Why Cheat India Review: An interesting premise that limps away to a bland execution

Watch it only to see Emraan Hashmi grace the big screen once again. Keep your expectations low so you don’t feel cheated.

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Barely days before the film’s release, the Censor Board instructed the makers to change the title of the film from ‘Cheat India’ to ‘Why Cheat India’, on the belief that the original title sounded negative, almost like a command to cheat India. Given that we are already a jugaadu nation and many of our people are the complete antithesis of principled citizens, they probably thought Cheat India was going too far and handing people a cinematic license and some deadly ammunition to defraud others. After all, Bollywood already takes a lion share of the blame for the “Western, unsanskaari modern-day Indian woman” too, isn’t it?

I personally thought Cheat India sounded sassy, wicked and just what the film hoped to touch in its runtime. But sitting through the 128 minute affair made me realize the abominable, shoddy way in which the makers had squandered this opportunity. And that instead of naming it “Why Cheat India”, they could’ve titled it “Why Cheat Audience?” instead.

Directed by Soumik Sen (who has previously directed movies such as Gulaab Gang and other unmentionables), the movie picks a genuinely interesting, and worrying theme – the education mafia in India that helps students get through the grind of examinations, many of them life-changing such as the JEE and Medical examinations – without having to use their mental acumen and efforts for the same.

Rakesh Singh aka Rocky (Emraan Hashmi) is a cog in the well-oiled wheels that help run this barter system – where rich, affluent kids gets a pass to premier educational institutes in the country and smart kids (often poor and needy, who appear for these exams) get fat loads of cash in return for their “social services”. I say “social” because Rocky makes it sound like he is doing the strugglers and the fringe-dwellers a favour by allowing them to have a dash at the big life. This includes daru, women, paying off hefty student loans, randomly gifting family members expensive stuff and the ever-present ‘behen ki shaadi’. At the expense of thousands of deserving students getting thrown out of the rat race, incidentally their one shot at a better life as well.

Rocky, a Jhansi-born lad who’d failed in competitive examinations a grand total of three times, and could not become a doctor or an engineer to take a chance at the Indian version of The American Dream finds purpose in his life’s mission – as desperate wealthy parents flock to him to get their laadlas enrolled in prestigious universities, and poor, struggling students live the high life. Unwittingly sucked into the vortex of this promise is Satyendra Dubey aka Sattu (Snigdhadeep Chatterjee) who has recently cracked the engineering entrance exam and secured rank 287, after surviving the intense grind at Kota factory. Needless to say, this is a moment of pure shaan, baan and aan for the lad and his entire family.

Soon enough, Sattu happens to meet Rocky at the cinema hall, who beats up a few rogues in the theatre and restores democracy among the cinema-watching crowd, who (quite seedily) express their appreciation by clapping feebly at this heroism. And despite Rocky’s claim in the trailer, that he neither wants to be a hero nor has the time to play the villain, this ‘chance encounter’ played out between Sattu and Rocky ends up painting the latter as a saviour.

Rocky doesn’t waste a minute and lets Sattu know he could be a saviour in more ways than one, if only the latter batted from his side. Sattu only had to use his smarts, write papers for dumb but rich students, and get paid Rupees 50,000 for his efforts. For a fresher in a college, in the 90s, this kind of money appears to Sattu as the ticket that could lift the burden off his father and take him out from the trenches of a lower-middle-class life. Before we know it, Sattu becomes one of Rocky’s star ‘players’, traveling all the over the country and writing exam after exam. Ill-gotten money is hard to let go off, as are the vices that often come with it. It therefore, comes as no surprise when Sattu takes to drugs and women to get through the pressure of this newfound high-life. All is well, till Sattu flounders and the first noticeable glitch in Rocky’s wide and penetrative web makes its ugly face known. However, Rocky, who by now has snaked his way up to becoming a family than Sattu’s “guru”, swoops in and recues Sattu by arranging for him to go to Dubai instead. And just like, Sattu drops out from the storyline like a limp feather, not to be heard off again until much later, but even those mentions of him are superficial, as is Sattu’s treatment in the film. Despite Chatterjee’s earnest performance, he is relegated to being portrayed as a prop, floating about aimlessly, rather than an actual character whose story drives the film forward.

However, in all honesty, the plot of the film in itself does not make a linear progression – it flails all over the place. It simply tries to frame a credible narrative around numerous standalone, disjointed scenes – of Sattu and the other hapless helpers like him using Photoshopped IDs, writing exams, exiting entrance halls flaunting their victory grins, taking money, getting dirty with women – without ever investing in exploring actual character graphs.

We are never quite certain about Sattu’s parents’ reaction to this charade of Sattu unexpectedly going great guns in life, despite the chap pulling off these stunts right under their noses. Our only reference of the same lies in his sister Nupur’s (Shreya Dhanwanthary) curiosity around all the money and all the gifts, whose range of interest in her brother’s sudden rise in life is restricted to merely asking, “Itne paise kahan se laa raha hai?” but never digging deeper to uncover the truths. But how and why would she? Considering she too is used as a prop specifically designed to fill in the shoes of the hero’s (villain?) lady love. So while she is smitten with Rocky, and is content serving him feeki chai, her brother’s life begins to fall in tatters, bit by bit, until it is too late to undo the damage.

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Shreya Dhanwanthary makes an impression, but the script largely fails her too

This is not my only grouse with the Why Cheat India. There are other ornamentals thrown in here, such as a failed, insipid marriage (much like the film’s second half), a perpetually disgruntled father, a sidekick (who is surprisingly more enthusiastic about playing the bad guy than Rocky himself), an elder brother playing the staple Golden Child of the family – all without ever really making us feel Rocky’s predicament, or his guiding force to choosing what he has chosen in life.

There is a lack of urgency in any of his dealings, and what begins with Rocky’s slick, nonchalant, crooked demeanour, gradually turns into an impassive observation of all the muck around him. His father’s constant rejection of him still affects him, but he purses his lips and looks on. His wife’s postcard existence in his life apparently is also a moot point, but we don’t see it as such.

In the second half, love blooms between him and Nupur, again, on a whim and without traces of any real passion serving only as a plot tool. Despite Shreya’s natural, effervescent acting, there’s only so much that one can relate to in her character without grasping the spine of an edgy storyline for support. Not even his progression to big scale management scams draws us in, as we are merely treated to hordes of students and teachers filing in, exam papers and their answers getting leaked over telephones, and the police’s lukewarm efforts kicking in to catch the culprit red-handed.

So when Rocky makes an appearance in court and launches into a high-octane lecture about the corrupt education system (oh, the irony!) and the pressure on students to clear exams by rote learning, of parents that burden these children with their expectations and the state of deserving, but poor students in this chain, one is inclined to yawn because it negates every act of fraud, every sin, every wad of notes ever revelled in, in the minutes gone by. You are abruptly left to make sense of which side Rocky is on, as he justifies being a corrupt peddler in an already corrupt system.

For film fanatics who may have watched con man acts in movies such as Special 26, none of what transpires in this film will feel heady, making you want to grab the edge of your seats. None of it will make you root for the good-guy-gone bad.

With Why Cheat India Emraan Hashmi makes a comeback indeed, but a rather underwhelming one. As an anti-hero, he starts off on a promising note, but meanders, stumbles, and literally sleepwalks through the arduous stretch of the movie, as unaffected as the plot is. Among the coterie of supporting actors, Snigdhadeep Chatterjee and Shreya Dhanwanthary however, stand out and will hopefully get the chance to prove their talents in heftier projects. The music, with the exception of Phir Mulaqat and Stupid Saiyaan, is rather dull.

With the right script, Why Cheat India could have been so much more than a tortuous rehash of the ills of the Indian education system. Despite the dangers inherent, life will go on for the lakhs and lakhs of hapless students fighting insurmountable pressures of the system, just as it does in the movie.

The censor board could’ve rightly stuck with Cheat India.

Rating: 2/5

14 most anticipated Bollywood releases of 2019

From thrillers to comedy, to biopics and more, catch the most anticipated releases of Bollywood here

The year 2018 was a bag of mixed surprises. Where character actor Ayushmann Khurana continued to retain his position as the poster boy for offbeat cinema (courtesy Andhadhun and Badhaai Ho), Vicky Kaushal came out on top as the breakout star of 2018 with an interesting series of movies that deserve to be archived and watched over and over again. From playing an army officer in Meghna Gulzar’s Raazi to playing the loyal, sentimental sidekick in Raj Kumar Hirani’s Sanju and blowing everyone’s socks off, to starring in two more Netflix hits of the year – Love Per Square Foot and Lust Stories, Kaushal gave the stars a run for their money. Quite literally, considering the Khan trinity faced a dud year both in terms of critics’ appreciation as well as box office numbers, given the audience’s relentless demand for content-driven films.

