• Better Switch Off This Light. ♦ Grade F

    Kabir Khan’s films are always based on magnification of a small idea that looks good on theory, but becomes preposterous on reel. His latest Bollywood feature drama is the newest example.

    Laxman (Salman Khan) is a dim-witted young man who lives with his younger brother Bharat (Sohail Khan) in a small North Indian town. He is called “tubelight” by his fellow town-dwellers because of his doltish nature and his inability to muster general things at the usual human pace. Bharat knows that his brother needs his support to survive, but still enlists himself for the army. With no one else to go to, Laxman now finds solace in a young boy named Guo (Matin Rey Tangu) who everybody misguidedly thinks hails from China, a neighboring country which India is currently at war with.

    Director Khan, along with co-writer Parveez Sheikh, narrate a straightforward story here and try to exaggerate it beyond limits. The basic idea that they try to convey is about Laxman’s undying love for his brother and his unabashed faith in this love that will possibly help his brother come back hale and hearty post the war. As stated earlier, while that story looks good on paper, watching the Khan brothers enact it with a couple of supporting actors (albeit talented) is real pain. Mostly because the whole drama is highfalutin nonsense that does not induce any kind of emotion, let alone tears. An added dash of ambiguous magical realism does not help either, as one will find out if one manages to finish watching the film.

    Although, the film is too politically correct to not appeal to the average Indian audience. Of course, it may not matter to the international crowd, but when the makers inculcate thoughts of patriotism (nationalism, if I may) into the dialogues, one knows what the story is trying to achieve, and thus pay attention. One could look at this film as a message to the several unpatriotic citizens of India who should sign up for the army and look for Laxman’s prayers to stay alive. Utter nonsense! Forget what’s in the epitaph and hail the country!

    At the end, however, one realizes that all that Laxman did was fool around with his new friend and his friend’s mother. For an average film-goer, the experience would be foggy, unsatisfying, and deeply disappointing because of factors that are not only related to a poor script. The quality of acting is not that great either. Watching Salman Khan wince as he tries to act like a half-witted grown-up is cringe-worthy. The popular notion that he cannot act might finally be becoming more apparent. His brother Sohail has a small yet pivotal role, and he too seems over-occupied. Supporting actors Om Puri, Zeeshan Ayyub, Zhu Zhu, Tangu, and Brijendra Kala put up a better show.

    The score is ambient, but the songs did add to the stupidity of the entire 2-hour long show. I am personally not against songs in Bollywood films, but when they are unnecessary, it’s better to leave them out. Some exciting shots of northern locales of India, but other than that, it’s just Salman and his borderline mockery.

    Overall, there are far too many negatives in this film, which is a remake of a 2015 Mexican film called Little Boy. Even if you are optimistic about the Kabir-Salman duo or are a fan of any of the actors, skipping it would be in the best of your interests. Do not even watch the original.

    BOTTOM LINE: Kabir Khan’s “Tubelight” must be an ambitious project, considering that it released during a big festival time in India, but as standalone cinema it does not hold any ground. You might as well switch off this tube light.

    Can be watched with a typical Indian family? YES

    June 26, 17
  • A Charged-up Documentary That Avoids Objectivism. ♦ Grade C-

    It is not surprising that a British filmmaker who specializes in TV was chosen to make a documentary about someone who is regarded highly by at least 7 out of 10 people in India. We really don’t know how James Erskine came on board, but we can be sure that he hasn’t watched Azhar (2016) or M S Dhoni: The Untold Story (2016) for then this sports documentary wouldn’t have made the same mistakes they did.

    Narrating the story of legendary Indian cricketer Sachin Tendulkar from his childhood when he first picked up a bat to his retirement in 2013, the documentary tries to masquerade as a film and goes on to etch his story into India’s history of the last 30 years. How Sachin as a young boy is supported by his family to follow his call, how he met his wife Anjali and got married to her, how he dealt with failure, what his single-biggest dream was, his highs and lows, his health, and his connection with the Indian people is all what the documentary explores. Much how the two biopics mentioned earlier were made, here the idea of the makers is to accentuate Sachin’s appeal as a legendary cricketer by avoiding objectivism. It is clear from the first frame that the makers had no idea to go deeper into the specifics, and instead just provide a superficial chronological time-line of his life that is already present in the public domain. Executed with doses of sentiments of peripheral patriotism, this one is as straightforward as it can get.

    The biggest problem with the documentary is that it takes “cricket is a religion in India” too seriously and tries to tie Sachin’s endeavors as elements that carved India’s fate and are reasons why and how India is as it is today – which is first-class drivel. So much that it goes on to exaggerate a couple of events just to prove its point. Statements like “change in the country’s luck”, “country’s fate”, and “the power of Indians” are employed to give emphasis to the point.

    For people wondering why we cannot call it a film, it’s because the film is basically a collection of cricket match footage since the 80s and interviews. Of course, there are emotions attached to certain matches which bring back nostalgia (to Indians), which is why I have to use the word “goosebumps” here, but play any nail-biting match in the history of Indian cricket which was a turning point for the national team, and those pimples are sure to crop up. Former batsmen and bowlers, journalists, celebrities, his family members, and Sachin himself share their thoughts about the subject as the documentary simultaneously moves ahead in the time-line. There are some interesting tidbits that it offers – for example, episodes of match-fixing, rivalry, age-gap between players, and other miscellaneous events that shaped cricket in India – which are the only novel thing an average Indian will find in this feature. For outsiders, it will be much more.

    How Sachin changed the essence of cricket in India, and helped it rise from its ashes is what the makers and Sachin himself repeatedly convey in the documentary. The only problem is that it is not entirely convincing. Showing that his dream is synonymous with the country’s dream as far as cricket is concerned is bit of an overstatement, and that is what plays with its appeal.

    Director Erskine has surely made a recipe that evokes emotions and pulls a cricket fan back to the good old days. The screenplay is crisp and filled with substance, even though most of it is rehash. The problem is that this is not how biopics are made. The characters do a decent job at talking out, and if character performance is really to be mentioned – it should be about the two young actors who played young Sachin. They looked like they were enjoying. Other than that, it’s mostly Tendulkar, his wife, and other known players doing the talking.

    All in all, it’s a well-executed documentary that plays very safe and does not get bowled out. It will not disappoint a fan, but might a cinema enthusiast.

    BOTTOM LINE: James Erskine’s “Sachin” may have got the tag-line “A Billion Dreams” wrong, but it surely is an enjoyable, one-time affair. Just don’t expect Sachin to open his closet. Go for a weekday afternoon show!

    Can be watched with a typical Indian family? YES

    May 28, 17
  • A Fraction of Romance. ♦ Grade F

    If Mohit Suri’s films are known for anything, then it’s their soundtrack. The content of the films is usually rundown and uninspiring romance which sometimes even plays with the actors’ careers. In this adaptation of Chetan Bhagat’s bestselling young adult romantic novel Half Girlfriend, it looks like the thing about soundtrack may also be spiraling down.

    Madhav (Arjun Kapoor) is a young student from Bihar who gets admitted to a reputable college in Delhi through sports quota. A skilled basketball player and amateur English speaker, Madhav falls head over heels in love with Riya (Shraddha Kapoor). And starts connecting with her with the hope to make her his girlfriend. Riya, herself an ace basketball player, reciprocates his connection requests, but plays mathematics when he pops the question. She says, “I can be your “half girlfriend”” and that she cannot go full. The story then moves forward to expose its undecipherable convoluted elements as Madhav tries to understand what that term really means.

    The film strictly follows the plot of the 2014 book where Madhav is constantly in Riya’s spell and is continuously trying to classify the type of relationship he is in (if at all), especially about which “half” he is in. With much attention given to the importance of English-speaking, the plot then suddenly flip flops between Bihar, Delhi, and New York, as the lead characters make rapid life decisions. Even if you do not understand why the characters do what they do, I’m sure you will notice the brand advertisements in every other frame. If one looks closer, the film looks like a 2-hour long advert for MakeMyTrip. And with my mentioning the brand in this review, I am sure the marketing budget of the bludgeoning Indian travels company has paid off.

