhi mindset. Vinod Nagpal is, as always, terrific as a trembling but brave landlord, and Mamta Malik makes her Haryanvi cop memorable.

The entire film is hard to shake off, and Chowdhury must be applauded for his creative choices. At one point an objection is made and Bachchan — not unlike many of us — accepts it by saying “fair enough,” instead of taking it head on. When was the last time you saw a reasonable lawyer? But after scaring the bejeezus out of us — out of even Meenal, who doesn’t realise or remember just how far from sorry she should be — the film abandons realism and reaches out for hope.

Pink eventually goes from a nightmare to a film of wish-fulfilment, because not just do we have Bachchan as a stupefyingly articulate orator scolding witnesses with panache — “I object… to this awkward performance. He is overacting.” — but we have Dhritiman Chatterjee playing a judge who understands rhetoric.

If that entire courtroom drama feels too good to be true, that’s because, soberingly enough, it is. Amitabh Bachchan isn’t around to stand by our women. We should be.

Rating: 4 stars

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First published, Rediff, September 16, 2016

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Review: Nitya Mehra’s Baar Baar Dekho

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I wonder if Katrina Kaif is good at poker.

In Baar Baar Dekho, Kaif wears an all-encompassing blankness, looking like a striking but not altogether realistic waxwork. She’s a vision, albeit one whose accent-soaked Hindi — more unbearable than ever — gets in the way of possible appreciation, and I wager she’d be an unnerving opponent on a card table, one both stealthy and distracting.

Cast in a film, however, her blessings are less obvious. Particularly with a co-star not known for any acting talent either, in a film where a feeble script is built on constant, relentless revelations with artlessly expository dialogues. Characters consistently point out the obvious, labelling things for the audience: one points to a Hanuman statue and calls it Hanuman, while a woman at a Thailand resort points out a Welcome To Thailand sign when a guest — who may well be asking which floor he’s on — asks where he is. Siddharth Malhotra, who plays protagonist Jai Verma, stands around at a lavish pre-wedding party and tells his bride-to-be that he could have spent all this money on vedic mathematics research instead.

Right. That is a creative decision in the same league as Chitrangada Singh teaching Economics at Oxford in the execrable Desi Boyz. Worse, perhaps, since Jai is a real piece of work.

The most imbecilic hero I remember in awhile, Jai is a math professor perpetually wondering what is going on. A slackjawed dullard, he walks around in a duh state, asking silly questions trying to keep up with his surroundings. Granted, director Nitya Mehra frequently (and inexplicably) pulls the rug out from under his feet, with a half-baked plot which is two parts A Christmas Carol and one part Groundhog Day, but there is no excuse for a hero this dismal and lunkheaded in any romantic film.

We have to believe that this guy is a math-obsessed academic, and that his lady Diya (Kaif) is turned on by hearing numbers multiplied quickly, the way Jamie Lee Curtis melted for the Italian tongue in A Fish Called Wanda. Nothing in this movie adds up, but the gist is that Jai — annoyingly tentative and indecisive about marriage, in-laws and the woman in his life — keeps getting jolted ahead into the future where things change and he remains the same stupid self, struggling to catch up. It is all rather excruciating, despite the glossy settings and the casually futuristic detailing, largely because Mehra labours her point endlessly and her tubelight hero never seems to learn a thing.

This is a hero who, minutes after he first leaps forward in time, decides to let his hair down and chill over a party song. This is a hero who, recognising the potential for an affair that could wreck a marriage or two, goes ahead and tries it out first. This is a hero who learns of a once-prosperous friend’s life going awry but doesn’t bother to help him with a warning. This is a hero who, after assuming a day in court signals the wedding of his son, is stunned to see his wife there. This is a hero who makes use of a second-chance by being needlessly rude to various people who may perhaps cross a line in the future, but are blameless at the time he’s throwing them shade. This is a hero who calls his pregnant wife fat and then proceeds to make the car drive to hospital all about himself, later preferring to accost a pandit in a corridor rather than be there to hold his hand.

