The Sky is Pink Movie Review: More than anything else, the film is about love that endures

The film is nothing if not a testament to the power of love in the face of life…or rather, death.

The Sky is Pink: A story about life, love and everything else in between…and after
Image Credit: Google

Director: Shonali Bose

Cast: Farhan Akhtar, Priyanka Chopra, Zaira Wasim, Rohit Saraf

From the time Priyanka Chopra-starrer Mary Kom (2014) graced the screens, biopics haven’t stopped raining in Bollywood. Cinematically presenting a living human’s extraordinary life has been quite the norm. But with Shonali Bose directed The Sky is Pink cine-goers have now been treated to a slice-of-the-life film – narrated by a protagonist (Aisha Chaudhary played by Zaira Wasim) who’s at the heart and soul of it, but no longer there to see what becomes of her story.

To top it all – there are ample opportunities to giggle, raise our eyebrows at a naughty schoolgirl discussing the ins and outs of her parents’ sex life from the afterlife, and feel her ‘teen angst’ over unrequited love as much as the actual, physical limitations she was born, and then had to die with.

Because that is how the makers likely intended the audience to feel – there is life, and there is death, but there’s so much to cherish before and after death. Aisha suffered from a rare genetic disorder called Severe Combined Immunodeficiency Disease (SCID) throughout her life – a crucial aspect that the makers have been careful in portraying without going overboard with the tragedy inherent in this condition. One can see that the film is painted with broad strokes of hope and joy, rather than the predictable terrain such a subject could involuntarily veer into.  

Perhaps, Aisha saw her life as magic and the filmmakers found no reason to infuse cloying sentimentality and deliberate sobriety in a human story that, as we see it today, is far greater than the sum of its parts.

Niren (Farhan Akhtar) and Aditi (Priyanka Chopra) make you chuckle at numerous points in the film – their days of falling in love and being carefree, their conversations around unprotected sex, even the way they handle a marital squabble over Niren helping out some to-be-divorced woman – are all cute and genuinely enjoyable. But what truly takes your breath away is how the pair navigate the ugly, frightening parts – with resilience and blind faith. In whatever higher power had brought them to this stage, but most of all, in each other to see this through.

However, make no mistake. The unmistakable beauty in, and the poignant remnants of the Chaudhary family’s shared lives that the audience gets to experience in the film has been hard-won, crafted and built from the ground up with unflinching patience, an unwavering sense of duty, and astounding willpower but most of all, undying, unconditional love.

Priyanka Chopra and Farhan Akhtar are outstanding as Aditi and Niren

What begins with an oddly exciting yet tense moment surrounding Aisha’s conception almost twenty-three years ago swiftly turns into a financial and emotional roller-coaster – tearing the Chaudharys’ lives apart, yet making them just as stronger and indefatigable as a married couple. Their love endures moving to a foreign land without preparation, later travelling back and forth between India and London while trying to hold on to their marriage and working night and day shifts for Aisha’s treatment, even going without long stretches of no intimacy. A concerned look here, an understanding hug there – in the midst of cranky conversations when the pair do meet between beginning and ending the day – is all they can afford.

Farhan Akhtar has been consistently wowing us since his very first film, Rock On. Here too, he impresses us with his measured, yet affecting performance. It is however, Priyanka Chopra as Aditi, who towers over all other performances in The Sky is Pink, and stands out as the thread that holds the various elements of the film together. Chopra has indeed, come a long way as an actor. Nowhere is this more apparent than in her stoic silences when she is faced with the everyday reality of Aisha’s condition, or the fire in her eyes when she walks out of her plush London home like a boss owning her life, or the flicker of indignance that her husband should want her to not talk about their dead child.