    The basic problem with the film is the character development. Arjun is unable to portray the true loverboy that Madhav is. Instead, he behaves like a magician’s rabbit, always appearing where you think it would appear – around Riya. Shraddha, on the other hand – typecast, we call know – dilly dallies around in her scholar, fashionable, and affluent Riya character and exudes confusion. There’s not a bit of realism in the proceedings, and in the second half, the degree of improbability hits the roof. One may like to call the story contrived, but there’s an even better word for it: convoluted. Other big problem – and this one is crucial – is how the film is executed. This film is more of a musical than a steady romantic film – with a song or a montage appearing every five minutes. That is what wrecks the film’s entertainment quotient as it fails to construct a proper, seamless storyline.

    Both the Kapoors put up a below average show here, reminding us that Arjun may not be talented at all. Shraddha’s previous films may save her, but the validity has definitely shortened. Seems Biswas looked out of character as Madhav’s educationist mother, whereas both Vikrant Massey and Rhea Chakraborty do a fairly good job. The music by various artists is hummable, thanks to Arijit Singh and Anushka Sahaney. Rest of the filmmaking factors are best left unreviewed.

    All in all, Mohit Suri’s latest venture after the 2015 debacle Hamari Adhuri Kahani is worse. The romance is pulpy and unbelievable, for starters, and it’s the last thing we are looking for in a year already giving us anxiety through the unpleasant world affairs. It automatically nominates itself to be ranked amongst the worst films of 2017.

    BOTTOM LINE: Mohit Suri’s “Half Girlfriend” fails to verify the theorem it so proudly boasts of, because modern love may be crooked, but not preposterous. Do not even read the book!

    Can be watched with a typical Indian family? NO

    May 23, 17
  • Concludes With High Drama, Faulty Action, And Authentic Emotions. ♦ Grade C+

    The frenzy and thirst for more that the first part started and caused in 2015 had to be quenched by content that has more power, more action, and more grandeur. This epic romantic drama, which is South Indian director S S Rajamouli’s eleventh feature film, has the combined effect of all these factors, but is unsurprisingly let down by lack of logic.

    Resuming exactly where the first part ends, the story follows king- slave Kattappa’s (Sathya Raj) narration of the past events that occurred in the Mahishmati kingdom and how they directly led to its degeneration under the rule of the foxy and narcissistic Bhallaladeva (Rana Daggubati). Shiva (Prabhas), upon realizing his lineage, has to save the kingdom now and settle some scores…

    Predictability is all over the place as you follow the flashback story involving Bahubali (Prabhas), who uses a method previously sampled by the protagonist in the 2005 Tamil film “Ghajini”, to woo Devasena (Anushka Shetty), the fiery queen of a nearby smaller kingdom. Bahubali, with ample help from Kattappa, fool around with Devasena, as humor and borderline slapstick enter the concoction (but do not stay for long), which soon shifts to high drama as the lover boy’s brother, Bhallaladeva, now has his eyes on Devasena. It’s a ploy actually, which he masterminds with help from his crippled father, Bijjaladeva (Nassar). What ensues is a game of shifting, smarmy egos and value of integrity between Bahubali and his aunt, Sivagami (Ramya Krishnan), whom he regards as his mother. How things take a swift turn to what led to the events in the first part is what essentially the first two hours of this film is. It is up to Shiva to bring back the kingdom’s glory by doing what is right: unshackle Devasena, his mother, and take back what is lawfully his.

    There is enough substance for an average film-goer to look at and appreciate here. Starting from the opening credits, which poses as a prologue and a visual narration of the first part so that you can brush up, to the high-octane stunts that defy logic and science to derive magic, the good old melodrama, and an obvious yet satisfying answer to the eternal question derived from part one’s climax. While Bahubali 1 banked on structural storytelling and a pretentious climax to hook its viewers, Bahubali 2 uses more firepower and style. On that front, it is imperative that we give the makers full marks for efforts and storytelling. Romance between Bahubali and Devasena is strictly martial, but is still palpable to our hungry senses. As is evident from the loads of social media mentions lauding both of these characters’ authenticity and idealism, if there is one thing that you will take away from the Bahubali films, it is the virtues that these characters adopt and explicitly endorse. Also, there is this faint sampling of didacticism swaying around in the plot – whether it is trying to erect a feminist character like Devasena or showcasing the brutal kingdom affairs of the bygone era or the sexist nature of things – the pedagogical element is present, making the film overwhelming to some.

    Having said that, there cannot be any excuse to the substandard CGI that is at show here. The degree of implausibility blows through the roof, yet it’s the heroism that comes to the rescue in every single frame. Why the characters do not succumb to their injuries may be retorted by mythological and religious references, but for a learned viewer, there are going to be issues with the film. Weighing these issues with the grandeur and volumes of melodrama makes us reach to a conclusion which is slightly positive, only if you consider the entertainment value.

    Director Rajamouli’s storytelling should be lauded, and film students may want to take notes. He directs his cast well, and in order to describe them, we must first appreciate the casting. I cannot imagine anyone else playing these characters with such finesse and fidelity. Prabhas is magnificent in his portrayal as the hero of the people, and puts up a tireless show in both the films. His nuanced performances as Shiva and Bahubali – two characters with little difference – can be counted as one of the biggest defining factors of the franchise’s success. Same goes for Daggubati as the classic villain. However, if I had to choose one star who shines like the greatest of all, it is Shetty, with her electric performance as Devasena. Sure, Bahubali supports her as the independent woman that she is, but her idiosyncratic stances on causes that matter to her, and her dialogues are all so defining (and relatable to the recent feminist uprising), it will be harder to not understand why she is the cinema character of the year. Nasser and Krishnan are equally good, but Sathyaraj is the man who will be remembered for his role and portrayal ten years for now, after Prabhas.

    Overall, there is enough for viewers to both love and hate here. Which side you delve into more depends on how you perceive the sequences that make up the film. If you are someone who judges a film’s watchability on the basis of its score, screenplay, and cast performance – then this is going to be a fun affair. If you aim for the plot holes or the poor CGI, then disappointment is going to be your friend.

    BOTTOM LINE: S S Rajamouli’s “Bahubali – The Conclusion” is a tightly-packed doll of goodies about kings, queens, love, and deceit that will entertain you most of the time. Arguably, one of the most entertaining films of 2017, if you choose to watch it, do it on the big screen. Go for a weekday show!

    Can be watched with a typical Indian family? YES

    May 11, 17
  • Sporadic Amusement. ♦ Grade C-

    Successful fantasy dramas in Bollywood are a rare phenomena. With Amol Palekar’s Paheli (2005) as a solid benchmark, it can be difficult to create an interesting film, as this ambitious project by a debutante director shows.

    Kanan (Suraj Sharma) is a young man who arrives from Canada and is taken by his parents straight to his would-be-fiancée and high school sweetheart Anu’s (Mehreen Pirzada) house for their engagement and subsequent wedding which is scheduled a week from now. Already mad with the swift turn of events and unsure about the whole marriage thing, Kanan tries to speak his mind, but it all falls in deaf ears. Things move at a faster rate as he is directed by the family pandit (Hindu scholar) to first marry a tree so that he can get rid of his astrological curse. No prize for guessing, but Kanan soon finds out that the tree that he married the previous day contained the ghost of a woman named Shashi (Anushka Sharma) who now believes and takes him to be her lawfully-wedded husband. A shaken Kanan tries to avoid her, but for how long? And how is he going to explain it to Anu, who now thinks that Kanan has changed from a genteel lover-boy to a weed-smoking hipster who plays around with women’s feelings…

    If there is a thing called convenient filmmaking, then this is it. With the setup of a big Indian wedding that reminds me of a yesteryear Malayalam-language film, Anwar Rasheed’s Ustad Hotel (2012), used to introduce the characters, the film makes a promising start. Superstitious families, an over-attached girlfriend, and a mysterious ghost from the previous century – the film has everything a Bollywood film could ask for. And for some time, it even manages to entertain. However, the level of quality and entertainment soon falls when you realize that the humor is forced and the drama unceremonious and inconsequential. Kanan is a 26-year old man and his encounters with Shashi are so childish they are cringe-worthy. Suraj’s portrayal as the helpless guy does not work either, even when he is supported by a talented supporting cast.

    The only positive element that works for the film is that the suspense about Shashi’s past stays strong throughout the film, mostly because it is explored non-linearly and is only dug deeper in the final 30 minutes. The base is quite similar to Palekar’s 2005 SRK-starrer, with the exception of disappointing performances from the lead cast. Suraj sports a single expression throughout the 2 hours of running time – whether it is him flirting with his would-be or being terrorized by Shashi. Anushka does not do much for her character other than lazing around from point A to B looking like she hasn’t a clue. All excuses defending her character should be attributed to bad writing. Pirzada is a cutie, but needs to improve her acting chops if she wants to stay. Diljit Dosanjh is the only main character who gives out an authentic performance, and we cannot thank director Anshai Lal for that. The direction is overall average, with Lal using tried and tested methods to narrate his story and still failing to impress. The fitting and well-crafted background score and few hummable songs further accentuate the film as a one-time watch.