And then… he calls himself a genius.

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Geniuses are in entirely short supply when it comes to this production, with a boisterous Ram Kapoor proving the least objectionable element. Comedian Rohan Joshi is around — carrying a briefcase into a hospital only because he wants people to think he’s a banker — and, without the slightest chance to try out his comic chops, looks incredulous at the film he’s in. Perhaps he’s distracted by the music, by songs like Kho Gaye Hum Kahan which sound shamelessly like Karen O’s The Moon Song played through an Amit Trivedi filter. Characters go through a lot in this film — the Groundhog Day section of the script is the most tedious and the most contrived — but none more than the audience.

Diya, portrayed by Katrina as high-strung and shrill, is — by my reckoning — the most patient and understanding wife in the world. Married to an utter idiot, her outbursts are entirely justified, and come what may, she does put up with him and consents to loving him. Poor thing. And yet, even at the end of this unbearable film when things are finally, belatedly being set right, the fool husband complains about her impossible temper. As if it’s her fault. Poor show, Ms Mehra. If you could go back in time to set this film right, make something else instead.

Rating: 1 star

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First published Rediff, 9 September, 2016

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Review: Remo D’Souza’s A Flying Jatt

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The good thing about casting Tiger Shroff as a superhero is that, thanks to his fluidly lithe movements, it does sometimes become hard to spot where the actual moves stop and the wire-work begins. Watching Shroff, an endearing, almost unbearably earnest performer, reminds me of those early Salman Khan days when he was a lanky guy with long hair who pluckily tried to act, which is a great start — but alas, this poor lad has all the dialogue skills of Hrithik Roshan. Which is to say: perhaps his martial arts movies need to be watched only when dubbed into another language.

(Also deserving of earplugs: leading lady Jacqueline Fernandez, sounding like a chihuahua who loves swallowing saxophones.)

This is a shame, for A Flying Jatt isn’t bad. It ends poorly, sure, and has some catastrophically clumsy moments on the way, but as a children’s film it goes a helluva lot further than those Krrish things. It is a film, in fact, more about a superhero’s Punjabi mother than it is the hero himself, and that goes a long way in setting up the humour. Amrita Singh as the thrilled mom looking at Superman Returns tapes to educate her son on flight-pose decorum (“aise toh full speed mein udte hain”) is priceless, as is the moment when, after appropriately epic heroic buildup, Tiger fatefully wears the costume only to flop into bed and pick up the television remote.

I don’t think I’ve watched a superhero movie where the hero’s mother has enthusiastically sown him a costume, and given the apoplectic way the genre is now exploding, finding a new, authentically Hindi filmi angle is commendable. The problem with A Flying Jatt is its lack of faith in its own originality, which is why director Remo D’Souza ends up — like Amrita Singh — cribbing from superhero films we already know and love. There’s the already classic Quicksilver sequence from Days Of Future Past (link to review), there’s a Sam Raimi trolley shot straight out of Spider-Man 2, and when the big villain — Nathan Jones from no less than bloody Mad Max: Fury Road — says that he wants a better costume, evil sponsor Kay Kay Menon basically orders him a Thor suit.

D’Souza, as a director, isn’t one. The film is put together sloppily, with several comedic sequences well-intentioned but not making sense. There is, for example, a scene with Tiger taking on a tennis ball machine with nunchuks. Obvious slapstick, but it can be done amusingly and, while Shroff himself tries hard, the scene itself is staged bizarrely: it starts off with everyone wowed by the grace with which he strikes slower balls, even though the whole point of using the machine was to see if he could stop something as fast as a bullet. Still, the way this boy hits an enzuigiri to a tennis ball is something special.

And that’s before he has powers. After they kick in, and he — apparently hard of hearing — takes the shrill Fernandez for a joyride in the skies, she gasps more at seeing fireflies and a big moon than at her superpowered man.