This was also the year that saw star kids Jahnvi Kapoor and Sara Ali Khan make impressive debuts in Dhadak and Kedarnath respectively. And the industry tanking its money (yet again) in a bid to compete with Hollywood, by producing movies such as Thugs of Hindostan, Race 3 and Zero. Not to mention movies like Padmaavat, Stree, Gold and Parmaanu which struck gold at the box office. 2018 also saw movies like Manto, Padman and Soorma, which, although didn’t succeed in breaking records, moved hearts and were well-received by a considerable section of the junta.

Come 2019, Bollywood promises to treat us to bigger, better movies riding high on the wave of good content. Close to 35 Hindi movies are releasing this year, but I’ve got you covered here with a list of 14 most anticipated Bollywood releases of 2019:

  1. Gully Boy

Directed by Zoya Akhtar, Gully Boy is based on rapper Vivian Fernandez (better known by his stage name Divine) and Naved Sheikh aka Naezy. The movie will set out to explore the young Divine’s love for rap, his tryst with society’s notions and the struggles he has to go through to transcend the limitations put forth by his class. While Ranveer Singh rocked the big screen with his last blockbuster hits Padmaavat and Simmba, and Alia Bhatt made a mark with Raazi, they’re both set to make Gully Boy kick some ass.

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P.S. If for once, you don’t want to watch the film for Bhatt, but Ranveer Singh’s badass rapping, well, I don’t blame you!

Scheduled release: 14th February, 2019

2. Super 30
A Vikas Bahl directorial, Super 30 is based on Anand Kumar, hailing from Patna, and one of the most sought after mathematicians and educationalists of the country. Super 30 is his initiative that selects 30 IIT aspirants each year from economically backward sections and trains them to crack IIT-JEE exams, one of the toughest (after the UPSC, of course) to write. After a rather lukewarm Kaabil, people have been desperately waiting for Hrithik Roshan’s next blockbuster – and Super 30 seems like it.

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P.S. The film has in the past year itself got mired in two separate controversies –  sexual harassment claims against director Vikas Bahl and charges of deceit against Anand Kumar. While Bahl has resumed working on the post-production of Super 30, the charges against Kumar suggest the film might not be called a biopic anymore. Nevertheless, given its premise and the first look of the movie (read: a gritty, bearded Hrithik Roshan), I can’t wait to catch this on the big screen.


Scheduled release: 26th July, 2019

3. Brahmastra
Directed by Ayan Mukerji and produced by Karan Johar, Brahmastra is set to be a triology spread over the next 10 years. The premise is simple – ‘a romantic fairytale in supernatural format’ but a novel one to be attempted in Bolly land. Amitabh Bachchan, Ranbir Kapoor and Alia Bhatt form the star cast of Brahmastra.

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While Thugs of Hindostan, despite all the hoopla, wasn’t one of Amitabh’s feel-good-about-later-performances, this Karan Johar production looks like it will help Sr. Bachchan get right back on track. Ranbir Kapoor whose career (literally) got revived with Sanju, seems to be yet again on a winning spree as Brahmastra seems all set to break records.


Scheduled release:  20th December, 2019

4. Kesari

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An Anurag Singh directorial, Kesari is set in the Battle of Saragarhi. While Akshay Kumar is playing Havildar Ishar Singh, the man who fought for his daughter’s respect, Parineeti Chopra will play the female lead. After Akshay’s Gold and the earnest Padman last year, it is needless to say how eager we are for Kesari. On the other hand, while Parineeti’s Namaste England didn’t get the box office collections soaring, Kesari seems like it could be her turning point.


Scheduled release: 21st March, 2019

5. Operation Khukri

Directed by Ashutosh Gowariker, Operation Khukri looks like the kind of comeback a director as stellar as Gowariker would make. The story revolves around a UN peacekeeping mission involving soldiers in Sierra Leone. Based on real-life Operation Khukri that focused on rescuing people from the RUF (Revolutionary United Front), it is set during the 2000s. With Shah Rukh Khan, Rajkumar Rao, Jackie Shroffa and Ayushman Khurrana, Operation Khukri has a lot of star power AND a solid plot coming together to blow our minds!

P.S. If you’re thinking how it would feel watching SRK yet again in the army avtar (after the 90s ‘Fauji’ and the 2012 ‘Jab Tak Hai Jaan’, trust me, you’re not alone! *wink wink*

Scheduled release:  2019

6. Ek ladki ko Dekha to Aisa Laga

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A Shelly Chopra Dhar directorial, Ek Ladki ko Dekha to Aisa Laga is a beautiful romance story with a slight twist. Almost like a pun on the original song from the movie ‘1942 A Love Story’, it has been touted as the most unexpected love story of the year. Revolving around homosexuality and the life of a simple girl from a middle-class household, this movie is going to be both hilarious and life-changing at the same time. Neerja actress Sonam Kapoor is playing the protagonist, with Rajkummar Rao is playing her friend? Love? Admirer? All in one? We don’t know, we’ll have to catch it on the 70mm to find that out isn’t it?

P.S. The dashing, uber cool for his age Anil Kapoor will be paired with Juhi Chawla. How lovely is that!

Scheduled release: 1st February, 2019

7. Mental Hai Kya

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A Prakash Kovelamudi directorial, Mental Hai Kya is a dark humor film. The movie revolves around a girl who hallucinates (or maybe not) and a boy who supposedly tries to trap her (or maybe not), as per Kangana Ranaut. While Ranaut’s last film Simran did not create much of a buzz, Mental Hai Kya does sound attention-grabbing. After all, what’s the fun in always being sane? Stree starrer Rajkumar Rao will take the male protagonist’s role here.


Scheduled release: 29th March, 2019

8. Thackeray

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Directed by Abhjit Pansey, Thackeray is all about the life of Bal Keshav Thackeray and the birth of Shiv Sena, a right-wing Marathi party under his tutelage. The film chronicles the life of the firebrand journalist turned politician who remains a Marathi legacy to this date, and a role model for the youth of Maharashtra. While Manto didn’t do very well at the box office, Nawazuddin Siddiqui won enough hearts with his intense performance to make Thackeray his next big hit.

Scheduled release: 25th January, 2019M

9. Mission Mangal

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Helmed by Jagan Shakti, Mission Mangal is hyped as India’s first space film. It revolves around India’s Mars Mission, specifically focusing on the women engineers who helped make the mission a success. The star cast boasts of Akshay Kumar, Taapsee Pannu, Sonakshi Sinha, Vidya Balan, and Sharman Joshi (who will, hopefully, be able to erase people’s memories of his last tortured performance in Kaashi). While Tapsee’s Manmarziyaan wasn’t impressive, she’s all set for a massive comeback with Mission Mangal.

P.S. Even before hitting the screens, the movie has been sued by Radha Bharadwaj for copyright infringement of her 2016 script ‘Space MOMs’.

Scheduled release: 15th August, 2019

10. Luka Chuppi

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Directed by Laxman Utekar, Luka Chuppi on the face of it seems like a generic romance story, and yet, the fresh pairing is what’s getting my attention. A television reporter in Mathura, played by Kartik Aryan, falls for a headstrong Ramona, played by Kriti Sanon. While Kartik Aryan won hearts with his cackling performance in Sonu ke Titu ki Sweety, Kriti Sanon charmed many a fan with the low-budget yet all-heart Bareilly Ki Barfi. If you’re a sweet rom-com fan, this could be your movie of the year.

Scheduled release: 1st March, 2019

11. Badla

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A Sujoy Ghosh directorial, Badla is a remake of the Spanish film Contratiempo, translating to ‘The Invisible Guest’. Falling in the crime-thriller genre, it explores the story of a businessman arrested for murdering his ex-wife. The star cast includes superstar Amitabh Bhachchan and Tapsee Pannu, reuniting after a brilliant act together in Ghosh’s Pink. Do we need any more reasons to cheer?

Scheduled release: 8th March, 2019

12. Manikarnika

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Helmed by Krish Jagarlamudi, the movie depicts the life of Rani Lakshmibai, the Queen of Jhansi who led the Indian Rebellion of 1857 after the death of her husband. Kangana Ranaut is the lead protagonist, as well as the director for patches of the movie. While her last movie Simran wasn’t what people had hoped for, Manikarnika already looks like it could cross the 100 crore-mark at the box office.

Scheduled release: 25th January, 2019

13. Chhichhore

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Directed by Nitesh Tiwari, the Dangal director is all set to entertain you with his latest comedy film Chhichhore. While the storyline of the movie isn’t revealed yet, rumors are that the shooting is happening in the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay. Sushant Singh Rajput, after a lukewarm performance in Kedarnath, is starring in Chhichhore along with Shraddha Kapoor. While Shraddha’s Batti Gul Meter Chalu was an abominable flop and Stree came to her rescue, Chhochhore might just be the push she needs right now to break even.

After Kartik-Kriti, this is a fresh pairing I am excited to watch! Not to mention, the rather amusing title of the movie 😀

Scheduled release: 30th August, 2019

14. The Zoya Factor

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An Abhishek Sharma directorial, The Zoya Factor is based on a novel of the same name by Anuja Chauhan. The plot of the film revolves around an advertising firm executive member who eventually becomes the lucky charm for the Indian Cricket Team. The protagonist, Zoya, will be essayed by Sonam Kapoor. Dulquer Salmaan, a South Indian actor will be portraying the male protagonist. 