    With laudable CGI for a Bollywood film and the fact that the romance in the film is tied to an important part of Indian pre-Independence history, this second production by Anushka Sharma is a watchable but average affair. Go for it if you have nothing else to do.

    BOTTOM LINE: Anshai Lal’s “Phillauri” is a ghost story that flip flops between romance, fantasy, and comedy with these genres providing entertainment in the descending order. It is high on romance thanks to the backstory set in the 1910s, but is pretty low on comedy, no thanks to the writing. Watch it on TV.

    Can be watched with a typical Indian family? YES

    March 29, 17
  • Trapped With Awe. ♦ Grade B+

    If there is one thing that still makes intelligent people go to the movies, it is the little bit of realism that today’s independent movies adopt. While Neeraj Ghaywan’s Masaan (2015) is one such film that comes to my mind right now, this emotional thriller here is going to be on my mind when I review a next similar-kinda film.
    Shaurya (Rajkummar Rao) is a young working-class man who has finally found his purpose through his lady-love Noorie (Geetanjali Thapa), a coworker who is about to get married to someone else. He succeeds in cajoling her to marry and move in with him, but she only has one condition: get an apartment (rented will do) for himself and then they can start complementing each other. Shaurya agrees, pulls up his socks, and gets on with room hunting, only to be the victim of one hasty, badly-made decision.
    Starting from the first scene, Rao keeps you hooked with his nuanced performance, as writers Amit Joshi and Hardik Mehta slowly introduce him as this desolate youngster trying to woo one of his coworkers. The tiny amount of playful romance the film uses to kick-start what quickly becomes an ordeal for the relatable protagonist is what essentially works for the film. With shades of subtle humor and realism in every few scenes as the story slowly inches forward, the film tries to address a handful of issues. The primary one being isolation (from the outside life) and its acknowledgment. It is the central theme of the film, which it then goes to explore and come to the point that fear breeds isolation, which can only be overcome by courage.
    Other causes it faintly touches are real estate issues, religion, vegetarianism, and self-reliance. While it may be easy to eschew these delicate samples in the film, what you cannot ignore is the sheer simplicity of the plot-line. The film is inherently about Shaurya and his experience as a guy who gets locked up in a flat in a high-rise without food, water, or electricity, which robs him of more than just few days’ life. But, what the film tries to say between the lines is something extremely relevant in this time of a connected world where people are moving away from each other.
    Motwane’s actors are brilliant in their collective act, and are real pleasure to watch. Rao is phenomenal as the taciturn, unlucky guy whereas National Award-winning Thapa mesmerizes me in this short role that she does with finesse and loveliness. Rao has always done roles that demand a great effort, and in here, his efforts have paid off. Of course, many people could have done this, but I cannot think of anyone else who would have done such a great job. The supporting cast are well directed, and support the film in its quest to convey a message or two without inducing ennui. Of course, there are long sequences where the central character just stares into the moonlit sky, but branding them as boring is like disrespecting the art of realistic cinema. Realism, surprisingly, comes with its fair share of bitterness, and Trapped balances it perfectly.
    It’s an emotional thriller that should be lauded for its experimental nature, minimalistic storytelling, and brilliant overall filmmaking. It wouldn’t have been what it is without the arresting music by Alokananda Dasgupta, crisp editing, and fine photography. The sequences and score are going to play with your mood and your emotions as you try to pointlessly help Shaurya get out of the flat. Furthermore, it is obvious that this is a thinking man’s film and not a typical Bollywood thriller.
    BOTTOM LINE: Vikramditya Motwane’s “Trapped” is a brilliant fun-filled thriller made with so much less yet heavy substance that it drives home a point or two and tugs at your heartstrings once or twice all in a 100 minutes. Go watch it at your nearest theater.
    Can be watched with a typical Indian family? NO

    March 18, 17
  • Hindi films about marriages are always fun to watch, if not meaningful. The man who gave us Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania in 2014 is back again, this time with some purpose in his romantic comedy drama story.

    Vaidehi (Alia Bhatt) is a student majoring in English language who has rejected a jobless young man named Badrinath’s (Varun Dhawan) marriage proposal. Despite having brought up in a middle-class non-affluent family, Vaidehi is committed to her career, and thus, does not believe in immediate matrimony or all that (read dowry and post-marriage suppression) comes with it. Badri, on the other hand, wants to obsessively make Vaidehi taste some patriarchy, sponsored by his dogmatist father. Both dilly-dally for a while until one of them decides to let go…

    Set partly in Rajasthan and Singapore, the story is pretty straightforward. Viadehi is rebellious and does not want to give in to the pressures of society, whereas Badri is a naive person who has never thought about the oppression faced by women after marriage in spite of having an example sitting in his own house. The film starts off by firing shots in an attempt to break stereotypes even before it has introduced these so-called stereotypes. Comparing genders with financial jargon to induce humor, the film basically revolves around few characters who deal with marriages, dowry, societal pressure, women suppression, and self-seeking. While it should be lauded for trying to at least address these relevant issues by using romance as a container, there is no running away from the serious cinematic shortcomings.

    The first half is a fun-filled adventure with Badi trying to woo Vaidehi through typical Rajasthan-style tricks. It is the high dosage of melodrama and mindless sequences in the second half which plays with director Shashank Kahitan’s broth. Cringe-worthy sequences and drama that some of its actors cannot handle – that is essentially what the film gets wrong. Other than a crash course in air hostess studies, there is nothing substantial one can grasp from it, which climaxes with one of the lead characters turning more responsible and being the poster person for the issues addressed previously. And at the end, there is no hint of development or change in the general mindset. Of course, the male character gets the courage to talk back to and question his parents about the ancient system and astrology that they believe in and unabashedly push down on their daughter-in-law, but there is no detailed furnishing of what happens next. A single montage is used to convey what does not live up to all that promise the film makes in the first half. I’m not even going to talk about the terrible music.

    Bhatt is lovely in her character, and her chemistry with Dhawan works yet again. (Special shout out for whoever does her costumes.) She can pull off such “girlfriend” characters effortlessly, and it is she who has 51% stake as the lead character in the film. Dhawan, as usual, crosses the line of overacting, and even takes it a notch or two higher here with his awkward facial expressions. Loved Sahil Vaid as Badri’s sidekick, making us wonder whether sidekick actors do more in such films than who they play sidekicks for. Rest of the cast are fine, and portray their characters well. Khaitan directs his cast very well, and is let down only by his lazy writing.

    All in all, the film works because of its adequate amounts of humor and romance, with drama filling majority of the cups. Reminiscent of recent Bollywood films like Shaad Ali’s “OK Jaanu” and Amit Roy’s “Runningshaadi.com”, Khaitan’s spiritual sequel to the 2014 film is a welcome gesture in this time of aggressive feminism, but still may not go down well with people, mostly because its two lead characters sometimes act like high school pass-outs.

    BOTTOM LINE: Shashank Khaitan’s “Badrinath Ki Dulhania” is an average romantic drama that hopes to move mountains with its intentions of smashing stereotypes about Indian marriages, but ends up just relocating it. A cool afternoon watch at your nearest theater after you are done throwing colors at each other won’t hurt.

    Can be watched with a typical Indian family? YES

    March 11, 17
  • Like A Second Hearing. ♦ Grade C+

    Subhash Kapoor is a man who knows how to make people laugh through his well-written filmy sequences and then make them remember those sequences so that they can think about it later and laugh out loud for the nth time. Although this one here is generally perceived as a courtroom drama, there is still some wry humor etched in the corners.

    Jolly (Akshay Kumar) is an aspiring young lawyer who practices law without any scruples. Married with a small kid, he currently works as a submissive assistant to one of the most high-profile advocates in Lucknow. He hopes to own a chamber of his own one day, and one of his quick yet dastardly attempts at taking the short-cut forces him to reflect on ethics and other canons of professionalism that is otherwise at no display in his profession both customarily and personally. So starts a fast-paced drama inside and outside of the court as Jolly tries to solve his first full case and absolve his sins.