There are two scenes in the film that particularly showcase the depth of the lead pair’s acting. Niren and Aditi somehow manage to come to terms with the doomed realization that Aisha would have to undergo bone marrow transplant to extend her life by a few years. But what shocks them more is that the transplant proves to be simply a precursor to a decade-long wait before the doctors could deem Aisha stable. A swath of cold air passes over Niren’s face when he gets hit by the fact that they would have to readjust their lives and careers yet again. By now, viewers would’ve lost count of the trips made between India and London.

The other scene that really gripped me is an altercation between Niren and Aditi in the restroom of an upscale restaurant after the latter storms out of the dining area, following a rather crude and insensitive remark from one of their friends. The couple, who’d just lost Aisha to pulmonary fibrosis, found themselves in a heated conversation about who was to be blamed. But of course, they knew the answers already. They were always fighting a losing battle from the start. Those few heart-rending moments have been brilliantly portrayed by Akhtar and Chopra, who help us have a glimpse into what the Chaudharys may have endured.

Especially Chopra, as Aditi, is magnificent in her role as a mother, but more than that a round-the-clock caregiver. You feel her strength breaking, her tired and empty soul, and yet her single-minded devotion to keep their child alive at any cost. Underneath this crushing responsibility lies the regret that she has not really been there for her elder child, Ishaan (Rohit Saraf). The fact that she may have inadvertently neglected him, haunts her as well.

Being split into hopeful, cynical and guilty bits of yourself is never easy, Chopra essays that with the strokes of an experienced actor who knows the value of underplaying a certain character. The aftermath of death is an impossible grief that refuses to let go, The Sky is Pink, even amidst its light moments never fails to impress upon the audience of the crude reality.

All is not gloom and doom though. There are heart-warming moments between Aisha and her brother Ishaan, who she fondly calls Giraffe. So are her conversations with Niren and Aditi who are Panda and Moose for her, not regular Dad and Mom. It does come across as self-indulgent at times, but what is a teen girl if not childlike?

Amidst everything else, the Chaudharys made sure they kept the fun alive!

Viewers might find it disconcerting that a lot of Aisha’s pain and struggles have been brushed under the carpet, or that, most of the movie is about the Chaudharys’ navigating their child’s condition and doing everything in their power to keep her alive – rather than the actual pain of living with such a condition. However, given that the film has been narrated by Aisha, who was in her teens when she passed away, it is understandable why the film is equal parts heart-breaking and equal parts hopeful. Seen from her perspective, her life was every bit a miracle and she chooses to retain nothing but the good parts – regardless of the other world she’s in now.

My only grouse with the movie is that the film did not emphasize enough on Aisha’s book-writing journey (she wrote a book titled “My Little Epiphanies” ). We are never made aware of how the idea of writing a book germinated in her mind or what compelled her to see the beauty in her life. We are merely allowed a cursory glance at these crucial aspects of her life – towards the end of her time on earth, the very things that made her a global icon. Her inner life is never sufficiently probed.

Despite its flaws, The Sky is Pink is still worth a watch, simply because it touches upon the subject of life and death, and life after death using a featherweight approach. You dive deep enough to ponder the meaning of it all, but come out alive just in time to realize – there is nothing, if not beauty, in the moments that try your spirit as a human. It is bittersweet, hopeful even – once you gather the courage to begin at the end. Again. Like Niren and Aditi did.

My rating: 3.5/5

Kabir Singh Movie Review: Testosterone-fueled, toxic love can still thrive in 2019, this film sings a paean to that

There’s enough meat be enjoyed in the film – provided, you leave your opinions regarding gender portrayals behind

Going gaga over this angry young man can seriously hamper your chances of being accepted in social situations
Image Source: Google

Director: Sandeep Reddy Vanga

Cast: Shahid Kapoor, Kiara Advani, Suresh Oberoi, Arjan Bajwa, Adil Hussain

Two specific scenes in the Shahid Kapoor starrer Kabir Singh come to my mind when I think of a key trait that shapes Kabir, the angry young man of 2019. In the first half – let’s call it scene A – the hero, in a mad dash to get some booty, turns up at a young woman’s house to romp it up. She is thrilled too, except, she changes her mind at the last minute when her fiancé turns up at the door, asking Kabir to leave. Our protagonist, angered, shoves a knife in her face asking her to undress and make good her word. No, I am not making any of this up.