The climax is painful and — as with all films that yearn to be really big films without having the budget — it looks more and more pathetic. The film is riddled with issues from the start — Tiger is given far too many superpowers and we never quite understand their limitations — but it is, for the most part, an amusing diversion with a leading man hard not to like. He might whimper too much, but I’ll take A Flying Jatt as a potentially decent franchise-starter even if the guy  himself isn’t always in on the joke. (Though I do wish the film didn’t preachily go on and on about how amazing Sikhs are. Who didn’t know?)

As he begins to fly around — not too high because he’s afraid of heights — two women watch The Flying Jatt go viral on news channels and one wonders if he’s an alien. “Jo bhi hai apna hai,” says the other smugly, the line — meaning ‘whatever he is, he’s ours’ — can be a dig at imported superheroes, sure, but also a line loaded with pride and one that holds more truth than all of Zack Snyder’s superhero attempts put together. Superheroes are about hope, not fear. Unless, that is, you’re afraid to show your kids a superhero movie that focusses on twerking.

Rating: 2.5 stars

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First published Rediff, August 26, 2016

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Review: David Ayer’s Suicide Squad

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Remember how the iPod changed the way we shared music? We used to carry around a tape or a CD and play someone a track or two, but when we started easily (and indiscriminately) lugging around our entire vaults, the temptation to jump from one track to another got too intense. We’d play a slice of one and a riff from another, skipping restlessly from song to song in order to spread what we felt was awesome — and show off our discovering ears — as widely as we could.

Watching David Ayer’s Suicide Squad feels exactly like being trapped in an elevator with an enthused iPod-wielding kid. This is less an actual movie and more an assemblage of moments, moments mostly to do with popular music appropriated around shots of spectacle, with every single damned scene trying to hit a crescendo of cool and the film, thus, failing to find any peaks at all.

(This montage-y, music-video method of filmmaking would hurt a great deal less if Ayer’s playlist was less obvious — and less literal — for here the filmmaker underscores the entry of a badass with Sympathy For The Devil, a getting-together of seven villains with Seven Nation Army, and the return of a character with Eminem’s Without Me, a song that keeps repeating the words “Look who’s back.” It’s plain moronic to have Freddie Mercury trilling “Mama, I just killed a man” while serial killers and psychopaths try to look forlorn.)

Suicide Squad is a promising comic book idea, that of an exploitative government program to rehabilitate supervillains by turning them into an expendable, nothing-to-lose team sent into the stickiest situations. It is the kind of unlikely, motley crew story that should end up, if not somewhere striking between Ocean’s Eleven and The Holy Mountain, then, at the very least, somewhere goofily enjoyable like The Italian Job remake. The idea, of course, is basically The Dirty Dozen done with metahumans or whatever the comics are calling them nowadays, but Ayer’s film gets the fundamentals horribly wrong.

What Suicide Squad does get right is Harley Quinn, one of the coolest women in comics. It could have done without the many, many leering shots of her spandexed and barely-covered posterior — and how I wish they would have stuck to the classic Harley costume — but the looney-tune lunacy of the character is animatedly captured by the striking Margot Robbie. Robbie, who enters the film confessing boredom and asking to be played with, is marvellously off her rocker, contorts her mouth into distractingly anime grins, and creates a character that is all sass and unpredictability — and, of course, undying romance for her peculiar paramour.

Where, indeed, would Ms Quinn be without Mistah J? (The film takes its time spelling it all out for us. The first half-hour of this movie is entirely dossiers-and-flashbacks, clumsily thrown at us as if we had walked into something called Backstory Brigade.) In a film supposedly about all-star bad guys, there’s only one we all know. The Joker is among the most iconic villains in all of fiction, and here we have Jared Leto take a stab. His take — as a preening and tattooed gangster who doesn’t shake hands — slithers and hisses, but doesn’t deserve mention alongside the greats before him. His immensely-discussed ‘insane preparations’ for this role seem flummoxing: he went method on the sets and harassed his co-stars with used-condoms for this? A role Johnny Depp or Jim Carrey could knock out in their sleep? Please.