    For people who have watched the prequel (Jolly LLB (2013)), there is no need for an introduction here, and even if you skip this review, you can still gleefully book a ticket and go for the next available show. You will not complain about the level of entertainment quotient as it is almost as high as it was back when Arshad Warsi was wearing the black robe. The only big difference here is that Kapoor has made it vividly more relevant if we consider the chaotic status quo of the political and judicial circues in the country. The setup is similar to what we saw four years ago – an up-and-coming lawyer looking for a breakthrough, a side family from the poor class looking for justice, corrupt policemen and babus, (coincidentally) an idiosyncratic judge, and good old courtroom drama. While the prequel dealt with an accident case involving murder, this one here talks about fake encounter.

    It is evident that Kapoor has borrowed some points from Chaitanya Tamhane’s 2014 path-breaker and Academy Award hopeful, Court, but this one is not as raw as the one which was arguably the best Hindi film of 2015 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LnpkJW7Gcn4 ). With use of wry humor, occasional slapstick, and non-feasible fiction dangling over the scenes, there is this intrinsic lack of seriousness in the whole two hours. It’s like the characters did not want to irrigate even a tiny bit of propensity to pan their story as a serious courtroom drama where one or two essential messages are to be conveyed. Instead, the film ends with a preachy note that is as cringe-worthy as the lead man’s make-believe lawyering. There are far too many improbable situations, but then there is a broad line between reality, what can be shown on film, and what is shown on film. If you are used to looking at your partner while watching such a situation (which would be impossible to think of IRL) in a film and then shrugging it off, then Jolly LLB 2 will be a much better experience.

    Akshay Kumar looks good as Jolly, the helpless lawyer. His transition from being helpless to artful kinda gets muddled in the non-fastidious attempt to get everyone inside the court as fast as possible. If you are wondering, I would prefer Warsi anytime over Kumar despite the latter being a phenomenal actor who has proved his talent by donning diverse roles in his long career. Saurabh Shukla is a delight to watch, and it is around him that Kapoor etches those memorable sequences I was talking about. Along with brilliant performances by Annu Kapoor, Sayani Gupta, and Kumud Mishra, the film manages to hold on to its core theme throughout and does not disappoint, especially in the second half. Huma Qureshi could have been easily done away with, but let’s discuss that broad topic sometime later.

    Overall, this sequel is not as good as the original film, but still merits for a one-time watch considering we don’t have many good films coming up these days.

    BOTTOM LINE: Subhash Kapoor’s Jolly LLB 2 is a brisk drama that tries to be – a courtroom drama, a comedy skit, and a fable – all at once just because it wants to make people believe that the justice system is still a trusted institution. It’s good entertainment. Go for a weekday show where you get 50% discount on BookMyShow if you have certain cards or wallets.

    Can be watched with a typical Indian family? YES

    February 10, 17
  • "Capable" Of Entertaining You. ♦ Grade C+

    Hrithik Roshan needed a much-needed push to his acting career, considering his personal problems and an embarrassing attempt at recreating history (read Mohenjo Daro (2016)) had put a few red marks on his report card. Sanjay Gupta helps him here, with enough support from the Roshan clan.

    Rohan (Hrithik Roshan), a dubbing artist, and Supriya (Yami Gautam), a pianist and NGO worker, are a visually challenged couple who are in love and have decided to marry. They begin their married life with much pomp and circumstance, along with their friends, with the hope of starting a better life together. However, horror knocks on their door the right next day when local goon Amit (Rohit Roy) and his friend sexually assault Supriya, shattering their lives forever. Sardonically, Rohan is more devastated than Supriya, and decides to avenge, after regretting his previous decision to marry, at all.

    For starters, there is definitely a lot of heart in the film, with Rohan overacting to the core to impress Supriya. Soon, the focus shifts from their delicate romance to the idea of people mocking those who are disabled. Amit and his friend are both repugnant in their actions and words, and do not mind speaking their mind, especially when Supriya, or women in general, is the subject. The makers probably wanted to show the aftermath of rape, by sampling (or rather simplifying) disability, but handle it rather clumsily. There is no other excuse to create this film which has shades of cliché, mockery, and anti-feminism.

    Viewers are guaranteed to feel angry at what ensues after the assault, taking the torch from the scene of act to the police station to the local minister’s mansion. It is the usual flow of narration where police apathy and corruption barge in and make you boil. Nonetheless, it does not pass muster if the Roshans had wanted to show the stark reality about the condition of women in a country where the idea of feminism is muddled, and patriarchy and dash of fascism is at an all-time high. It addresses one too many social issues, and then moves on to the vengeance part – which is plain old sweetness.

    Although Roshan looks like he’s straight out of the Koi… Mil Gaya (2003) sets, he performs well, and is one of the many reasons why the film never bores. Gautam is decent, as well, but it is her facial expressions that is at great display here. The Roy brothers are great, with the elder one typecast and the younger one doing a film after a long time. Their characters are perfectly vindictive, and give too many causes for Rohan to fight back. Other supporting actors like Narendra Jha (also seen in Rahul Dholakia’s Raees (2017)), Suresh Menon, and Girish Kulkarni (last seen in Nitesh Tiwari’s Dangal (2016)) are all above average and portray their characters with much diligence.

    With arresting music and some nicely-shot sequences, the film is sure to keep you at the edge if you are not a feminist. For people who are disturbed at how the makers carve the aftermath of rape, it is best to avoid the film and wait for Sankalp Reddy’s The Ghazi Attack (2017). There is this one particular scene, had it been handled properly, would have impressed me a lot. Where after the horrendous scene, Supriya goes to Rohan and tries to calm him, apologizing for not being “the way she was” anymore and Rohan does not reply. The consequence of this scene is rather dreadful, but the writers fail to provide a good explanation as to why Rohan fell silent that moment, as if he was in pain more than his wife – which is factually incorrect and a bad thing to represent.

    It has similarities with a lot of recent films such as Sriram Raghavan’s Badlapur (2015), Nishikant Kamat’s Drishyam (2015), and Priyadarshan’s Malayalam film Oppam (2016), but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth your money or time. Yeah, you do feel Rohan’s targets were only the bare minimum and he should have targeted more people, but you cannot choose unless we get interactive cinema in 3017.

    BOTTOM LINE: Sanjay Gupta’s “Kaabil” is a lot better than his 2014 cold dunk, Jazbaa. It will cause you to emote the same way you react reading newspaper headlines these days. Along with favorable performances and a well-executed story-line, this one is, wait for it, better than its competition. Buy a DVD later or maybe go for that weekday afternoon show. Don’t forget to use the Freecharge offer on BookMyShow!

    Can be watched with a typical Indian family? YES

    January 27, 17
  • The Alcohol Is Of Substandard Quality. ♦ Grade D+

    Three years after the cataclysmic riots in the Indian state of Gujarat of which only the spectators are alive today, Rahul Dholakia charmed us with his hard-hitting drama Parzania (2005). He talked about the hardship of Muslims fighting for their survival then. More than a decade later, his sloppy drama takes you into another world of crime in the same state, this time criticized for its alcohol prohibition.

    Set in the prohibition era of Gujarat (officially since 1960), the story is set in the early 80s where a small schoolboy named Raees Alam helps local bootleggers by signaling them about the arrival of the police. Tired of apprehensions, although always inconsequent, Alam decides to go work for Vijayraj (Atul Agnihotri) who only deals in English liquor. A decade and a half later, Alam (Shah Rukh Khan) becomes his master’s right-hand guy to the extent where he decides to start his own business. He does, much to Vijayraj’s bitterness, and succeeds tremendously. Around the same time, a policeman named Majmudar (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) is transferred to Alam’s town, and things get messy for everyone.

    Alam lives and works by the slushy watchword that was taught to him by his mother about how no type of work is lowly and that no religion is above work. Alam makes it a point that he slurs it at least a dozen times throughout his life (the movie, too), not even sparing the law enforcement who appear to be doing their job much fervently as other similar Hindi films hesitate to manifest. The wordy phrase becomes his life lesson even as he begins his own journey as the master bootlegger in the whole of state. There is no escape from the fact that everything laid out by the writers here has a touch of artificiality, and we know better than consuming artificial alcohol, don’t we? Alam is frequently teased with the name “battery” by almost everyone he meets, forcing me to use the word “contrived” at least once in this review.