In the other scene in the second half (let’s call this scene B), Kabir and a popular Bollywood actress (played by Nikita Dutta), snuggled in the latter’s car in the middle of nowhere, seem to be assessing each other’s breaths before making a carnal move. Guarded by a reluctant, mildly disgusted driver standing a little distance away from the car, the two, in hurriedly stripped-down states, ready themselves to get it on – when a soft “I love you Kabir” jerks our hero back into reality. In a split second, all plans of sexual gratification are flung out the window, as he walks away, leaving a shocked, heartbroken, half-undressed woman calling out his name, pleading with him to come back.

Kabir doesn’t. He hates the mere mention of love.

And perhaps, the woman’s exercise of her agency in matters of sex and relationships.

The trajectory from scene A to B is clearly steeped in copious amounts of expensive and dirt-cheap alcohol, drugs, cussing, irrational aggression, familial abandonment, social humiliation, public ridicule and condemnation, and more – never grazing the one characteristic in the hero that ought to have been addressed, one that could have redeemed the character to a great extent: Kabir’s sense of entitlement and a stubborn will to play by the rules. His rules only.

The pattern is prevalent from start to finish. In fact, it is no more apparent than in a showdown with the dean of the college (Adil Hussain) over his violent, uncontrolled behaviour on the football field resulting in a well-deserved suspension. Kabir, quick as lightning, respectfully retorts, reducing the dean to a mere employee “who was just doing his duty” while asserting himself as one of the torchbearers of the university and its pride by virtue of his position as a student par excellence, on and off the field. There are numerous other instances where we get to witness that flash of privilege in Kabir’s demeanour – the very first time he locks eyes with the docile, demure Preeti (Kiara Advani) and walks into a classroom to “inform” the juniors of his newfound interest so as to “mark his territory” via the announcement “Woh meri bandi hai”, or the way he kisses Preeti on the cheek – without her consent, no less – in full public view- cementing his mark – both are testimony to a full-scale manifestation of toxic masculinity. Backed by raucous laughter and soft chuckling on this side of the silver screen, of course.

If that is not enough to establish our lead’s bravado, then please note: Kabir is also the super brain, multitasking orthopaedic surgeon who holds a record of operating hundreds of patients (more than his fair share) – without causing a single life to pop out – all while being stoned drunk. Thankfully, this one flaw in his character is not celebrated despite the subtle and overt eulogies tendered to his other traits.

 As flawed and precarious the character arc is, we are not quite sure what makes Kabir Singh the raging, vicious wayward man he is. But we understand, that having wealthy influential parents, a doting brother (Arjan Bajwa) who ought to have slapped him at least 20 scenes earlier, multiple academic and professional badges of honour caking his persona, and a gang of friends who enable his crass, abusive behaviour by either cheering him on or laughing it off – is far too much temptation to will away. In these given circumstances as well as the heightened context lent to the character by placing him in Delhi (the land of false machismo and regressive gender attitudes), what is a man to do but turn outward and unleash his most destructive states on his immediate environment?

Kabir Singh is what most men dream to be – the holder of an “impeccable academic record”, topper of the board and the university, “one of the best ever” – and the wearer of jaw-dropping sexiness in that I-don’t-need-to-try-hard-to-get-chicks style is the allure that men and women secretly wish to possess. Albeit, in different capacities. Raw maleness dripping in every frame, the hero’s near-obsessive attempts at securing the woman’s affections, intense combats with opponents/anti-heroes and a subtle theme of ‘love conquers all’ has long been a staple of Hindi movies. While on one hand it reaffirms the social standing for the men, it projects to the women the kind of guy they must aspire to because, well, that is the stuff Mills & Boon is made of.

Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s Kabir Singh, however, cuts out the rigmarole of delving into the female lead’s internal conflict and her thoughts about the potential lover in question. There is no internal dialogue, no conversation shared with friends as regards the suitability of the suitor and no objection raised to Kabir’s manhandling of Preeti as he walks into her classroom, asks her about the topic of the day and leads her out saying he would tutor her on the same. Heads bow down collectively, justifiably prying eyes turn away from the couple as Kabir takes Preeti around the college, out riding his bike, even as he packs her bags and gets her to live with him in the boys’ hostel.

To say it was mildly disturbing yet funny (primarily for the director’s witty portrayal of the lead pair’s dynamics) would be an understatement. If Kabir, on his part, is supremely confident that his affections and searing interest are being reciprocated, never mind the domination, Preeti, on her part, is equally compliant in the way the relationship begins, progresses, even till the point it breaks off – by following her lover’s lead, content in playing by his rules. In 2019, when feminism and sexuality are a hot topic, the portrayal of a romantic relationship with such skewed power dynamics and the concept of “ownership” is bound to raise eyebrows. And yet, before we castigate the makers of Kabir Singh for being primitive, sadistic and setting a dangerous example for the youth of the nation – it cannot be denied that they are clearly playing to the gallery. The fact that the director Vanga’s original Telugu movie Arjun Reddy (2017) was touted as a commercial and critical box office hit, thus, paving the way for a Hindi remake of the same, is evidence enough of which side of the moral high ground the average viewer occupies.

Shahid Kapoor as Kabir is phenomenal – from the word go. Whether he is ruthlessly smashing opponents on the football field, declaring to the dean that he has “no regrets about who he is”, fighting for the love of his life but also expressing in a moment of weakness his vulnerability or demanding his lover to stand up to her father with the kind of intensity she otherwise expresses when she is with him, like she “owns him” – Kapoor as Kabir hits high octane notes on almost all fronts. It would be safe to say that he manages to render a certain charm – and humaneness- to this gravely unlikable character, so much so that at one point you find yourself rooting for him, despite knowing fully well he has been digging himself trenches for far too long and must, one day or the other, pay the price for it. The sight and sound of a bottle popping up every now and then gets repetitive, however, Kapoor nails it with the nuance of a polished actor. Ultimately, even though he shocks you with his unconventional, insolent attitude, you care for him and want the self-inflicted torture to end.

Kiara Advani, on the other hand, massively underplays Preeti. If you can come to terms with the fact that she does not speak one whole sentence in the first 45 minutes (barring saying her name out loud twice), then there is much to be surprised by how the character transforms as the minutes go by (provided you have not watched the original).

A woman like Preeti might seem like a rare sight in 2019
Image Source: Google

The climax, in particular, pays tribute to her passable evolution over the course of the film – startling both the audience and, for a moment, Kabir himself. Her scenes with Kabir during their time in the college are refreshing, passionate and filled with the sweet angst most teenagers and young adults in love would find relatable. Special mention to Royal Enfield for heightening the pair’s romance on the roads, as well as later redefining Kabir’s relationship with his true self. The frills aside, the infantilization of the leading lady and her largely wallflower-like characterization is bound to rub many viewers the wrong way.

Adil Hussain is commanding, despite a brief appearance. Suresh Oberoi as Kabir’s father packs a punch as the authoritarian rich dad who refuses to take his son’s frequent brushes with authority (both in and outside the college) as well as the boy’s rebellious, angry ways lightly. Kamini Kaushal as Kabir’s grandmother is effective, despite a brief role. Her understanding of her grandson’s defiant and provocative ways, as well as her reluctance to intervene in his processing of his personal grief is subtly philosophical, never treading the preachy route.