There is, though, one gorgeous shot these two raving, reckless romantics share. They take turns diving heedlessly into a vat of acid, for love. A fall with grace.

That is the only grace you’ll find in Suicide Squad. Will Smith, as the assassin Deadshot and the de-facto leader of the team, is in fine form as he negotiates terms-for-hire — including a clause saying that when his daughter is sent to an Ivy League college and if her grades aren’t great, he needs the government to “white-people that thing” — but despite his effortless swagger, the coolness of Smith’s character is often undercut by nobility.

That, actually, is a perplexing problem running through this tone-deaf film: the idea that these slimy villains would suddenly, overnight, bond like brothers and start prizing their unlikely new friendship over all else. The film starts with Viola Davis as the smugly all-knowing Amanda Waller, the government operative putting together this secret task force, and after that elaborate introduction, we see the guys go on one mission. One mission. There is no sense of urgency as these guys banter around changing into costumes old and new as a city is being torn up, and later, before the messy and inane Ghostbusters-y climax, they sit around at a bar hardly bothered about any ongoing damage. If the nihilism on display is to be applauded, it is also instantly squandered when these villains — armed by ninja swords and bad, bad dialogue — start celebrating the very idea of being buddies.

The only way this film is dark is because it’s set at night.

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There are too many characters and Ayer gets the juggle catastrophically wrong. Cara Delevingne’s Enchantress gets a neat black-hand-under-her-own-hand gimmick and embers flickering around her face that look good in 3D, but she also gets bizarrely varied accents during the finale, turning her into an increasingly bad joke. Jay Hernandez plays Diablo, a fire-summoner frequently (and somewhat confusingly) referred to as ‘a gangbanger’ to make him seem menacing, but he only ends up being unbearably emo. Karen Fukuhara’s Katana — one of the most lethal characters — here skulks around with her Soultaker blade only to repeatedly be told not to do anything. (When this girl gives up and chooses drink over duty, the slump of her shoulders is one we can relate to.)

Naturally, Batman shows up, growly and Afflecked and saved by a girl who I fervently hope is not named Martha. (Bats also features in a stunningly unnecessary mid-credits sequence, so if you do ill-advisedly go to theatres for this one, you may as well wait up.)

At one point in the film, Smith’s Deadshot shrugs off military jargon and says he wants it translated for “those of us who can’t speak good-guy.” Right about now, it’s becoming depressingly clear that the studios in charge of the DC Comics characters can’t speak good film.

Rating: 1.5 stars

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First published Rediff, August 5, 2016

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Review: Rohit Dhawan’s Dishoom

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There are some filmmakers who make feature-length trailers. They think they’re making an action movie, of course, but the fact is that everything — from an overabundance of slow-motion, to the way words like “one day ago” fly across the screen in the Dhoom font, and the way the film starts and ends with music videos— is for effect. Done well, this often obvious style can be rather rollicking, and there are times when Rohit Dhawan’s Dishoom is actually fun. The first half is breezy and snappy, and the increasingly irrepressible Varun Dhawan is on point.

The setup is dynamite. It isn’t particularly groundbreaking dynamite, but it is a potentially crackling premise: India’s top cricketer is kidnapped ahead of an India-Pakistan final in the UAE. There is much room for hilarity in a setup like this, and the film taps into a fair bit of it, even as the setpieces get bloated and the background score thuds with relentless urgency and repetition. (To me, there were times when it feels like watching a music video version of 99, a cricket/match-fixing film I once worked on.)