Besides the fact that Anuja Chauhan happens to be one of my favorite chick-lit authors, I am doubly excited about Dulquer Salman being a part of this project. Dulquer gave an outstanding performance in his Bollywood debut Karwaan (2018) as the disgruntled and rather lost but an extreme Good Samaritan Avinas. I can only imagine the sass he’s going to bring to his character in The Zoya Factor.

Scheduled release: 5 April 2019

There are a number of other big-budget movies all set to entertain us this year. What’s on your watch list? Comment below!

7 Upcoming Web Series to have on your must-watch list in 2019

2019 has some of the finest masterpieces coming alive on screen. Catch this list to stay tuned to these 7 releases this year!

With the advent of Netflix and Amazon Prime, web series have become the top choice, of this era, overtaking even big-screen releases, I dare say. In fact, critics are calling this as the ‘peak TV’ era, considering the overwhelming number of online choices today’s tech-addict viewer has. And this is definitely not ending soon. With a number of sequels lined up, there are now a number of new web series waiting to battle for your attention in 2019.


A riveting finale to all the twists and turns that went by in the last seven seasons, GOT 8 is the most awaited this year

Here’s my compilation of some of the most anticipated web shows you must watch in 2019!

Game of Thrones Season 8

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Directed by David Nutter, and produced by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, the final season of Game of Thrones is going to be an answer to all the hair-raising questions raised by the past seven seasons. Will the living beat the ‘undead’, or will the Night King win this game of thrones? And how will Jon react to the fact that he’s been making love to his aunt all this while. Will Euron ever return? Is Cersei actually pregnant? And would hot Jamie leave Cersei high and dry forever?

Based on the book series A song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin, GOT 8 is touted to be an epic end to one of the most popular fantasy drama series. A story of nine noble families fighting to rule the mythical land of Westeros while the enemy of all humanity has risen after thousands of years, this is a must watch for all.

Scheduled release: April 2019.

Stranger Things Season 3

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Directed by the Duffer Brothers and produced by Shawn Levy and Dan Cohen, Stranger Things season 2 drove its fans mad after it aired in 2017. The makers are returning this year with a Season 3 and an even hotter Joey Keery. With David Harbour, Millie Bobby Brown (eleven) and Finn Wolfhard all on the same screen, this is a must watch for all thriller lovers.

Scheduled release: July 4, 2019

Too old to Die Young

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Premiering in 2019, this show has been directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. With Rachel Dick and Alexander Gayner as its producers, and Miles Teller and Billy Baldwin as leads, the show is set to release on Amazon Prime Video. The fresh storyline of a grieving officer stuck in the underworld with the very guy who shot his partner, this looks like a promising web series. From Russian Mafias to gangs of teen killers, you can expect this one to be an action-packed series of fun and drama.

Scheduled release: 2019

Blood and Treasure

Produced and Directed by Marc Webb, the director of The Amazing Spider Man, Blood and Treasure is all set to enthrall the netizens this summer. Matt Barr playing an antiquities expert and Sofia Pernas posing as an art thief will take down a global criminal carrying out nefarious activities all over the world. Sounds like Indiana Jones or Tomb Raider? It is yet to be seen if it will make its mark on viewers or not.

Scheduled release: 2019 (trailer yet to be released)

Line of Duty Season 5

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A World Productions drama directed by David Caffrey and Douglas Mackinnon, Line of Duty is all about unveiling corrupt police officers. With the super hit trio Adrian Dunbar, Vicky McClure and Martin Compston returning this season, this makes it a must-watch for all. Watch out this April for the Line of Duty Season 5.

Scheduled release: April 2019

Big Little Lies 2

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Based on international bestselling author Liane Moriarty’s book of the same name (2014), Big Little Lies follows the lives of three women, who become friends by accident – a happy occurrence that causes their lives to get intertwined, in a not-so-pleasant way. Lies, secrets, pretensions are what make up the fringes of this friendship and a lot is at stake, should the skeletons from the closet tumble out.

Starring Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern and Shailene Woodley, the first season became a sweeping success when it premiered in 2017 on HBO, so much so that a second season is already on its way to our screens, despite having been conceptualized as a limited series. Seven tantalizing episodes, a new director, AND Meryl Streep joins the cast- what more do we need?

Scheduled release: 2019

The Act

With the true crime genre taking over movies, TV shows and more, it comes as no surprise that real-life psychological horror stories are walking shoulder to shoulder with purely fictionalized dramas. After Big Little Lies which treaded the impermanence, complexity and fragility of human relationships, 2019 is all set to see The Act premiere on Hulu amidst much fanfare. Produced by Michelle Dean and Nick Antosca, The Act is about Gypsy Blanchard tormented by a rather toxic relationship with an overbearing mother. Lies, deceit and mutual mistrust are what govern their relationship before Blanchard hatches a sinister plot to murder her mother. The synopsis has already caused my stomach to curl up in knots, and I so can’t wait to catch it.

Scheduled release: March 20, 2019

What else is cooking with Netflix and HBO? What’s your upcoming must-watch wish list? Comment below!

And happy binging! 🙂

Kangana Ranaut proves yet again that she’s the Queen – of Badass

Kangana Ranaut on controversies surrounding Manikarnika, Bolly fraternity’s dismissal of the actress, marriage and more!

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Little did people know that the stereotypical small town girl debuting in Gangster (2006) would go on to become the Queen of Bollywood one day. An unabashed feminist, Kangana Ranaut has taken up a number of controversial issues in the past and has given out fearless statements on issues often desensitized by discriminating personalities. Her recent interview with Rajeev Masand saw her addressing few such elements, best left to the intimacy of one-on-one conversations where baring the soul is allowed. In her latest chat with Masand, the man who can make even rocks speak, Kangana shares her experiences on the sets of Manikarnika (the life of Rani Lakshmibai – the original Queen of Badass in 1857) as well as her views on everything – from marriage and motherhood – to directing and acting in the same film.

She nailed the art of multi-tasking by taking over Manikarnika’s direction midway

While Kris Jagarlamudi directed the complete movie, Kangana stepped in to direct patches of it. “It required a lot of feminine emotions, and so everyone felt and agreed that I must supervise parts of it”, she said while Rajeev quizzed her on how she ended up directing the movie. Quite contrary to allegations that she’d overthrown the director to be a one-woman show on sets. And by the way, she juggled these double roles while shooting for some of the most heavy-duty action scenes in the film. To quote her “I remember every morning I would wake up and have half kg ghee, roasted besan and add a lot of jaggery in it and keep having it and only then could I rehearse for 45 minutes daily…”.

When Rajeev Masand questioned her on how the directors would feel about an actress being so involved or, in other words, wanting to director other films, Kangana revealed her awesome analogy we frankly may never thought of before. “A film is like a lover/ wife. When you see other people’s wives you don’t go like “oh my god I want to make love to her!”, she explained. She went on to say that while people get stimulated with their own wives only, she understands and feels involved in certain projects only when it strikes a personal chord with her. Giving an example of her relation with Panga director Ashwiny, she said she does not want to contribute in an intrusive manner on other people’s set.

She opened up on colleague’s not praising her enough

We’ve all been that person one time or the other in our lives, haven’t we? Getting passed over for a promotion, an overseas work tour or simply, honest, open appreciation because somebody doesn’t like the fact that we made it (or are on our way to making it).

Quoting Prasoon Joshi Kangana said, “There’s nothing mediocrity fears more than talent”. She said while she doesn’t shy away from praising her colleagues, be it Alia Bhatt or Deepika Padukone, she seldom gets back the love. While she is much wanted in the industry and is getting to act in big banner movies regularly, her colleagues seldom share her movie trailers and teasers. To that, she found Prasoon’s words as the only explanation, and might I say, solace? And why not? We cannot forget her praising Alia Bhatt’s Raazi last year, and her ability to see a film as a work of art and not a rival’s movie or a competitor’s work is commendable.

Switching over to a different note, he asked Kangana about the ongoing marriage fever. After all, getting married at the right age IS the trend most Bollywood actresses are following diligently.

Does Kangana Ranaut want to get married?

She laughed at the question and confessed that when in love and in a relationship, she has considered marriage. However, when single and in control of her thoughts in a rational sense, she isn’t very clear about the purpose of marriage. “Keeping in mind the depleting green cover and population explosion and also the whole legality of the bond…,” she explained, “…there are so many children in this world who need love and we should adopt them more.” Mother to a beautiful dog and aunt to a baby boy who is almost like a son to her, she said there is absolutely no difference between the two.

Her grace under pressure, her kickass replies and her bold statements are proof that the film industry isn’t all pomp and show. There’s substance, if you look closely enough, dig long enough, listen hard enough. The industry might both love and hate Kangana. However, universal public appreciation of her personality prove that she’s a lioness who fears nothing and can fight her wars majestically. Without help.