    Based on the extraordinary story of Gujarati gangster Abdul Latif, Raees is nowhere near the charismatic chronicle of the man which led to the current state of illegal alcohol flow in the state. Director Dholakia evidently aspires too much of his rags-to-riches story making himself believe that its sheer rawness would appeal its audience who are thirsty of something more than water. However, it has nothing new to offer other than the import from the neighboring country. The action sequences, as is customary in Bollywood, defy gravity. Stunts are shown between short intervals, and none of them are leading enough to make the broth an enjoyable affair. Over- dramatic slosh coupled with itsy-bitsy romance, a dash of revenge, and a puerile plot line – the first big Bollywood film of the year 2017 is a letdown. There is also this slight hint of criticism for the prohibition in the film’s undertone which may be easy to overlook. As a result, it is impossible to detect if it was intentional or forced. (Depends on the makers’ political orientation.)

    Shah Rukh Khan is in good form, although nothing can beat his performance in Maneesh Sharma’s Fan (2016) in recent times. His portrayal as the uneducated yet intelligent miscreant here is decent, enough to impress his servile fans who are even ready to give their life (see Vadodara station mishap). The dialogues that he munches out definitely give more power to the film, but when perceived as a single, whole piece, Khan’s solo show becomes inadequate. His character is filled with sugary syrup ready to dissolve in its viewers’ diabetic mouth. Even the stunts look messy, despite the cranking cameras doing their best to hold up. Siddiqui is the real star as I found myself, among others, rotting for him as he goes against Alam regardless of the attacks aimed at him from all possible directions. Last year, he was criticized for his portrayal as a deplorable school teacher in Shlok Sharma’s Haramkhor (2017) and his inability to drive a film singlehandedly, and in here he confirms that the latter part is very much true. Just because Khan takes care of the rest, Siddiqui influences his audience and makes them love him for what he does. While the lead actor is the anti- hero, the plucky policeman is the real hero here. Newcomer Mahira Khan does not have much to do, which should have been obvious. Supporting actors Agnihotri and Zeeshan Ayyub are better. All in all, if you are capable of appreciating the performances, then Raees will be more palpable.

    Overall, director Dholakia’s latest feature is an ambitious film that is written poorly but shot well, executed averagely but has good performances, and ultimately looks like aged Scotch but tastes like that liquor which was produced in the go-down of the local bootlegger whom Alam worked for in the beginning. Raw, substandard, and sickeningly acerbic.

    BOTTOM LINE: Rahul Dholakia’s Shah Rukh Khan-starrer “Raees” is a very purposeful film, with the aim being to establish the story of an established historic character at a time when prohibition of all types seems to be rampant in the country. The only problem is that the story seems to be a “history-cheater”. Wait for TV premiere if you are not a fan.

    Can be watched with a typical Indian family? YES

    January 26, 17
  • Looks Like High-School Romance. ♦ Grade D-

    Not much afterthought was given to the idea of remaking a romance film which was not a critical success in the first place. But then, one cannot expect originality from a director who has been consuming the shadow of other people all his life.

    Tara (Shraddha Kapoor) is a young, dreamy architecture student-cum- researcher who is in love with Aditya (Aditya Kapoor), a video game developer trying to be a billionaire. They hit it off within days of meeting, and form a pact early in their relationship: no commitment whatsoever. So, they fool around as long as they can in a partial attempt to show the world that they do not care about societal stigmas, stereotypes, electrotypes, and all that comes with live-in relationships. The story is basically their romantic journey as they fight the varied thoughts and fears that surround such a relationship, and how they can take it forward without compromising their other commitments like work and lifestyle.

    Sort of a crooked primer for modern marriage, Ratnam’s story was clichéd then (O Kaadhal Kanamani (2015)) and is clichéd now. Just add some ounces of overacting, and you have the Hindi version, considering actress Leela Samson did not have to put in a single extra effort in reprising her role. OK Jaanu is a film about over-the-top youngsters who use black-and-yellow taxis (just so you get that vintage effect) in the time of Uber and Ola, consider life to be a snakes and ladders game, behave like high school sweethearts in the middle of the road, exaggerate like that figure of speech (hyperbole) that they learned last week in the English lecture, and DO NOT look like they are working people. It is, thus, a travesty when you see Aditya and Tara interact with each other romantically and try to showcase the youngsters of today. Just like Aditya Chopra got it terribly wrong in his blundering horseplay (Befikre (2016)), director Shaad Ali gets it wrong this time, too, three years after creating another load of garbage, Kill Dil (2014). Just look at the title of both the films: so 20th century.

    While there is this wee bit of diligence and maturity in Shraddha’s performance AND her character, it is Aditya who overacts to the tooth. Just like someone asked here in the IMDb message boards, “Whatever happened to the guy?!” He was a good actor few years ago, even in the rehashed version of Aashiqui (1990), but in here, he just tries to be this chocolate boy who smells of burnt cocoa. Naseeruddin Shah is the only respite for people like me, who also seems to be the only sane character in the whole film, literally even.

    However, there is a hint of delight in the screenplay and there is a average chance that you may get bored with the happenings. You will get annoyed, sure, but director Ali makes the broth a little spicy to save you from the boredom. Although, should you choose to watch the film and if you really think of walking out the hall after sitting through twenty minutes, I would suggest you wait for the scene (unfortunatey in the second half) where Tara takes a selfie of her and Aditya and terms it as “our first quarrel selfie”. Visualise that in Hindi, and then you can walk out, because now you have company.

    BOTTOM LINE: Shaad Ali’s “Ok Jaanu” is a childish attempt at showcasing romantic relationships of today’s youth. The biggest problem is that most things here are just imagination, a factor that should have been limited when you are talking about reality. Watch it for Shraddha’s expressions when it airs on TV, but do switch channels between commercials.

    Can be watched with a typical Indian family? NO

    January 21, 17
  • "They Don't Teach Like They Used To." ♦ Grade D+

    Looking back, having failed to catch this interesting-looking film at the 2015 Mumbai Film Festival due to BookMyShow’s ridiculous ticketing system is not that unfortunate. That is because this social drama only looks good, but is surprisingly hollow.

    Shyam (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) is a teacher who lives with his wife in a small house near the school where he teaches math to secondary-class students. He also moonlights as a tutor at his home for students who appear to be both academically weak and mischievous. Perfect examples of such types are two boys named Kamal (Irfan Khan) and Mintu (Mohd Samad) who think that their class-cum- tuition mate Sandhya (Shweta Tripathi) is fond of Shyam, who seems to be the only teacher around. What follows is Kamal and Mintu’s countless attempts at showcasing the former’s love to Sandhya while she is absorbed by Shyam’s mature persona due to the much-discussed natural effect of adolescence.

    Director Shlok Sharma is surely not fooling around when it comes to hitting the point – the illicit relationship between teacher and student. How it originates is rather a touchy subject and Sharma fails there, causing the film to be a partial depiction of all that was intended. Although he makes the audience ask the question as to who the real haraamkhor (unprincipled) is – Shyam or Sandhya or someone else, there is this lack of depth which lingers throughout the film. Soon enough, it becomes certain who the unprincipled character is, but by then one more thing becomes certain – there is no explanation as to why happened what happened. Did Shyam make the effort despite being married? Or was it Sandhya who craved to know more about “adult love”, fueled by issues at home?

    One may try to decipher the answers to the questions, but then it would become a hike and you wouldn’t gain any entertainment, unless you consider Kamal and Mintu and their hilarious activities. The screenplay is rather crisp with Siddique and Tripathi both holding waters, but someone here in the IMDb message boards gets it right when he says Siddiqui cannot alone drive a film forward. He is brilliant as his typecast character, but insufficient when it comes to being the main guy. Tripathi was lovable in Masaan (2015), but the credits tell me this is her debut film. Her innocent face and those telling eyes puts her perfectly into character as the naive 9th grader.

    All in all, the film is decently made, but is without the ingredients that are essential to club social message with feasibility. Working on a story and putting it on screen without exploring its causes and factors is bad filmmaking. However, an afternoon watch on Netflix won’t hurt, but make sure you watch it alone and not with your Indian parents.

    BOTTOM LINE: Shlok Sharma’s “Haraamkhor” is about an affair between a teacher and a student that provides limited information to talk about a widely relevant subject. Had there been a gender-swapped version, things would have been different, and that is the film’s biggest flaw. Watch it on your free Netflix subscription.