This cricketer — Viraj, a combination of Virat Kohli and Yuvraj Singh, if you will — is played by Saqib Saleem, and the youngster obviously knows how to hit full-tosses all over the place. Saleem is a fine performer and the cricketing bits seem as authentic as they need to be in a film like this, and the initial mystery of who kidnapped Viraj is an intriguing one. On the trail are Kabir, an Indian supercop flown in to hunt him down, and Junaid, a Dubai-based Indian cop itching for action. It is all Buddy Comedy 101, but as can be said justifying 90% of all movies starring The Rock, we all know the genre works besides its predictability because of the way the actors play off each other. Into each Murtaugh a little Riggs must fall.

The big problem here is with the heavy. John Abraham here plays Kabir, the douchey tough-cop who smokes in elevators and speaks to his girlfriend like a bully, but Abraham — who, at one point several films ago, was at least attempting to act — has turned into a top-heavy slab with all the expressions of granite. He weighs Dishoom down considerably. Even his half-winking smirk now appears leery, as if he’s been bench-pressing with his cheeks and can’t smile a human smile any more.

This is depressing because of just how frothy Varun Dhawan keeps things. With the natural, cocky charm of a young Will Smith — a fact alluded to when Dishoom references Men In Black with its heroes calling themselves K and J — Dhawan is spontaneous and funny but, most importantly, sincere. He hits the emotional beats lightly but firmly — like when he tears up after having finally found a dog — and these are what sell his character, the way he can establish earnestness in a second and go back to being goofy right after.

Still, like I said, the first half is a lark. Varun is in form, Saqib’s realistic, and there is an entertaining cameo by Akshay Kumar who puts the man in ‘man-bun.’ It is after the interval, when the shenanigans have been left to an exhausting Akshaye Khanna, the villain of the piece, that tedium really sets in. The film keeps trying to concentrate on the plot, which is weak, and because the action scenes and chases are long and repetitive, merely changing backgrounds don’t help things as much. Jacqueline Fernandez joins the action, running in and unable to keep a straight face, but there is a priceless, awestruck moment when the shoe drops and she finally realises who these two cops are looking for.

There is much more that could have been done here. It should be snappier and the jokes sharper, and the plot could so, so easily have been made water-tight. There are even times, unforgivably enough,  when it begins to feel immaterial that the kidnapped quarry is a cricketer; it could be just anyone held up for ransom. But ah, the film is clearly aiming for laughs, and even when it gets lost along the way, blindsided by some unnecessarily elaborate action moment or by a bicepped un-actor, it still provides a fair bit of corny fun. The film’s best parts are Dhawan asking a helicopter pilot to pull over “side mein,” or Satish Kaushik trolling people on the phone. If Dishoom does well, however, I do hope they’ll avoid John in the sequels. All this film needed was a cop out.

Rating: 3 stars

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First published Rediff, July 29, 2016

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Review: Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters

Hang on to your hats, ghosts. There’s a brand new gunlickin’ gunslinger in town and she ain’t in the mood for prisoners.

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One other thing she ain’t is alone. Dr Jillian Holtzmann has friends alongside her on screen in the new Ghostbusters — wearing proton packs of her own dangerous design — but, more importantly, she and the fine comediennes rocking the boat in this warmly silly reboot are giving company to cosplaying girls everywhere who have wanted goofy heroes like this for so, so long. This is a gleefully dumb summer feature, unapologetically silly and often too smitten with its own leads — in short, it’s what a big dumb shaggy-dog blockbuster should be. Only with ladies rocking the jumpsuits this time.

The original Ghostbusters, from 1984, is a deliriously daft film raised occasionally to sublime heights by Bill Murray finding his groove. An actor finding his brilliance is a thing that happens gradually, over many a moment in many a movie, but Murray seemed to roller-skate into magnificence almost entirely at one go, and most of us watching Ghostbusters were privy to that bit of magic. Ivan Reitman’s film is fine — it’s crazily enjoyable and gets better with each viewing, and if you didn’t see it in the eighties, well, you’re never going to love it the same way — but the actors were what made it sparkle, and the characters remain unforgettable. (I’m an Egon man, myself.)