In the medley of performances and a bevy of characters thrown in, Shiva (Soham Majumdar), playing Kabir’s best friend, sidekick, and even on occasions his man Friday, puts up a stellar performance. Loyal, trustworthy, patient and miraculously accepting of his bestie’s constant emasculation of his less-than-macho ways and lack of confidence (or should I say an absence of sho-sha of masculinity), he is the kind of friend you want to have by your side when you’re plodding through hellfire. Or well, just to experience life in its sweetest, most sparkling glory. It is a pity Shiva’s constant pleas – asking Kabir to move the fuck on and do something concrete with his life – are met with ignorance and a few more bottles of alcohol.

Despite holding divided opinions on the content of the movie, people are quite in agreement when it comes to the music of Kabir Singh. The timeless ‘Bekhayali’ can compel you to dig up every past pain you may have buried in your chest and cry unshed tears. Yes, even the ones in currently happy relationships. ‘Kaise Hua’, my second favorite from the album, is sweetly melancholic and draws you in as you try to make sense of this odd couple falling in a deep, mad love. ‘Tujhe Kitna Chahne Lage Hum’ haunts you long after you listen to it, spelling the pain and anguish of broken love no song in recent times has succeeded in. The other tracks – ‘Yeh Aaina’ and ‘Pehla Pyaar’ are hummable too.

As for the cinematography, cinematographer Ravi K. Chandran’s captures of camera angles are crisp, taut and soft enough to bring out the different shades of the story. The sequences with Kabir riding the bike (alone as well as with Preeti), a stray scene where the old, dusty bike is getting ‘cleansed’ (quite literally) are impressive. These little details bring out a touch more magic than is indicated by the actual storyline of the movie.

As mentioned earlier, it may have been a more solid redemption had Kabir moved away from “Woh meri bandi hai” (she is my girl) to “pehle usse toh pooch lun” (I should maybe ask her once). Having said that, his character, however blemished, is fierce, fearless, and does not mind taking risks…it is adrenaline-pumping watching a human walk single-mindedly towards the object of his desire. However vehemently the audience may protest such mania.

Kabir Singh is controversy designed as a rollicking good tale, turning love stories on their head, and unabashedly telling you – that not all love is equal, but maybe, not all love needs to be so long as concerned parties come away feeling loved. To summarize it – if the world can go gaga over Fifty Shades of Grey, Kabir Singh would likely seem enjoyable, albeit, a mere warm-up for people intending to explore the darker side of love.

Rating: Purely, in terms of entertainment value and the fact that I have good sense to divorce cinema from its inherent social impact, I’m going with 4/5.

Photograph Review: Nawazuddin, Sanya’s story flows like poetry, albeit an unfinished one

If watching love blossom between an oddball pair is your thing, this film will introduce you to possibly the unlikeliest of them all.

Photoraph shows you how love can bloom between the unlikeliest of souls
Image Source: Google

Director: Ritesh Batra

Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Sanya Malhotra, Jim Sarbh, Vijay Raaz, Geetanjali Kulkarni

If you’re a millennial (like me) or even a Gen X’er, you might still remember the days of yore when traveling to new places also meant getting plenty of pictures clicked in awkward poses by one of the many street photographers thronging the tourist spots.  You would dutifully let the photographer call the shots, and tilt your head this way or that, stand a bit closer to your beloved, or emulate one of the many other corny poses to make it a success. And then you got handed the hard copies of those photographs to later file them away neatly in the family album, reserved for nostalgic gushing over a family gathering or a rain-soaked afternoon in the future.

Once the selfie boom made its appearance, everything changed. Our lives, the way we view the world, but most of all, the way we began to view ourselves. Sadly, in the microcosm of this apparently innocent technological revolution, street photographers eking out their living out of making people smile were the hardest hit. I mean, if you had an iPhone or a One Plus, and were visiting the Taj Mahal, what would you do? Click your own selfies with filters and special effects or pay the photographer to click you in a practiced pose – mostly in the camera’s P mode?