    Can be watched with a typical Indian family? NO

    January 20, 17
  • A "DanGIRL" Triumph. ♦ Grade A-

    Majority of sports films have lots of things in common between them. This one here tries hard and succeeds in being in the minority.

    Mahavir Phogat (Aamir Khan) is a home-grown National-level wrestling champion who hopes to see his unborn son(s) make India proud by winning gold at the international level. Blame his X chromosomes, but he and his wife give birth to not one, not two, but four daughters, much to Mahavir’s disappointment. He surprisingly stops trying for a fifth child and packs up his dreams. However, as the kids grow up and show signs of aggressiveness, he realizes that even though their gender orientation is different from his, they may be good contenders for the game of wrestling. Convinced that his two eldest daughters, young Geeta (Zaira Wasim) and Babita (Suhani Bhatnagar), may help him take his passion forward, he begins training them – pure Ludhiana-style. The story then follows Mahavir’s strict native coaching as the girls grow up (Fatima Sana Shaikh and Sanya Malhotra) and try to climb the ladder, albeit while facing a series of stereotypes, hurdles, and rampant demoralization from the society.

    As a viewer who is still in awe with the film, I will only talk about one specific (and the most important) sequence, which occurs towards the end of the first half. Without giving any spoilers – in order to prove that she doesn’t need more of her father’s guidance, Geeta gets into the pit to fight against the man who helped create her. The two-minute montage that Tiwari and cinematographer Sethu get absolutely, perfectly right, all with Aamir and Shaikh’s emotive reactions, is the most poignant scene seen in any Bollywood film this year. There is so much in that short sequence that defines the powers of human vanity, egotism, and haughtiness – all blended with humanity’s most vital feelings – it will make you cry. That particular sequence is what got me, and I am going to break order by recommending this film right in the third paragraph itself. Go watch it in your nearest theater now.

    Five minutes is all it will take you to get hooked into the otherwise long film (at 160 stimulating minutes). Delightful sequences that will lay out what is to be expected as you move forward with Mahavir and his daughters’ story. The cause of women empowerment is loud and clear as Tiwari and his allies etch a story about the usual stereotypes that surround when it comes to “women in sports”. The male gaze also makes an appearance here as Mahavir gives zero care to the world and moves ahead with his talented daughters in an attempt to shift mountains. How a father does what he does, regardless of his approach, but still thinks of his girls’ upbringing and a bright future is what Dangal essentially talks about. It tries to smash and subdue the voices that sway in the air about inequality, and oppression of women and their rights. As far as the narrative is concerned, it’s a triumph, because it sheds light on both sides of the coin. Mahavir’s wife is worried about her daughters’ food-making skills, but she is cajoled that people are not living in caves anymore.

    Of course, the narrative is formulaic, as Tiwari uses the usual elements (think Chak De! India (2007), Sultan (2016)) to ignite chatter about the much-talked-about cause, patriotism, the decrepit sports authority of India, and other related things. The ability to shed light into how it is the government which is to be blamed for sportspeople not winning medals should be lauded, but let’s not give the film the hat of a pioneer. Other films in the genre think of it as water under the bridge.

    The young girls do a very good job at enacting kids who are growing up and who love pani-puri, yet are forbidden by their father. Their determination in portraying their characters is terrific. Same with Fatima Sana Shaikh who is well- directed, yet her character is written with some traces of bad Bollywood in it. She steals the show, nonetheless. Sakshi Tanwar and Aparshakti Khurrana support the main cast very well, with the latter providing comic relief.

    Aamir Khan justifies his role, and makes it obvious why he is showered with certain adjectives and nouns. After Talaash (2012) and Dhoom 3 (2013), his authority as a game-changer in Bollywood was beginning to diminish, but this one here surely has the strength to resurrect him as the man. His fitness regime for the portrayal (can be watched on YouTube) reassures that he may still be in the game.

    Dangal is a film that makes the right use of background music, slow motion capturing and editing, and other film factors. It keeps its audience at the edge of their seats throughout the film, yet stays relevant, and never bores. Thumping songs will get you higher and make you marvel at the cinematic excellence as it unfolds layer by layer. Overall, there aren’t enough sentences to describe the lists of things that this film achieves. It rhetorically asks if women aren’t better than men. Then it proves that it’s all about equality, making feminists cower at the backseat. What took them years and years to start, this film here did it in less than three hours.

    BOTTOM LINE: Nitesh Tiwari’s “Dangal” is surprisingly brilliant for a sports drama. It is a film that is not only about sports or the spirit of winning, but about a father’s quest to make his children understand what passion can do, and how one can set an example. Other than learning some good wrestling strategy, Dangal is a triumph that will appeal to everyone. Go for it!

    Can be watched with a typical Indian family? YES

    December 24, 16
  • Buffoonery Of Eiffel Towerian Proportions ♦ Grade F

    Aditya Chopra has issues with understanding love and relationships. He first started throwing up his ideas in 1995, and it took him close to two decades to finally get the people to understand that his interpretations are awfully wrong. Clearly evident in this ritzy romance drama.

    Shyra (Vaani Kapoor) is a young, carefree, and promiscuous French woman born to Indian restaurateurs while Dharam (Ranveer Singh) is a comedian from Delhi who has final-stage satyriasis. They bump into each other at a rave party in Paris and immediately indulge in wham bam thank you ma’am. Dharam hopes that he can maybe start scoring, starting from Shyra, but is internally crestfallen to learn that the fun they had the previous night was just a one-time thingummy for Shyra, a professional travel guide who moonlights as garcon at her parents’ rotisserie. The 2-hour game-play between these youngsters misrepresented as today’s youth is what the film is essentially about.

    Viewers are ushered into the film with a montage of various couples kissing and groping each other in the beautiful locales of France. As we move further in the non-linear story-line, Singh comes in as this joker, summoned by his Indian friend to add elan to the latter’s comedy club-cum-cafe. But, we mostly see him as a nudist trying to get it on with Shyra, who has terrible taste in fashion, considering her nationality. The story-line tries too hard to showcase the youngsters’ mentality when it comes to romance in the free world, but forgets to take all aspects into consideration. If the first half is foreplay followed by carnal knowledge, the second half is post-coital clean up, which is both gross and non-pleasurable.

    Dating in the 21st century is everything NOT like one sees in Befikre. Instead, the film is a personal diary of director Chopra who chose to market it as something about no-strings-attached relationships. There is, however, some humor in the drama, contributed mainly by Singh. Albeit, there are too many improbable situations here, which makes the whole shindig slightly unbelievable for the viewers. Dharam shares an apartment with two homosexual women, while Shyra observes licentiousness while living with her parents. Convenience looks good in a store, not in a film. So much, that it flip flops from one idea to another, and often churns out dialogues pinpointing certain stereotypes and gives out critiques which do not pass muster. Today’s youth are impulsive, which is not a novel thing about them, but writer Chopra thinks of it as a paradigm shift as we move ahead in life.

    With very less background data about the protagonists, the film largely engages in differentiating them as Dilliwala and Pariswali, as if trying to tell that the film may not be universally relevant. Which is true to some extent. The makers also try to bridge the gap between how romance is perceived in India and elsewhere in the West, but falls through, because there is no consideration of the complexities and stigmas that come with it. They fail to realize that casual relationships are not just practiced in Paris and New York, but also in Connaught Place and South Bombay. Also, I’m surprised how the Indian CBFC even cleared the film for the morally-virgin Indian consumers.

    Sort of a reverse primer for marriages, the film can most relevantly be described as the less faithful version of Karan Johar’s exaggerated snooze-fest, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (2016). While that took a distorted look at relationships, this one here take the on-off approach. It refutes its own claims of how romantic relationships nowadays are – proclaiming that they are fleeting at one point, and then describing it as a bond at another. All in all, it blows its chances at depicting how hook- ups affect people’s lives, because while love takes the backseat, lust hops in to take care of the wheel.

    Singh marginally steals the limelight with his stronger performance, while Kapoor is let down by her costume and a weird air. Their mannerisms may be a reason to ignite vanity, but their glossy performances fail to ante up the narrative. For a moment, one may even think that the actors are starring in a ridiculously long advertisement by the France tourism board, but then chuck that thought because a French ad would have more French in it than Hindi.

    Of course, there are some minor takeaways from the film, which I am leaving alone for your individual capabilities to grapple. Nonetheless, there is one dialog from Shyra’s parents that Chopra gets right: “These days parents don’t bring up their children, it’s the other way around.” Don’t get excited, because even this is spoken in Hindi.