Manikarnika releases on 25th January 2019. And I’m getting goosebumps here already!

The Accidental Prime Minister Review: A lazy and patchy execution, in today’s politically charged environment, the movie is no accident at all

Anupam Kher’s intuitive portayal of the former Prime Minister notwithstanding, the movie is a telltale jumble of political narratives designed to influence the masses.

Image Source: Google

Director: Vijay Ratnakar Gutte

Cast: Anupam Kher, Akshaye Khanna, Vipin Sharma, Suzanna Bernert, Ahana Kumra, Arjun Mathur

When a political movie “surveying” the mighty reign of the UPA government through a decade, graces the big screens barely months before elections and the BJP even tweets the trailer from its official handle, there is anything but accidental about this project. And while I am inclined to use the word ‘propaganda’ in this review already, herein I have attempted to assess the movie on purely cinematic grounds alone, elements that are inextricably linked to political ethos discussed and debated in the movie. Propagandist or not, how does it affect a movie-goer’s senses and intelligence, is what remains once we step out from the political mud-slinging of who’s the hero and who’s the culprit.

Now. For the uninitiated, The Accidental Prime Minister is based on Sanjaya Baru’s memoir (of the same name) based on his stint as media advisor to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh from 2004 to 2008. That the world would finally get to see Dr. Singh’s side of the story (past the memes and accusations) is a reason inviting enough to watch the film.

And yet, this is a grand opportunity director Vijay Ratnakar Gutte misses in his debut.

The Accidental Prime Minister opens with a footage of the UPA’s 2004 win in the general elections, with equal parts’ support for Sonia Gandhi assuming office and equal parts protesting against a foreigner deliberating heading the world’s largest democracy. No time is lost as we are taken through the hallways of power, right inside the Gandhi family’s startlingly opulent sarkari bungalow where discussions are rife as to whether Sonia Gandhi should indeed be accepting the Prime Ministerial post, amidst heated sentiments in the country.

A quick fearful reproach from a rather unconvincing-looking Rahul Gandhi (Arjun Mathur masquerading as RG) takes us right into the stunned, bewildered silence where Dr. Manmohan Singh is called upon to assume office as the PM. Veteran actor Anupam Kher walks in as Dr. Singh, mild-mannered and unassuming, and just when you are struck by the uncanny resemblance with the erstwhile Prime Minister, and are possibly hoping for a cinematic fiesta, Akshaye Khanna as Sanjay Baru enters the scene wearing a vibrant assortment of colours, speaking directly to the camera. From that point on till the end, he becomes Dr. Singh’s “voice”, whether the ex-PM may or may have approved of it, as is hinted at later in the movie.

The references start seeping in quick and fast. The painstaking effort behind getting the appearances of the central characters right becomes evident, as you look up to see German actress Suzanne Bernert play Sonia Gandhi with conviction, restraint and an uncanny intuition. Bernert’s grip over the diction and mannerisms are what help maintain the nuance in Gandhi’s characterisation. Ahana Kumra as Priyanka Gandhi makes a short, dignified yet ineffective appearance, having been relegated to eulogizing her mother’s decision of not accepting Prime Minister’s post in a short interview.

Mathur’s characterization of Rahul Gandhi, on the other hand, is deliberately designed to suggest the Gandhi scion’s inability to handle the rough, dirty political turf. Not to suggest that Gandhi is a liability to his own party-members, but to have someone in the movie pointedly say, “Yeh election Rahul Gandhi ke bas ka nahin hai” merely months ahead of the 2019 general elections can hardly be construed as innocent portrayal of facts alone. Add to that, towards the end, as Mathur’s Rahul tears up his party’s ordinance, the insinuation becomes clear enough to echo in your ears well till the elections and beyond, “Rahul Gandhi is an accidental political candidate best to be averted”.

Top-notch makeup and slick performances further work the trick as Ahmed Patel (Vipin Sharma of Taare Zameen Par fame) and Baru interact in hushed tones, and through barbed looks, pursed lips and cold, hard threats issued in soft undertones. Kher, in particular, is outstanding as the soft-spoken, mild-mannered, shy Dr. Singh and succeeds in portraying a strength not many may associate with the former Prime Minister. Given that he had to constantly fight ‘the powers that be’, as the movie quite unsubtly suggests. Reference to the ‘The Family’ is unmistakable, as dynasty politics rears its ugly head and makes it impact known.

To comply with the censor board and to possibly keep some semblance of cinematic objectivity intact, a shoddy attempt is made at beeping the phrase. This is, however, met with hoots and chortles in the movie hall, as scene after scene makes a stab at the opposition’s murky role in the downfall of the very empire it created. While the first half showcases Dr. Singh’s brush with authority and power ranks within his own party as well as the opposition in moving forward with the nuclear deal, the second half focuses on the former PM’s inability to stand up to the pressure of doing the right thing amidst dynasty politics, his naivety in handing media coverage and generally reclaiming a waning public persona.

Full marks to the director for ingeniously painting the former PM in neat, clean strokes of a good man thrust into the big, bad world of politics. In fact, Kher’s portrayal of Singh’s incorruptible, honest disposition is what makes The Family look evil, manipulative and insidiously abusive towards a man who was likely filling in boots too big for him. As Khanna in Baru’s sharp, stinging voice addresses Singh saab as “Bheeshma” who knew everything, but chose to side with “the family” and his vows of loyalty to the clan, I inadvertently cringed, because there was no camouflaging the unspoken accusation: the Prime Minister could have spoken up, reclaimed his authority given his constitutional rank and authority and saved the nation (or the party, or his image, fill in the blanks).

However, there is only so much a filmmaker can achieve with sweeping references and generalizations. While the former PM’s role in letting party politics perpetuate despite his misgivings is open to debate, the plot becomes quite complacent and lazy in its execution, especially in the latter half. References to the 2G and 3G scams are thrown in our faces without showing a plausible build-up, it is almost as if the makers want to rush into the thick of things: Look there, this is what the UPA was doing to the country all those years.  

Disappointing also is restriction of Singh’s portrayal to one as a man under the Gandhi family’s thumb rather than a constitutional voice with a will of his own. Barring the oath-taking ceremony, no public addressals have been included in the movie, a lack that fails to establish the former PM’s connect with the junta at large, a connect that helped him win a second term despite all the naysaying.

The editing is at best, patchy and the background score, sloppy. Thankfully, there are no songs to pep up the rather lurid goings-on in the movie. The constant intercutting between Khanna’s over-enthusiastic Baru and the actual occurrences of the film strips away all seriousness that a project such as this otherwise commanded. As I write this review, my mind goes back to a rather comic scene between Singh and Baru, where Kher’s Singh is shown acting amused at “Que Sera Sera”, a political innuendo uttered in the context of the nuclear deal.  Not even an Oscar-worthy performance could have justified this caricaturish, insincere patchwork attempt at showing the human side of Dr. Manmohan Singh, the man, in all his ordinariness.

What makes the direction worse is Khanna’s Baru taking centre stage, popping up on the screen every few minutes, pushing past the highest ranks, opposition and even the PM himself.  Truth be told, this could very well be Baru’s claim to fame, meant to glorify his mistaken role as Dr. Singh’s “Sanjay” (get the Mahabharata reference, folks?) than the PM’s media advisor who had the good (or bad, depending on how you see it) fortune of having been witness to historical events in the annals of politics in that era. Hours after watching the movie what dominates my experience of The Accidental Prime Minister is Akshaye Khanna’s controversial comeback in a high-octane role rather than Kher’s portrayal of Dr. Singh against the UPA era, which feels like a let-down considering I paid to watch a slice of the former PM’s tenure in office, not Sanjaya Baru’s self-aggrandizement.

That said, with top-notch mimicry of the country’s highest-ranked politicians and actual footages used to establish contexts, The Accidental Prime Minister is undeniably on point and hits the bull’s eye. And while the slapdash execution of the movie is in itself disheartening, I cannot help but also be amused by the underlying motives peddled by the movie. To conclude, if I may borrow Khanna’s dialogue in the film, “Rajneeti mein star girte huey maine bahut dekhe hain, par itna neeche girte huey pehle kabhi nai dekha” – quite matches my sentiments.

This is an aggressive political campaign disguised as cinema, just falling short of being touted as a parody and clearly insulting the intelligence of the audience. How it has been allowed to see the light of the day boggles my mind. And yet, if even a sliver of the honesty portrayed in The Accidental Prime Minister can spill over to PM Narendra Modi’s biopic (political slip-ups and deliberate deviance from concrete issues included) releasing later this year, I believe we’d be all too happy to make a democratic, fair choice in the upcoming elections.

Politics or not, accidental or not, I am left keen and hungry to read the actual book now. The movie was a punishment, the book better be good.

Rating: 2.75/5

Kedarnath Review: A tepid love story masked as a tragedy, it is neither here nor there

Sara Ali Khan’s crackling debut and the flawless cinematography make this a bearable watch.