However, despite living in an era where millions of carefully created images grace the social media space every day, a photograph can mean many things to many people. In Ritesh Batra’s Photograph, a photograph alludes to years of toil and hardship buried underneath, of hopes crushed and then revived, a journey of layers peeled and layers owned; actually, anything that you seek to take away from the movie.

Photograph is a tale of two palpably distinct characters, stewing away in their own existence, mostly without rhyme or reason, because they have to. Rafi (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) is a street photographer who clicks tourists at the Gateway of India for a living. Debt and poverty mark every inch of his being, as he trudges from one day to the next without an end in sight. Until one day, a shy, introverted girl, Miloni (Sanya Malhotra) crosses paths at the site and agrees to get herself clicked, only to hurriedly leave without paying him. He is slightly amused, but takes it in his stride, much like the feeling of desolation, defeat and all else engulfing his life. Except his grandmother (Farrukh Jaffar) whose only desire now is to see her grandson married and settled before she passes on into the other world, is getting restless with Rafi’s lack of a sense of urgency about his own existence.

And so are his circle of friends, the neighbourhood bhajjiya wala, cab-driver as well as the grocery store guy. Suddenly, the whole world wants him to quit running the pointless marathon that has come to define him and get himself a wife. Sombre life advice is dished out sandwiched between funny anecdotes about dead people who pressed the exit button without so much as leaving a letter behind, because they did not have anyone to bid their goodbyes to. Still reluctant, yet slightly shaken, Rafi, on a whim, sends a picture of the unassuming, yet beautiful stranger he had met at the Gateway, concocting a wild story around their “love”, naming her Noorie and claiming her as his fiancée. Understandably, dadi is thrilled and wants to come to Mumbai and meet his fiancée for real.

Caught in a web that would only grow denser with time, Rafi sets out hunting this mysterious stranger, aided by a picture of her on a billboard of a coaching institute. And as unbelievable as it may sound, he convinces Miloni to play along with his ploy till his granny is around in the city. Miloni, who until now, has only known a life of gruelling academics and has been forced to wear an invisible crown on her head – much like her picture on the billboard – perceives this amusing incident as a prospect to be something more than the high achiever tag she has been wearing, and of course, as a fitting occasion to quietly, yet resolutely rebel against her upper-class, stiff Gujju family.

Out they go, hopping into cabs, touring the city’s myriad landscapes, day after day while taking Rafi’s grandmother around – until this ritual is what each of them looks forward to, even after granny departs for her native village back in Uttar Pradesh. Between the first photograph and the next few, hope descends in the circumstances of these two starkly dissimilar protagonists. Where Rafi succeeds in finding a way out of the maze of disappointments (or so we are made to believe) dotting his life, courtesy Miloni’s fondness for Campa Cola, the latter awakens to the realization that in the photograph taken by Rafi, she was looking back at a girl who looked happier and prettier than she was. The deep connotations associated with a photograph taken on impulse could not have been portrayed more poetically than has been done by director Ritesh Batra.

Photograph is about finding meaning in a world not our own
Image Source: Google

Batra’s nuanced direction also seeps through in the discretion with which he deals with his characters. Much like Irrfan’s deadbeat, dry Saajan Fernandes (of Lunchbox fame), Nawazuddin as Rafi is handled with equal parts cynicism and equal parts panache, who dares to break of out of a somewhat self-imposed, yet largely circumstantially built prison.  Siddiqui embodies the struggles of a migrant man trying to survive Mumbai in a way that feels raw to the bone, almost like he is symbolically retelling his own hardships on the silver screen. That said, in Siddiqui’s portrayal of a despondent man, there isn’t a lot that you may not have seen before in the actor’s own earlier projects. So for our sakes and his, I am desperately hoping the next project he picks will paint him in a brighter light than all his past ventures have individually and collectively painted him.