Director Paul Feig understands that, and while his reboot celebrates women as well as the spirit(s?) of the original, it never tries to replicate the sparkle those gents conjured up. This film doesn’t mimic the superb silences and slow-burn, rolled-eye jokes of the old film. Instead, it lets these wonderful ladies try on the suits and situations and let their hair down their own way. It turns out to be giddily, infectiously fun and frequently forgettable. This is not a film trying to be brilliant; instead, it stays simple while it breaks ground. It is as if Feig has made it his mission statement to tell the world — with films like Bridesmaids, The Heat and Spy — that hey, women are allowed to be juvenile too.

Like in the original, the plot is flimsy and peppered with gags. Like in the original, characters who believe in ghosts are laughed out by respectable naysayers. Like in the original, there is a Mayor who gets very hands-on with what our heroes are upto. Like in the original, Slimer is around, big and green and disgustingly infatuated with hotdogs — only this time he is, rather unnecessarily, in 3D. (The 3D is a waste in Ghostbusters simply because Feig lays it on a bit too thick and the climax gets especially tedious and shouty, when all we really want is more of Kristen Wiig giggling at their sexy receptionist.)

Speaking of which… we need to talk about Kevin. A picture-perfect specimen of manhood and doltishness, Kevin the receptionist can barely handle picking up the phone, but is kept around (and shamelessly, repeatedly objectified) because of the way he looks. Played by Thor star Chris Hemsworth, this sounds like a simple dumb blond gag — a gimmick even — but because of the way Feig and Hemsworth commit to the sheer imbecility of the eye-candy-only character, the result is as hilarious as the jibe is well-deserved.

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Kevin’s bosses are Dr Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), Dr Erin Gilbert (Kirsten Wiig), the aforementioned Dr Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) and Patty (Leslie Jones). Each actress picks a flavour and sticks with it, and the cast mostly breezes through it. McCarthy, Feig’s muse, has the straightest role but she’s the one who makes exposition appear momentarily reasonable, and has a great, great line about soup; Wiig is awkward and only eventually enthusiastic, but she sounds wrong and tragically stupid whenever she uses Ghostbustin’ jargon; and Jones, broad and reckless, creates a character who knows New York — and is thus the only one with street smarts.

Like in the original, one Ghostbuster is much more memorable than the rest. A lot of this film’s players have come from Saturday Night Live, but Kate McKinnon is one of that show’s finds — I implore you to look up her Hillary Clinton sketches — and in this film, as she describes potato chips as “salty parabolas,” she is unstoppable. Wearing a lopsided bouffant that looks styled in Pisa, her Holtzmann is a thing of loony energy and joyous abandon, a nutcase who would rather go nuclear than go home. She’s jawdroppingly good and I can’t wait to see her again.

Some people who have an issue with women taking on roles originally written for men. The film addresses this fantastically by having the leading ladies read out (and get repulsed by) comments from online haters, but anyone who can’t enjoy these women having a good time — without even pretending to be Venkman and Stantz — for such dimwitted reasons doesn’t deserve to laugh with this film. It may not be a classic, but the laughs it earns are all its own.

As you may have imagined, the original Ghostbusters all have cameos in this new film. Yes, even the late great Harold Ramis. We see him as a bronzed sculpture at Columbia University, smiling at this new film and, in many ways, that is the single greatest cameo. For it lets Egon Spengler live on as both ghost and bust.

Rating: 3.5 stars

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First published Rediff, July 29, 2016

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Review: Pa Ranjith’s Kabali

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Nearly halfway into the new Rajinikanth release, Kabali, a student mockingly asks Rajinikanth’s character, Kabali, about the need to be constantly clad in fancy suits and sunglasses. It is a pertinent question even from the perspective of the audience, because while the superstar actor might (mostly) have forsaken the dark-haired wigs, his character is still dressed with eye-catching distinctiveness. Kabali laughs, for it is a query he has faced often, throughout his rise from an impassioned young activist partial to garish silken shirts, to a revered gangster with an eye for well-tailored waistcoats.