Director: Abhishek Kapoor

Cast: Sara Ali Khan, Sushant Singh Rajput

In June 2013, the northern belt of India, particularly Uttarakhand faced one of the biggest natural disasters the country had ever seen since the 1999 Super cyclone in Odisha. The scale of the devastation and the horrific picture the catastrophe painted still lingers on in our memories, but more so, it has changed the lives of those affected and scarred them irreparably. That an entire region – the surrounding flora and fauna, concrete, shops, and tenements – could get wiped off in a matter of hours due to torrential waves of water is shocking. At the heart of this disaster lay, Kedarnath, flattened and razed to the ground, except for a 1200-year old temple jutting out from a mass of debris. And this is also what forms the crux of director Abhishek Kapoor’s Kedarnath, who possibly wanted to picturize the inconceivable tragedy in all its vehemence. But when the fury of nature has been so all-pervasive, where does one start?

Image result for kedarnath movie
Source: Google

The Plot: Kapoor picks the easy way out and keeps an interfaith love affair at the center of Kedarnath. Mandakini aka Mukku (Sara Ali Khan), plays the spirited, rebellious daughter of a local priest (Nitish Bhardwaj), and is engaged to be married to Kullu (Nishant Dahiya), a leader of the local priests. A B.A. pass mother who has evidently surrendered her life, and voice to the force of patriarchy, and an elder sister (Pooja Gor) who was earlier engaged to Kullu but now rues the reality of a love lost, make up the other characters of Mukku’s world. Voices are shushed, Mukku’sfree-spiritedness and even her presence on Facebook is used as a yardstick to measure how far she’s flown away from the conservative upbringing sticking to her like a label.

Honor and propriety are used as a shield to let the men do their bidding, and hypocrisy rife in the interpersonal dynamics as Kullu makes eyes at and attempts to court Mandakini, much to her displeasure and disgust. All is seemingly well, till she meets Mansoor (Sushant Singh Rajput), a porter(called pitthoo in the local dialect), and is taken in by his calm, restrained demeanor, but more by his understated vulnerability. A moth to a flame, the two lovebirds are drawn towards each other, and as the fire of their passion burns, so does Hindu sentiments, tradition and male ego. Kullu, reluctant to give up without a fight, gets Mansoor thrashed and humiliated, even as Mandakini’s father unobtrusively supports the drama from the sidelines. Little do they know that in a few hours their lives would forever be changed, wherein these human “victories” and “failures” shall cease to matter.

The Highlights:

Sara Ali Khan: Can I say Sara Ali Khan may just be one of the most confident debutantes to have graced the silver screen in recent times? She plays the persona of a firebrand, go-getter young girl to the hilt, many a time even overshadowing co-actor Sushant. From the very first scene, her presence electrifies the rather calm humdrum that makes up life in the mountains. Her wit, sarcasm and candor are refreshing in an age where Bollywood projects ‘bubbliness’ and ‘playing soft and agreeable’ as desirable feminine attributes. She is brutal with her insults, unafraid to expose the hypocrisy layering the varied human relations, rash and stubborn, but all heart. Unwilling to be chained to a fate she vehemently disagrees with, she is willing to take the leap and do the unthinkable.

Khan is a natural in front of the camera, and this movie is more an acknowledgment to her acting prowess than the actual impact of the disaster, I dare say. She exudes an easy confidence as well as much-needed restraint, wherever the plot demands it. In fact, as she bounces along the hilly terrains of Kedarnath, an umbrella in hand and all eyes for the porter boy Mansoor, she reminds you of a youthful, cherubic Amrit Singh who played the outspoken, headstrong Chameli in the 1986 Chameli ki Shaadi. At the risk of sounding like I am reading too much into it, Khan’sportrayal as Mandakini may well be a tribute to her mother, an actress par excellence in her time.

Cinematography: To capture the unique topography of Kedarnath, without limiting the brilliance of the characters and the essence of the story, is a feat only the truly gifted could have accomplished. Tushar Kanti Ray’s cinematography is spectacular, as it soaks up the lush and green of the mountainous region, the valleys, little shops lining the pathways, the magnificent river cutting neatly through the landscape and the revered temple standing tall and divine amidst the same. Dark, grey clouds and monsoon’s vibrancy are greeted with a dreamy touch of the camera as is the sunshine, helping in bringing alive the different shades ofMukku and Mansoor’s friendship, before culminating in forbidden love. However, the destruction and devastation captured in the second half of the film are what remain etched in your mind, sending shivers down your spine. ‘Cloudbursts cause mayhem’ no longer remains a fact you’d read in newspapers 5 years ago,  Kedarnath shows you frame by frame the warning signs nature sends out before unleashing its wild side, sparing not one detail. In this respect, it would not be an understatement to also tip my hatto the VFX-team!

The Symbolism

This element is hard to grasp, until after interval. There may be a reason why the writers chose a name like Mandakini for Khan’s character, at a time where tradition or mythology is not considered a worthy recipe for naming somebody. However, when a distressed and grief-stricken Mandakini is forced to marry against her will and invokes “pralay”, an angered Goddess displaced from her heavenly abode hears her prayers and the hushed sounds of her own humiliation. As she wreaks havoc, the Mandakini river rages, and wails, wiping away everything in its path. Mandakini nourishes, but also strips you of everything, if you dare stand in her way.

What’s Lukewarm?

Sushant Singh Rajput: Mansoor, a Muslim porter paired against a high-caste, feisty Hindu girl, it is understandable why Rajput’s character had to be downplayed. And although I found their banter and chemistry easy to enjoy, I felt both the actor and the character were largely overshadowed by Khan’s Mandakini, whose determination to take control of own life seemed to wash over everyone and everything it touched. In fact, at more than one instance, Mansoor’s characterization, especially his dealings with tourists, the nonchalant manner of speaking, the easy shrug of the shoulders, among other mannerisms, looked like unshakeable remnants from his last few performances.

Rajput, however, stands out in the last few minutes, only after the actual crux of the story takes effect.  Call him a savior, a messiah, or what you will, he dives headlong into danger to look out for Mandakini, and bring her to safety, if need be. In the process, he saves many a life, a trait his Ammi (Alka Amin) fears will land him in trouble, just as it did his late father.

The music: Barring Namoh Namoh Hey Shankara blended with the opening credits, Amit Trivedi and Amitabh Bhattacharya’s composition fails to weave any lasting magic.  

The Lows:

Execution: Kedarnath, despite the obvious premise, leans heavily towards portraying the perils of interfaith love in a Hindu-dominant Himalayan village, rather than the dangers of indiscriminate commercialization and the resulting environmental hazards. Much of it feels like a Romeo-Juliet setup, albeit, amidst tinkling of the temple bells and boisterous shouts of “Bum Bum Bhole” ringing out into the air, which feels like a massive let-down, and creative manipulation on the pretext of cinematically recounting the actual tragedy. There is an unmasked reference to the Hindu-Muslim divide marking the country today and finds a place in Kapoor’s movie as well.

From nudging the audience to embrace  the role of Muslim porters in serving pilgrims flocking to a Hindu temple, to pointedly underlining the co-existence of Muslims in the holy abode since thousands of years, Kapoor has taken great pains to research the subject and underscore what is being emphasized every other day on primetime television –that Muslims are as much a part of this country’s history as the Hindus, and that both the communities can live in perfect harmony. Although stretched too thin, this is a perspective sincerely represented by Kapoor and must be lauded as such.

The movie superficially touches upon the consequences of tampering with the natural terrain of the region and the foundation of the age-old Dhari Devi idol, and although it may not have been feasible to depict the actual uprooting of the latter, a scene or two depicting demolition around the area could have lent more authenticity to the subject. Too much is said, but far less to that effect is shown on screen, which robs away some of the soul from the actual premise. And despite its intended symbolism, many viewers might fail in drawing parallels between Mandakini’s anguish and Dhari Devi’s rage.

As Kullu’s schemes of driving the pitthoo community out of the region are met with a fierce, resolute Mansoor unwilling to leave his ancestors’ home behind, the friction between the two intensifies, driving the Hindu-Muslim divide deeper. The aftermath of this tension is what makes the rift come alive only in the second half, which is disappointing, considering the love story is the vantage point the director uses to contextualize Kedarnath. In fact, too much time is spent in creating the build-up and even then, we do not quite feel for the lead’s romance; a song sequence or two could easily have been obliterated and other necessary elements added to lend a more authentic touch to the story.

Should You Watch It?

Yes, if you are eager to catch Sara Ali Khan in all her glory. And yes, if you really want to see a visual representation of the horrors nature can inflict (which comes about only in the second half).

Kedarnath is certainly watchable, but does not leave an impact, like maybe a Titanic or a 2012 does. Keeping a young, impulsive romance at the heart of it cannot be attributed to the same, considering Titanic thrived on fleshing out a full-length disaster feature, all through the lens of a passionate, young pair. Kedarnathfails to make you feel Mansoor and Mandakini’s angst, and so, while it is heart-warming and even provocative in bits and parts, it fails to stand out as a sum of all these varied elements.