Jaffar as Rafi’s grandmother plays the cardboard granny quite effortlessly, emotionally blackmailing her grandson to settle down by refusing to take her medicines. Loud, grumpy, blunt and sarcastic, she plays to perfection the proverbial Hitler dadi with a heart of gold buried under her chest. So while wondering how her grandson landed this fair beauty, she giggles good-naturedly about finally realizing her dream of having fair grandkids. For a movie dominated by vintage lenses and poignant silences, these snippets of the grandmother’s candid conversations with Rafi and “Noorie” come across as a breath of fresh air, almost equalizing the otherwise moody atmospheric build-up permeating Photograph’s narrative.

It is Sanya Malhotra as Miloni who is brilliant, yet confusing, in spurts. From the word go there is an uneasy hesitation about her, almost like there is a sea of words waiting to tumble out of her lips and she somehow catches the wave in her throat at the last minute. Miloni is frankly, an uninteresting character, passive and utterly bland for the most part. So much so that a potential suitor remarks that she looks prettier in the photograph, ironically the only recent photograph of her clicked by Rafi.

Malhotra’s brilliance nevertheless, shines through in a couple of scenes. For instance, during one of the classes when Miloni excitedly shares the photograph with her classmates, they look as fascinated to see her in a different light than they’ve known her. For a few minutes, and barely just, Miloni transforms into a regular girl keenly aware of the hidden layers of her personality, and not merely the CA topper everyone identifies her as.

Sanya Malhotra as Miloni is uninteresting in an interesting sort of way
Image Source: Google

She is also acutely sensitive and aware of the class barriers rising tall between her and Rafi. So one night when she sits the maid (realistically essayed by Geetanjali Kulkarni) down and asks her about her family and what they do, you realize she is trying to bridge the chasm between her and them (the ones living on the fringes of poverty), and by that token, get a step closer to Rafi. Her eagerness to blend into Rafi’s world and understand the same is subtle, yet striking, even if it takes surviving the ordeal of watching a movie in a rodent-infested cinema hall.

Apart from the leads, Jim Sarbh as the head of the coaching institute is crisp and impactful in a brief role, and yet, I wished he had been given more to do in the movie. Vijay Raaz in his cameo is arresting and adds a touch of make-believe to the grey atmosphere of the film.

Despite the supposed depth with which the subject has been treated, Photograph fails to hold a candle or even burn half as bright as Batra’s The Lunchbox, where despite the nuanced portrayal of Ila and Saajan’s newfound companionship, there was plenty to glean from their lives and grasp their worlds. Photograph allows the viewer to have numerous sneak peeks into Rafi and Miloni’s worlds, and yet we come away feeling like we simply do not know enough.

For instance, despite the duo’s willingness to jump into uncharted territories marked by religious, class and age divides, we only manage to grab at and second-guess what each character might individually be thinking. We do not know the real dynamics of their relationship or even a hint of how, or if, they plan to traverse this gulf. There are no real conversations about issues that are screaming red flags, and a lot is left to the audience to piece together and come to a conclusion. This not only makes it frustrating for the viewer, it also forces idealism in circumstances and seems far removed from their stubborn realities.

Despite its obvious flaws, one element Photograph scores high on is the cinematography. Much like its title, the movie is a testament to the undecorated, hurried yet pensive beauty that is Mumbai. Curious cab drivers, hawkers, a kirana shop in Rafi’s neighbourhood, the stretch of marine drive, Gateway of India and the salty air floating over the city – cinematographer Ben Kutchins has successfully captured each of these elements, rendering them a touch of timelessness. It would, therefore, not be an understatement to say that the film at times feels like a testament to Mumbai – the city of dreams, where anything is possible.

And yet, Photograph simmers and simmers, never really taking off.

“Saalon baad jab aap yeh photo dekhengi Madam, toh aapko aapke chehre pe yehi dhoop dikhai degi”, Rafi tries to persuade Miloni at the start of the film. He may be right.