The reason he gives for his sartorial excess — several times through the film, as the question continues to dog him— is that he wears clothes like the rich man in order to emphasise how someone like him, not born to wealth or greatness, is equal to the rich man. Set in Malaysia, Kabali tells the story of the large but marginalised Tamil community there, and how the Tamilians are not considered equal to the locals or the Chinese. When a guy from his gang asks him if he’ll spend all his money on suits, Kabali smiles and suggests the guy start dressing sharper too. It’s all about impact, he states, explaining that there was a reason Babasaheb Ambedkar always wore a suit and Mahatma Gandhi never did.

This is a wonderful way to rationalise the Grandmaster Flash aspect of the Rajinikanth mystique. Director Pa Ranjith, however, has more racial ammunition in hand. When asked what his lovely wife saw in him, Rajini emphasises the darkness of his skin, using it as a metaphor for intensity, power and virility. “Black power,” he says, before Radhika Apte, who plays his wife, looks at him and expresses her desire for his darkness to be rubbed against her. In a film about a downtrodden community looking to prove itself, this attention to the colour of the superstar’s skin is not coincidental.

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Despite the political sincerity, however, this film doesn’t really have much to say that is new or much to offer, besides Rajinikanth playing his age. This leads to many a great moment as Rajini inevitably slides into Amitabh Bachchan mode and chews on his lines before spitting them out with speeding-bullet force. We haven’t seen him like this before, grey and brooding and with his dynamism coiled up on the inside, and the result is quite stunning simply because of that incredible screen presence he commands — and the fact that he is who he is. The idea that Rajinikanth, 65, could kick each of our posteriors, is a relatively easy one to buy, and this film capitalises on the fact that we don’t quite question it. True, the fight scenes often consist of villains politely waiting their turn so he can take his time to attack them, but when he does attack, he does so with gusto.

The rest is humdrum. Regardless of the Bali Brahmbhatt clones in Michael Jackson clothes who sing of Kabali’s legend, it seems cobbled from many a source, most recognizably The Godfather but also, oddly and gender-agnostically, from Kill Bill. Kabali has gone to prison for 25 years following a massacre at a mandir, and he’s back gunning for revenge but also trying to help troubled youths get a better life. The villain is a man called Tony Lee, who works for someone named Ang Lee. It is thus rather cute that Tony Lee — always referred to by his full name, perhaps to symmetrically pit Ka-ba-lee versus To-ny-lee — is played by Winston Chao, who once starred in Ang Lee’s beautiful Eat Drink Man Woman.

Tragically, however, Chao — who struggles with villainous English — never quite gets the hang of things here and comes across as rather comical, as does this film’s entire third act. The drama is all there but as the bodies pile up, so do the laughs, and the whole thing comes together rather cartoonishly. All the actors seem to be performing in a different pitch, and — besides Rajinikanth enjoying this rare modern-day performance of relative restraint — everyone else is all over the place. At one point in the film Apte hyperventilates with such enthusiasm I was convinced her character had been rendered mute.

What is interesting, besides Rajinikanth, is the wonderfully mixed iconography Pa Ranjith throws together in this film about immigrants and borrowed cultures. Celtic tattoos vanish into formal shirt collars, samurai swords are laid upon corpses wreathed in garlands, an Ambedkar portrait is hung up next to that of Che Guevara, a character’s gullibility is emphasised by a Being Human shirt… These are all details that give the film both authenticity and surreality in equal measure, and they make me strongly suspect that this could have been a far more gripping and finessed film without Rajinikanth in it — and without, thus, all sorts of alterations due to worried producers and commercial considerations. But then would we be talking about it at all?

Rating: 3 stars

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First published Rediff, July 22, 2016

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