Given that a catastrophe of this magnitude cannot be given a cinematic touch without starting somewhere, and the director has made a genuine attempt of doing so by using love and religious divide as the foundation. A country that thrives on emotion and drama (both valid and unnecessary) and gives filmmakers every reason in the book to capitalize on the same, maybe this is the best we can hope for, at this point in time.

Watch it, to maybe realize the  “small”ness of being human.

Rating: 3/5

2.0 Review: This is a flawed film, saved only by Rajnikanth’s charisma

Chitti Reloaded meets desi Angry Bird 1.0 in a battle that defies wits, and science. Watch it purely for the love of Thalaiva.

Image result for 2.0
Source: Google

Director: S. Sankar

Cast: Rajnikanth, Akshay Kumar, Amy Jackson, Adil Hussain, Kaizaad Kotwal, Sudhanshu Pandey

When director Sankar took a risk by portraying Rajnikanth as one of the boldest and possibly the biggest superheroes the country had ever seen, albeit, in an android robot version named Chitti, it found favour with both critics and trade analysts, while getting zealously lapped by the Indian audience. Not only was Enthiran (2010) conceptually novel and entertaining, Rajnikanth’s earnest and inspiring performance became the talking point of the film, helping it gross millions worldwide and making it one of the highest-grossing Tamil films of all time.

Eight years later in 2.0, the director seems to have strategically doubled (or perhaps tripled) the embellishments that made Enthiran a raging success – from the magnificent imagery to the VFX to the masala leaving oil at the sides to a hundred or so Rajnikanths sitting atop robotic VFX-inspired pigeons – but without the predecessor’s plot, ingenuity or character graphs of the leads.

2.0 begins on an intriguing note. A tall, lanky man is seen walking sluggishly against the backdrop of an ominous sunset humming a rather peculiar tune on birds, determinedly climbs a mobile tower and hangs himself within seconds. Needless to state, this tragic opening sends shivers down your spine. Just when you start sinking your teeth in and wonder where the story will take you next, you see cell phones,and mind you, hundreds and thousands of cell phones of an entire city flying off people’s hands, work desks, shelves and even from under the blanket. Go figure that.

What follows next is absolute mayhem. As mobile towers and all-things mobile get wrecked, thousands flock to the cops to file FIRs and hushed talks abound as to rival companies’ sneaky tactics to grab the biggest pie of the telecom market. A mysterious gigantic hawk-like fiery bird makes an appearance, toppling buildings and trucks and even hapless people. There are extremely complex, and pseudoscientific discussions on ‘microphotons’, ‘electromagnetic radiation’, ‘aura’, ‘photonsynthesizer’ and the like – none of which is backed by evidence nor makes sense. Eventually you realize the writers don’t care about the specifics or the accuracy of the scientific play here, and neither should you. Finally, after gory displays of what a cell-phone stuck inside a human oesophagus and intestines can do (never mind how they found their way in), it is decided with much sobriety and desperation that Prof. Vaseegaran must revive Chitti and rescue the largely unscientific common man in Chennai. Ministers and telecom company owners included.

The theme in the sequel sticks to the predictable good-versus-evil narrative, as Vaseegaran and Chitti 2.0 together attempt to take on colossal pakshi Pakshirajan (no seriously, that is Akshay Kumar’s character in the film) in a human versus environment war. Full points to the makers for the show of subtlety. An ornithologist during his time on the planet, Pakshirajan loses his case against a venal lot of corporations and politicians, and finally, much like thousands of tormented birds falling to the ground each year in Vedanthangal due to radiation levels emitted by the mobile towers, he is driven to despair and a cataclysmic death. This mix of greed, power and technological wreckage gets a divine touch as 2.0 delves into the afterlife and we see, open-mouthed, how Pakshirajan’s soul merges with thousands of those other tortured, vengeful bird souls to formOne.Giant.Red.Angry.Bird.

As much as it is intended to take the viewer on a nostalgic ride as to why Pakshirajan got reduced to a furious Pakshi, my tunnel vision could only see the human anatomy and recall those biology lessons back in high school. In short, this was way too much education than I paid for.

Not that I am complaining.

Because 2.0 does have its winning moments. If the lazy writing is excused, you will actually find yourself partaking wholeheartedly in the silly, yet earnest naiveté of this film – that a lone man’s alter-ego can save the world (more specifically, Chennai).

Personally, for me, some of the most awe-inspiring moments in this film take place in the first half where the imagery of a cell-phone obsessed world is literally and emblematically given shape.  As thousands of cell-phones are snatched up into the air by a mysterious force, popularly deemed the “Fifth Force”, their fury is later collectively unleashed as they break out of carrier trucks and magically align themselves on the highway, with only their luminosity signifying their presence. This torrent of cell-phones later lines up along the walls of telecom honchos’ homes, and even a dense forest –  curling up like balls of fire, but spelling far more danger in all their ice-blue glory, before rushing towards the perpetrators like a tsunami wreaking havoc on an extra-terrestrial planet. These are moments where you truly feel the depth of the director’s imagination emblematic representation of the horrors of modern-day cell-phone addiction.   

The other time I truly sat up on the edge of my seat was towards the climax (more accurately, the climax which stretched over 20-25 minutes), when Chitti and Pakshirajan ready themselves for a larger-than-life combat in a stadium. As Pakshirajan bloats up to the size of a mobile tower (oh, the irony), Chitti too soaks up every metal in his way to beat Angry Bird Rajan’s largeness. So much so that you find a Honda car hanging on his arm, even as he punches, lifts, goes under, inside and around, smashing Pakshirajan. These climactic moments are Hulk-level action-packed sequences blended with silly weirdness you cannot shake off, but these are also which make Chitti tolerable for you. In fact, when Chitti replicates into hundreds of microbot Chittis sitting perched on pigeons,threatening to take Pakshi’s feathery friends down maut ka kuan, you cannot help but be amused at the scale of this epic face-off which rests on“Hurt ‘em where it hurts the most”. “If Pakshi’s not letting us have our cell-phones back, he’s gonna have to say goodbye to his bird buddies”.

For all its talks about science and technology, 2.0 is for the most part, a mindless ride. Barring sparse moments of brilliance, there is little you can do to connect the many sequences that simply just whizz past your head. Fight sequences are deliberately are the most harped on about, because this is where Rajni gets to showcase a range of age-defying, gravity-defying stunts. As punk man Chitti 2.0, the superstar gets to flaunt much hoof and heft, as he takes on 5000 pound trucks without breaking a sweat, moonwalks along the walls of high-rise buildings, shoots a hundred or so rifles simultaneously in classic Rajni style, flies, enters Pakshirajan’s body to give him a severe bout of diarrhoea…oh, I don’t know…just about anything and everything you can think of.

This can make you go agape, because you cannot believe the ludicrousness of it all or whistle like a star-struck Rajni fan. Judging by the unanimity of whistles and “Rajni, Rajni!” that rang out in the theatre, I suspect the latter has been achieved here.

Which brings me to Rajnikanth’s acting prowess and the scale of his stardom even at this point in time. The actor delivers a powerhouse performance, a pulsating energy that belies his actual age. He is equal parts humanitarian, humorous and unassuming as Vaseegaran, just as he is over-the-top, self-assured, indefatigable and charming as Chitti.

For an actor whose brilliance has remained unmatched over decades, pairing Akshay Kumar as Pakshirajan was probably the smartest move the director could have made. Kumar’s Pakshirajan makes the switch from a modest, helpless ornithologist to a vindictive,determined monster bird with a tunnel vision, quite effortlessly. No traces of his previous persona remain and nowhere does he falter before the superstar.

I was particularly impressed by Kumar’s makeup, and have taken quite a fondness to his Angry Bird avatar. Rarely have I seen such immaculate detailing in an Indian superhero movie.

There are notable performances byAdil Hussain (surprisingly playing a politician with a conscience and some common sense) as well as Amy Jackson who goes above and beyond merely being a prop and potential romantic lead for Chitti. On more than one occasion she saves Vaseegaran and Chitti, proving that the generous sprinkling of the divine feminine in the film isn’t purely for sexist purposes.

Despite its obvious flaws, 2.0 is an enjoyable flick if you want to get a taste of watching a desi movie wrapped with the Hollywood touch. It is also a must-watch in that that it compels you to monitor your cell-phone usage. While the hazards of cell-phone radiation have not conclusively been proven, this movie is categorically a cautionary tale of drawing a fine line between using technology and getting consumed by it.

I swear I can see my husband being a little less interested in his mobile phone than he is in me, post 2.0.

Rating: 3.0

Pihu Review: An ambitious and gripping premise, this deserved to be treated no more than a short film

Your home can be a potential deathtrap for your toddler, if they’re left alone – Pihu tells you how.