    BOTTOM LINE: Aditya Copra’s fourth film, “Befikre” is like a fancy boutique situated in a romantic city. It sells everything from horseplay to foreplay, targeted at the YOLO generation and endorsed by good-looking people. However, by the time you fill your cart with one or two good pieces and go to the counter to check out, you take a glimpse at the backside storeroom, and repulse in fear because you realize you have been duped by men and women who want to set bad examples. Skip for life, or use as a travel guide when you visit Paris.

    Can be watched with a typical Indian family? NO

    December 10, 16
  • Psychology Class. ♦ Grade C-

    Gauri Shinde talks about original stories. While English Vinglish (2012) was a triumph, this drama is a tad artificial and long-winded.

    Kaira (Alia Bhatt) is a girl who is troubled, selfish, pretentious, jealous, emotional, irritable, restless, disturbed, and other 596 things the society generally associates with mental health problems. She is an aspiring cinematographer who is independent but has possible parent issues. However, what is specifically wrong with her is not clear to us, let only to herself. And the story follows her life as she tries to cope with her personal and professional lives, often hitting roadblocks in romantic relationships, and eventually finding solace in a psychiatrist named Jehangir (Shah Rukh Khan).

    The theme of mental health is surprisingly new to Bollywood, and we should thank Ms Shinde for etching a story about it. Regardless, there are issues with her execution. One will have no sympathy for Kaira, who seems like a woman who no one would want to be around with. Of course, she has problems and that is the reason why she is that way. But, instead of addressing thee issues as an adult who is 25, Kaira tries to blame others for her problems. Her pretentious attitude and no care for what is happening around her and to the ones she possibly cares about maybe true to the backstory, but will definitely cause you some irritation. Calling it drama would be a travesty, as Kaira also pretends to be a humanitarian trying to pull herself together. Yet she derives pleasure and closure from relationships by going to supermarkets and randomly breaking pickle jars.

    The first half is pro-feminist. I mention this because it’s all over the place to the point that one would have Kaira take some medical help than let another pro-feminist shoot her as a child with issues. Ms Shinde tries to represent the current generation (millennials) who are collectively irritated by their mothers, but the end product is a convoluted presentation of her interpretations. Thankfully, Kaira does get medial help, and finally the story gathers useful steam. SRK’s entry is medicine both to Kaira and to the audience. Viewers will get respite from them millennials who quote William Faulkner and indirectly endorse eBay and Godrej’s Nature’s Basket while at it.

    Jehangir likes to quote Einstein; so you know what happens in the second half. The contrived story arcs are at bay now as Kaira teams up with her psychiatrist and throws potshots at stereotypes in the world. There are some really fine moments here as we are taken deep into the real problem of mental health issues experienced by the young generation of today. Apart from his inside stories, SRK’s character brings joy and relief to the screen.

    Alia Bhatt is brilliant as the troubled child, while SRK acts like he’s doing a favor by acting. Bhatt lives her character and succeeds in enacting the nuances associated with it, which is clear as sky in this tale which is largely shot in Goa. The supporting cast is well- directed, but averagely written. Happy to see Ira Dubey after her act with Imad Shah in M Cream (2014). Ali Zafar also astonishingly applies himself and refrains from showing his pearl whites in intervals of 11 seconds. The film partly works because of Bhatt’s radiant performance.

    Overall, its evident that Ms Shinde had the intentions of cleansing this world of doubts about mental health and/or stereotypes against women. I wouldn’t say she succeeds fully, but she could have instead written a Medium post and be done with it. Audience could have then read Jenny Lawson’s “Furiously Happy” for an extension of that post. Unfortunately, he we are with a film which looks like an extension of Imtiaz Ali’s Highway (2014).

    Mental health problems are real, and it’s time we realize that. Watching this film should not only be about entertainment, but owning up to the cause. Then can we say that the film’s a triumph. If not, it can just be an afternoon family watch.

    BOTTOM LINE: Gauri Shinde’s “Dear Zindagi” is a thoughtful film with polarizing two halves which talks about real problems of the real world, only with a tepid sense and meandering approach. Watch it on DVD for Bhatt.

    Can be watched with a typical Indian family? NO

    November 26, 16
  • Mythology Of America. ♦ Grade C-

    Independent films have stories to tell. Hence, it is always a better idea to watch and support such movies. This emotional drama talks about the cultural gap between two countries, or more specifically, between two maddeningly diverse countries.

    Ramakant (Suraj Sharma) lives with his mother and father in a small village in India. After his elder brother, Udai (Prateik Babbar), left for the great America, the village lights up with stories and rumors about the Western country. Udai’s mom almost goes mad with pride sliding on the verge of vanity, leaving Ramakant to think of only good things about his brother. Although a little late, Udai’s letters arrive at the village, and are read by everyone with pomp and circumstance. Few months pass by and Udai’s family, now reduced to two after the sudden death of the patriarch, begin to panic as there is no news from the man who brought them pride. Money was never the issue because it never used to come, but what about the letters? A suspicious Ramakant leaves his ailing mother in the village and sets out in search of his brother who was helped by a distant uncle…

    Within the first ten minutes, one will know that there is heart in the film. If not for only monetary purposes, one understand that the film is made to induce emotions. It has an interesting plot which has only been seen before in Malayalam films (as per my knowledge, but I could be wrong), where the story moves forward with the help of letters that Udai used to send back home. Or did he? Well, that is what Ramakant intends to find out. His journey to the city is purely reminiscent of the 80s and 90s when in a city like Bombay, people used to arrive with dreams without even a job in place for starters. The good old hustling for money and hesitating to talk to that girl. It shows the developmental differences between India and the USA: the eating habits, et al, added into the screenplay with pinch of humor and sarcasm. It is also delightfully fun to watch these sequences unfold, with some of the best being the characters’ interpretations about the American life.

    The climax is where the emotional tinge chugs at your heart; concluding that mothers, no matter what, just want their sons and daughters to be happy. Nothing more. Arguably, the best thing that works here is Dustin O’Halloran’s nonchalant score, which perfectly drives the sequences. Although the second half is duller and slower than the first, a drama-lover wouldn’t mind sitting through the 100 minutes. The finality is pretty obvious and that takes the cherry out of this pie which could have used a little more icing if not more dough.

    Sharma is decent as the hapless younger brother who is both proud and jealous of his brother. His eyes are enough to make you understand the character. Babbar and other supporting cast are also fine in the respective roles. The actress who plays Ramakant’s love interest definitely takes a prize, though. The capturing of Bombay is not that great, but still works for the flow of the film. Cinematography and direction are fine.

    BOTTOM LINE: Prashant Nair’s “Unrika” is a nicely-made drama film about a family and their uncommon problems. An afternoon watch will be enough. Rent a DVD!

    Can be watched with a typical Indian family? NO

    November 16, 16
  • Rock Off! ♦ Grade D+

    Sequels are the shiz right now, but they rarely are as good as the originals as this musical social drama testifies.

    The rock band Magik do not produce music anymore, but the members are still in touch. Jo (Arjun Rampal) and KD (Purab Kohli) are in Mumbai doing their stuff while Aditya (Farhan Akhtar) is in Meghalaya, away from his family and music in general, trying to introspect about his past life. Following an eventful episode at his place of work in the NE state, Aditya is coaxed by his friends and family to return to Mumbai. It is then that he and others meet Jiah (Shraddha Kapoor), a talented musician with father problems and a horrendous past, which is back to haunt Magik…

    While that synopsis above may sound interesting, I can assure you it isn’t. The story resumes from where the first film ended. After the death of Rob, Magik continues to create music for a while after which they dismantle, the reason of which is what is explored in the first half. It uses the same formula as the first film wherein there’s a past event which troubles Aditya and other members and how the passion for music helps them bounce back. Same old, same old!

    It is evident that the film was made to bank in on the first film’s roaring success. So much that even the sequences are recreated variations; albeit in different contexts, but still the same. In Rock On!! (2008), Aditya’s wife is the one who makes the reunion of Magik possible, and here, too, she is seen in her sentimental wifey avatar doing what she does. But, the biggest problem with the film is that it deviates from the musical genre and tries to become a loud social drama. Magik tries to use the power of music to help spread a social message and raise funds, and all that comes with it. The plot even tries to mix these topics together, but the result is hollow as a dead tree’s bark. Throw in a petty villain to this mixture, and you have it.