Director: Vinod Kapri

Cast: Myra Vishwakarma

A two-year-old trotting about all alone in a high-rise apartment, trying to find her way through the maze of strewn confetti, scattered plates of food and practically survive a steam iron, a geyser, an oven, a burner, the refrigerator and more. Not to mention the heart-stopping moment where she literally dangles off the balcony railing, calling out for her friends who are nowhere near enough to reciprocate her needy affection. Her mother lies lifeless in bed, even as the little one constantly keeps nudging her to wake up, cries incessantly and at one point attempts to unbutton her mother’s top and feed herself. There are more grisly, and in equal parts, heart-breaking details I could give you a sneak peek of, but this is a feat you have to watch to believe.  That an unsupervised toddler in a high-rise flat left alone with electrical appliances and even regular devices to experiment with is a nightmare you never want to experience.

Ever since the trailer first released on YouTube, Pihu succeeded in generating much hype and immense anguish amongst the audience, whose minds were instantly prepped up to face the worst –a horror the premise of the movie is meant to compel adults to ponder – why is a two-year old all alone in the house? Where are the parents? How can anybody be so irresponsible? This is certainly no jovial, cheery Home Alone, but this isn’t anything like last year’s gritty, nerve-wracking Trapped either.

Unfortunately, the manner in which the project has been handled falls on neither side of the spectrum. 

Director Vinod Kapri’s Pihu undoubtedly has a stellar foundation – of taking a frightening “what-if” hypothesis and spinning it around a lone child’s crucial hours at home alone, but this is one that could have been used to build a gripping short film instead of a cruel and arduous 93 minute -feature .

Not even Myra Vishwakarma (as Pihu), the toddler who has now garnered much fame and appreciation for her role in the film, succeeds in doing justice to the plot, which admittedly, after the first 30 minutes or so becomes predictable and manipulative. Solely because, even after the point has been drilled home – that an infant left unattended at home is no pretty sight, the director relentlessly continues to put the child, and the audience, through elaborate illustrations of what those horrors could be. If you’re a parent, you will likely drown in nausea and massive guilt, and if you’re planning to become one you will likely never leave your child unattended. Or commit suicide without having a backup plan for how your toddler will manage to deal with it, especially if he/she has to endure a few hours alone at home.

This brings me to the other eerie elements this film is made of  – the father is evidently away on a trip and makes his presence felt, by vehemently screaming and snarling over the phone. There is first, a clear disdain of his wife’s recriminations pertaining to his fidelity (or lack thereof), and then, conciliatory assurances attempting to prove otherwise. But there is absolute silence on the other end of the phone to match the husband’s frustrated, angry rants. Throughout the film, we are forced to make peace with only the guttural, authoritative voice of this character right till the end.

There are bruises on the mother’s listless body, pointing to domestic abuse.  

Joining in this chaotic, yet terrifying medley are the clueless, angry neighbors who ramble on and on about the power trips happening in the apartment and the water leaking out from Pihu’s house. There are the milkman and a few other random characters whose presence is felt just outside the door, almost as if they are deflected off the solid wooden frame, to retreat back into their mundane, unhappy lives. There are little to no dialogues, leaving plenty of room to still yourself and soak in the happenings.

All of this serves to heighten the anxiety and dread you feel as the audience. There are plenty of could be’and should be’s you map out in our head, as you’re taken through the possibilities rife in today’s modern-day apartment-residency lifestyle. And yet, at one point, it looks contrived and deliberately exploitative, failing to impart the lessons it so tries to convey with this premise. Especially the climax, which seems rushed and scrambles to accord a befitting conclusion to the mayhem you somehow survive in the last 90 minutes or so.

Towards the end of it, I was more worried about Myra than I was about Pihu, wondering how she would react to her innocent, and manifestly, unconsented participation in this project once she is old enough to process it all. Would she be proud? Or would it leave her unsettled and indignant that she was made to be a part of something that she did not understand, but something that actual grownups were in charge of?

For Myra Vishwakarma’s au natural persona in front of the camera and her innocence, for the fact that this is a story that needed to be told (albeit, not in the manner it has been in this film), and primarily because it perturbs viewers and warns them, this is a movie that should be watched. Not as a thriller/suspense (you will get disappointed soon), but as a documentary one can learn from. 

Rating: 3/5  

5 Weddings Review: Don’t expect to find love in this documentary-styled cross-cultural tale

Possibly the biggest cinematic blunder Rajkummar Rao may have committed.

The title of the movie is so predictably self-explanatory that I don’t even have to tell you what it deals with. Nevertheless, I will unburden myself of the twenty-pound weight on my chest so you can partake in some of the mind-numbing trauma this movie subjected me (and other innocent cine-goers) to.

5 weddings is centred around the theme of the typical Big Fat Indian wedding, and two strangers falling in love as we’re taken through the pomp and show, dramas and songs, latkas and jhatkas in these weddings. Honestly, that is not half as bad as it sounds; after all, there is a cult following around movies like Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding (2001), Ishaan Trivedi’s 7 ½ Phere (2005)and Maneesh Sharma’s Band Baja Baaraat (2010), with Nair’s directorial sweeping us off our feet even till this day, in a way few other movies ever have.

5 weddings though, looks bored with the usual trope followed in these movies and decides it will take a circuitous route – it will infuse heaps and heaps of drama, but offset it with a loud and clear social message so the audience just doesn’t have fun, but also takes home something that can change their lives and outlook towards a certain marginalized community.

Except, neither are we drawn in by the “fun” or moved by the plot twists promising a hard-hitting social message. There is inherently nothing wrong with the message, it’s just that it is executed in a slipshod fashion and overpowers the actual crux of the movie, which is, by the way: 5 Weddings and whatever love or ‘happily ever after’ that should’ve sprouted out from that.

Shania Dhaliwal (Nargis Fakhri), a fashion journo from Los-Angeles, is sent to India to cover the glitz and glitter of Indian weddings and make a documentary (of sorts) about five different ceremonies that make up the traditional Indian wedding. She is a self-proclaimed arachnophobic (as we’re told five hundred and ten times during the course of the film), and so, that is her deep, dark secret for never wanting to go to the land of the snake-charmers (and now insects), India. Also, she hates Indian weddings and cannot be bothered with those. But she must, as she is gently persuaded by her American mom (Bo Derek) who, incidentally, wants Shania to meet her father while on this journey. Shania, who hasn’t seen her father since she was six and came away to America with her mother, now has a purpose that looks like it will make the actual mission bearable.

Side note: At one point, you’re compelled to think if India is a land swarming with spiders andrats and scorpions waiting to make a lunge at her if she set foot in here. I may have sympathized if her editor were sending her to the Amazon rainforests to cover the story.

In any case, the ‘overseas assignment’ is a ticket to keep her job alive and to qualify for the position of editor-in-chief she has been eyeing at her media company. Before we know it, she jets off to Chandigarh.

Rajkummar Rao aka Harbhajan Singh (I mean, really? That was the one name you found in the whole of Punjab?!) a Chandigarh police officer is assigned the duty of supervising Shania’s trip to ensure she doesn’t cause trouble. Specifically, the kind of “aatankvaad” foreign journalists these days are wont to do. By now you’re laughing your guts out – for someone like Shania who is worried she might die of an arachnoid attack soon and talks like her whole life is a beauty pageant, spreading journalistic terrorism would need more daredevilry and determination than she can manage at the moment.

Your assessment of Shania’s ability to grapple with unknown things is soon confirmed – when she lands at the Chandigarh airport on Holi, is smeared with colours and dashes off to report “the attack” to Harbhajan and his aide. Harbhajan shoots off a dialogue that is too heavy to handle for his character in this film, and you instantly start dreading the forced culture-clashes and drama awaiting you ahead in this venture.

Escorted around the city, Shania is taken to these 5 weddings, and as she (first reluctantly) and then voluntarily participates in the wedding shenanigans, zipping off colourful pictures and juicy titbits on Punjabi weddings, she is drawn more to the eunuchs who grace these weddings for a livelihood than she is in the real purpose of her assignment. Witness to the violence, humiliation, and derision this community is subjected to at every juncture, every day, Shania then decides to take up their cause and write a feature on them.

If you’re wondering how and why the movie steered from microscopically analyzing how big fat Indian weddings to a social drama, fret not, we are all in the thesame boat. 

However, what is worse is that –even this purpose Shania filters out from the overall larger purpose she has been driven to India for, falls flat on its face. The execution is awful, the script , limp, and the dialogues hammy. What could have been a somber case offun-cum-activism takes a bewildering turn as the head of the Chandigarh police department instructs Harbhajan to dissuade this “foreign journalist” from covering this feature at all costs. Why, you keep wondering? I’ll tell you why:so the movie could rope in some more meaningless contraptions in the name of a love story, and a battle of wills, and a clash of ideologies, and some much, so we, as an audience, could latch on to some semblance of something happening in this movie that’d make us sit up and notice. Even this doesn’t. It merely leaves you rolling your eyes.