    Cast performance is good, but Kapoor looks out of place here, with her snobby air. The characters mostly engage in irritating its audience. And that affects the whole flow of the film and the watching experience.

    It’s basically a sad story which explores one too many topics and fails miserably. It’s a lazy attempt with a climax full of clichés and improbable situations. So much problems with this concoction that one might just watch the first film once again and forget they even made a sequel. The first film was delightfully brilliant; it had romance, comedy, drama, and mostly, good music. This one lacks all of them, unless you consider melodrama.

    BOTTOM LINE: Shujaat Saudagar’s “Rock On 2” is a lazy gimmick which was obviously made to make the world know that the makers care about the adverse lives of people in the world. As a musical, this one fails, though. Watch it on TV.

    Can be watched with a typical Indian family? YES

    November 13, 16
  • Collection Of Popular WhatsApp Jokes & Memes. ♦ Grade D+

    Remake of a wildly popular Gujarati film called “Chhello Divas” (2015), this comedy can be best termed as a time-pass affair, if that makes sense.

    A group of friends are inching towards their final college days and have vowed to go out with a bang. So, they plan a cultural event which the college has never seen before. The story essentially follows these friends as they end their college life with uproarious fun.

    Trying to be like Pyaar Ka Punchnaam (2011) and its 2015 sequel, the film is a collection of jokes and literal translation of memes that you find on social media and WhatsApp. Low quality humor combined with unfunny slapstick is what there is in the first half. Although, the plot tries to fool you with a tragic incident in the first 10 minutes, you know it’s a gimmick, and it becomes clear when you realize that there is no story whatsoever, and the characters here are just fooling around. What the characters do does not look least bit realistic. Enough to test the patience of an informer viewer, who would ideally think twice before going for a movie which has such an obnoxious title.

    The second half gasps for humor as the characters cross their threshold, and eventually settle for cheap, sexist jokes to quench the audience’s thirst. The cast performance is average, to say the best, and by the time you walk out of the hall, it’s doubtful you will remember any of these characters or their dialogues.

    BOTTOM LINE: Krishnadev Yagnik’s “Days of Tafree” is an attempt to cash in on the success of the original film, but unfortunately is so average, you cannot call it a whole film. How about you read the summary and forget the film? Watch on TV.

    Can be watched with a typical Indian family? NO

    November 08, 16
  • The Horror! The Horror! ♦ Grade C-

    What happened in Delhi and elsewhere in North India in the days following the assassination of former Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi, is gore insanity, to say the least. And this crime thriller here tries to reinvent one of those days with sheer pithiness and smallest fractions of the darkness, which engulfed the whole country in the final months of 1984.

    Davinder Singh (Vir Das) is an office-goer who lives with his wife, Tajinder (Sohan Ali Khan), and two young sons in a quiet neighborhood. Immediately following the assassination, violence erupts in the whole state and nearby places, with Sikhs and Punjabis targeted for a crime committed by few nobodies. The story follows Davinder’s, a low blood pressure patient, and his family’s struggle for survival in a town filled with angry people who are out to draw endless flow of innocent blood.

    The film adopts a slow burning narrative, and thus, will take its own time to hook the audience into the story which begins to gather moss only after the 20th minute. The single event about the family is what it mostly focuses on, with tidbits about random killings and unnecessary side stories. One will feel his/her heart thumping as the going gets tough for Davinder’s family.

    Surprisingly, there’s no hint of any political backing behind the genocidal killings. The makers should have added few references, at least as conspiracy theories, to make the plot even more convincing. Still, the formulaic story takes a stand in itself and shows the darkness that happened more than 30 years ago. The makers clearly found the inspiration to make the film based on the topic’s notoriety, and serve a virtual case for the victims, the kin of whom are still suffering to this day.

    While Das is credible in his portrayal as a Sikh, Khan puts up a mundane act. She never really gels with the other characters despite them being her family members. Their dialogues also do not come out right as far the Sikh language is concerned. But, all this can be overlooked since the film has the capability to hook you.

    Conclusively, other than narrating the heartbreaking story about the struggle for one’s life in times of man made insanity, it also speaks about the virtue: it is not the appearance that makes a man of certain religion, but the heart and the faith.

    BOTTOM LINE: Shivaji Lotan Patil’s “31st October” is a slow-burning affair narrating real-life events that need to be watched so as to understand what extents humans can go in the name of patriotism and religious hatred. Rent a DVD!

    Can be watched with a typical Indian family? YES

    November 07, 16
  • Ungodly-Like. ♦ Grade D-

    Ajay Devgn has what we call the “acting chops” to portray a diverse range of characters, but this directorial action thriller fails to herald him as a “man at the helm” which should have been understood, done, and dusted way back in 2008…

    Shivaay (Ajay Devgn) is a fiery mountain climber who is presently trying to perceive life’s intricacies. Bit of a loner, he is an expert when it comes to climbing and descending gigantic snow-covered peaks, and the border army is arrogantly thankful to him for being an occasional savior. It is by chance that he meets and consequently falls in love with Olga (Erika Kaar), a Bulgarian national with a pompous attitude about her dreams and responsibilities. Considering her relationship with Shivaay as only a casual fling, she flies back to her motherland handing him over their infant daughter who was born out of wedlock. Time passes by and the child grows up to be Gaura (Abigail Eames), who thinks, or is made to believe, that her mother died soon after she entered the world. Shivaay, who loves her like the apple of his eye, has to clear the dilemma when Gaura accidentally finds out that her mother is still alive…

    The setup is pretty rundown with a tried-and-tested story riddled with mind- numbing superhero characteristics. The drama starts with Shivaay’s feats as the audience are supposed to gasp in unison watching him free-fall from the mountains without a proper harness. Gasp! Self-appreciation is acceptable, but the degree here is intolerable, which is further aggravated by the dialogues which make the central character look like God. Drama soon turns into action and crime as Shivaay and Gaura fly to Bulgaria to meet Olga. Things start going south when Shivaay faces repeated difficulties and has to scramble his superhero powers (viz. defying logic and bullets, artfully using a firearm, and fighting like batman on steroids) to take what is rightly his.

    The attempt at humor is horrendous and cringe-worthy, and fails to induce any laughter. But, the secondary unintended humor does drive the narrative into that territory, making the film and its characters a laughing stock in front of an audience who are well-versed with Hollywood action sequences. The characters are seen romancing in a free-falling tent, for cryin’ out loud, and from there, it takes a downward spiral into a dark trench of nothingness. Muddled with improper use and picturisation of songs, the film solely depends on the cat and mouse chase which is the whole of second half.

    Of course, the production setup is exhilarating, with the exotic locations quenching the taste buds of the anticipating audience. The stunts are laughable, but the car chase sequences are enough to entice an action film fanatic. But, wait, you cannot fully enjoy these sequences because few seconds into them, the title track starts playing in the background as Shivaay breaks a bone or few in slow-mo. However, this good part ends in a jiffy, and the plot again goes back to defying common sense, bringing out new, half-baked, and clichéd characters who are in the space just to help the protagonist. One of the very few good things about the whole affair is the type of masks the antagonists sport. Reminds one of The Town (2010) and The Dark Knight (2008).

    The biggest problem with the film is that the emotions don’t come. They just don’t. It’s like they know it’s a gimmick, and refuse to take the center stage. Even if we consider the actors’ quickly-changing countenances, the emotions either are missing or are not properly showing, which all makes the viewing-experience an irritating exercise of the mind. Devgn has worked hard here, which he may call his magnum opus, but I won’t. His efforts are clear, but a flat screen cannot be held on a wall using a single bolt. The foreign actors are fine with their portrayals, while newcomer Sayesha Saigal fails to impress. Vir Das and Girish Karnad are puppets.

    Lastly, it is a terribly long film which are filled with montages that were unnecessary and sequences that do not induce entertainment. It shifts genres like a machine gear and conclusively uses an inefficient converter to settle at tragedy, reducing the three-hour journey to be about absolutely nothing except maybe about a father’s undying love for his child. One will heave a sigh of relief by the time he/she walks out of the hall, trying to answer his own conscience about his 2016 Diwali and how it has turned into a Himalayan blunder.

    BOTTOM LINE: Ajay Devgn’s “Shivaay” is an action film in parts based on a story that is familiar to the audience at large. Wait for TV premiere.

    Can be watched with a typical Indian family? YES

    October 29, 16