Bollywood, which is known for unabashedly capitalizing on its song-and-dance routines and the chemistry between the leads to pull off spineless scripts flagging in places, comes to a grinding halt in 5 Weddings. The wedding sequences look pallid and forced, and the music agonizing. At one point, it makes you wonder if you’ve traveled back in time and watching a bunch of teenagers trying to pass off as grownups. Even 90s pop icon Daler Mehndi’s U U Yeah sounds like a stubborn hangover from the 90s, failing to lift your spirits. A special mention for the really unnecessary, loud makeup on the brides and the jumpy,worse-than-documentary style cinematography. I constantly kept wondering why I was watching the 2000s all over again!

Rajkummar Rao is completely wasted as an actor here. No matter how hard he tries, he manages to infuse neither sensibility nor liveliness in his character. The same can be said of Nargis Fakhri, who, believe it or not, has delivered better performances in Rockstar and Madras Café, movies where her sole motive was to make the hero look larger than life. She simply sleepwalks through the whole film, looking sullen and disinterested, irrespective of the situation she is thrust into. So it comes as no surprise when she looks phony as hell throughout the film.

Did I mention Harbhajan and Shania’s chemistry feels colder than a bag of ice and that they would have looked better as siblings than as the obligatory cross-cultural lovers they had to portray? There is even an airport sequence in the end which is just as pointless as most of the other additions/inclusions in the film. I will refrain from commenting on any of the supporting cast performances, considering the leads themselves look like they belong to the supporting actors’ camp.

And if, only if the makers had thought of making the movie entirely in Hindi and adding English subtitles instead, it would’ve fared a lot better. To watch Hinglish accents and dubbed conversations against a Hindustani background, right in the heartlands of Punjab simply snipped away little emotion you may have otherwise felt for any of the characters.

5 Weddings, as I understand, is a labor of love, and plenty of painful harangued waiting since its initial conception in 2008. Helmed by Indian-American Namrata Singh Gujral, it faced a delay of over 5 years, owing to Gujral’sbattle with both breast and blood cancers. Her tryst with two back-to-back- life-altering events and a string of related incidents later gave her the impetus to include the social angle focusing on the transgender community. And while this was a laudable motive, it, unfortunately, seemed misplaced in the theoverall premise of the movie. That said, kudos to Gujral for coming out stronger on the other side of life, hopes and telling stories that matter, for as long as one can.

I sincerely hope we get to see better from the director who has headed leaner projects before, and my absolute favorite, Rajkummar Rao.

Rating: 2/5 (For the director’s sheer gumption, determination and well, Rajkummar Rao)

Kaashi, In Search of Ganga Review: A thriller where you keep searching for logic but find none

Skip this film and go take an actual trip to Banaras. It’ll take you to heaven sooner.

Director: Dhiraj Kumar

Cast: Sharman Joshi, Aishwarya Devan, Govind Namdev

kaashi

Source: Google

My excitement regarding Kaashi: In Search of Ganga was palpable, as anybody who read my review of its teaser last month, may have guessed. Now though, my disappointment knows no depths. Given that I have (as have you all) earlier been bowled over by Sharman Joshi’s hilarious yet heart-breaking performance in his last major outing in 3 Idiots, I wasn’t expecting him to give his nod to a project as illogical and disconnected as Kaashi.

So this is how it goes: Kaashi, a corpse-burner from the Dom community in Kaashi/Banaras, is an aggressive, short-tempered chap who doesn’t believe in mincing words or mind raining blows at the drop of a hat. And of course he is also a devout Bholenath bhakt. How do we know this? Because in the first five minutes itself, Kaashi is seen rescuing a woman (journalist Devina played by Aishwarya Devan) from two really seedy-looking ruffians trying to get too friendly with her. He roars at them, beats them up black and blue and in the process wins a friend in Devina. But not before we are made to watch a terribly unimpressive semi-taandav dance preluding this scene and cringe at the excessive use of “Bholenath ki kasam” in these 5 minutes. Oh, and all of this fiasco happens during Holi (jeez how can it not? There’s Bholenath, there’s bhaang, there’s colours flying all around, there’s eve-teasing on the pretext of bura-na-maano-Holi-hai).

Anyway, Devina, who for no apparent reason seemed fascinated by Kaashi from the word go and was clicking him left, right and center in the introductory scene, now has a valid reason to ask him to take her around the city and help her with a piece on the same. Kaashi obliges, and he must, else how would we have a love story bang in the middle of a thriller that looks so wimpy it would make you cry?!

Amidst the boat rides, strolling on the streets of Banaras and bonding over lassi (specifically the clichéd wiping-the-lassi-moustache from the hero’s face), love blooms between the two. This is also when Kaashi introduces Devina to his family – his parents and his sister Ganga (Priyanka Singh), the crux of the movie. There’s plenty of oversharing between the parents and the son, cringe-worthy bhaiyya-behna scenes between Kaashi and Ganga, and a Devina who behaves more like a potential bahu than a journalist on a mission. If you aren’t weary and rolling your eyes yet, you will. Soon. Because all of this also leads to unfettered passion, and an extremely unnecessary, contrived sex scene between Kaashi and Devina, likely to only grab eyeballs given that it has absolutely NO relevance to the plot. None. Not even in building some half-decent chemistry between the two. It’s yawn-worthy and callously B-grade-ish (I seriously have no other word to describe the same).

A steamy affair as Kaashi and Devina’s should ideally have had some padding later on, and make a smooth transition before gently nudging us towards mystery land. Instead, from a seedily shot sex scene against the backdrop of “Zindagi guzaarne ke liye, dost ki nahi, hamsafar ki zaroorat hoti hai, mere hamsafar banoge toh bolo,” we go to, “Ganga abhi tak college se aayi nahin hai.”

And then begins the roller-coaster ride. More like, a tumultuous journey of twists and turns that had amazing potential but crashed to the ground before it could even take off.

I’ll tell you why.

For starters, the script and the direction is atrocious. For instance, right from the opening scene where you see a chained, dishevelled Kaashi being led to a cell and then scratching the walls of his cell with a spoon, you experience this sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach – why does it look so put-on? And then you hear the doctor saying something to the effect of, “at least he is not engaged in nonsense” and you realize your apprehensions are coming true: this movie is going to be a massive dhokha in the disguise of a thriller.

Every scene thereafter (barring a few genuinely decent ones) oozes with So.Much.Overacting.Its.Not.Funny. It is clear the makers do not trust our judgment, intelligence or intuition in getting the craft of filmmaking right. At one point my husband audibly even let out his exasperation, “Yeh toh 90s se bhi bekaar hai”.

I’ll go with his verdict. It is worse than what we had to endure in the 90s – from start to finish. There are too many melodramatic dialogues beginning and ending with “Mahadev ki kasam”, a horribly directed scene portraying Ganga’s affair with Abhimanyu (a crooked politician’s weird-looking son), bad editing, bad music, absurd supporting performances, a second half that is centered on looking for Ganga to proving her very existence, damp cinematography, an illogical climax…. Phew! The list goes on…

The writing is so loose and the chronicling, so disjointed, it makes you wonder if the director just woke up from a slumber, skipped a few scenes because he was bored (or maybe the script was too tedious) and deliberately threw in a few twists and turns to make it ring true to its genre instead. The grating, annoying, maddening background score (underlined by a pronounced metallic KAASHI, KAASHI, MAHADEV, BHOLENATH, you get the drift right?) doesn’t help one bit either. But might I say the casting trumps the list of cardinal sins the makers have committed with this project?

Sharman Joshi as Kaashi is appallingly miscast. From the taandav dance in the beginning to the show of aggression to the out-of-the-blue “Mahadev ki kasams” dropping out of thin air to line after line of histrionic dialogue-delivery, this is so not a role he should have taken up. He is earnest, some flashes of his talent remain, but they are in no way sufficient to hide the glaring flaws in this movie. Aishwarya Devan as Devina is tepid and totally passable. Considering she is a famous name down south, I am not really sure why she had to try her luck in Bollywood and ruin it all. She cannot act. Period. If I didn’t know she was a lead in the movie, I wouldn’t even notice, and I definitely wouldn’t care, it’s that bad.

Govind Namdev as the twisted politician has had better performances as the bad guy. In Kaashi, he looks just as stereotypical and farcical as the other characters. The supporting characters mostly look like they’re amateurs trying to get their foot in the door. Even theater actor Manoj Joshi known for his tickle-worthy performances in Phir Hera Pheri, Bhagam Bhaag, Hulchul and Bhool Bhulaiyya starts off on a promising note, but fizzles out too soon. A special mention for the actors playing Ganga and Abhimanyu, whose careers have collectively taken a tumble and may take a long, long time to recover from the shock. This dreadful casting along with the lacklustre narration makes me now want to watch reruns of Savdhaan India season 1, 2, 3, 4 and more so I can feel my adrenaline kicking in.

In the second half of Kaashi, a psychotherapist announces with laboured sobriety: It’s a serious case of schizophrenia.

There. I rest my case.

 

Rating: 2/5 (only because Joshi tries his darnedest best to save this film)