If for nothing else, Photograph ought to be watched, solely so you can enjoy the poetic finesse it brings alive on screen. It may be incomplete, wistful even. But it will remind to smile in the darkest of places.

Rating: 3/5

Luka Chuppi Movie Review: A youth-centric entertainer, this film deserves to be watched by all

Live in relationships CAN culminate in marriage. But what if marriage leads back to living in?

Director: Laxman Utekar

Cast: Kartik Aaryan, Kriti Sanon, Aparshakti Khurana, Alka Amin, Atul Srivastava, Pankaj Tripathi, Vinay Pathak

Image Source: Google

Whoever knew, that come January, 2019 would soon turn into the year when lines between politics and entertainment would blur to reveal the zeitgeist of what truly drives India- desh bhakti, the lampooning of subjective desh droh – especially the kind that is accompanied by having an opinion and an honest criticism of the government, and of course, the ultra-predictable sanskaar.

So if Uri made your chest swell with nationalist pride, and The Accidental Prime Minister woke you up to the horrors of a largely silent ex-Prime Minister suffering under the thumb of dynasty politics, there’s Battalion 909 and Vivek Oberoi-led PM Narendra Modi later this year to help buff up these nationalist sentiments. I am not against beaming from ear-to-ear when it comes to saluting our armed forces for their exemplary courage and unparalleled sacrifices, but to bite into electoral fodder every other Friday is hardly my idea of entertainment. Thankfully, we are still breathing democracy, and have the chance to lap up some engaging, visual stories of what nationalism could look like. director Laxman Utekar’s Luka Chuppi falls bang in the middle of this nationalism train (actually, anti-nationalism), and delivers a hard-hitting message, albeit, softly and humorously, averting a wreckage imminent in such scenarios.

The Plot

Luka Chuppi revolves around the bane of young Indians hankering for sexual agency and privacy – when confronted with self-appointed moral guardians lurking at every corner, all prepared to disgrace them, should they sidestep bharatiya sanskriti. This pack of crazy fundamentalists consists of members of the honourable Sanskriti Raksha Manch (cough cough) – an organization responsible for keeping uncultured, anti-national youth in check. At the start of the movie, the poster boy of anti-national, unsanskritik behavior happens to be actor Nazim Khan (Abhinav Shukla) who faces probing questions posed by the media for being in a live-in relationship. Elsewhere, in Mathura, ordinary hapless couples end up facing the ire of the Raksha Manch so they do not even dare think of innocent romance, let alone dream of living in.

Soon enough, the tentacles of moral policing cloud the town before being seized by a local news channel for the usual journalistic minting.  This is where we meet Guddu Shukla (Kartik Aaryan), a star reporter of the said news channel, who is entrusted with an exciting new project: interviewing local people to hear their thoughts about live-in relationships. His friend and the channel’s cameraman Abbas (Aparshakti Khurana) is to join him on this mission. However, before the duo can set off decoding the locals’ views on live-in relationships, in walks Delhi-returned journalism graduate Rashmi Trivedi with her father, seeking to intern at the news studio before hitting the job market.

As the trio set about interviewing sadhus, old women and touchy nationalist men on the streets, Guddu and Rashmi steal a few moments to make eyes at each other, engage in banter – quickly falling in love. Guddu, being the small town man he is, makes the leap by proposing marriage. Except, Rashmi isn’t impressed and wants to try out living in with him first before the much-dreaded saat pheras. Guddu reluctantly consents to it; there’s only one little glitch in this arrangement: Rashmi is Vishnu Trivedi’s daughter, the leader of the Raksha Manch aka the vulture pack prowling around the city and hunting for their next victim.  

Left with no option, Abbas, the loyal wingman suggests they try out this arrangement in Gwalior, away from the prying eyes of their families, in the guise of working on a journalism assignment. The deal is sealed and the two head off on a month’s adventure, basking in the throes of a new romance. There is sex, there is humour, there are talks of dividing household chores between the two as well as plenty of theatrics involving sindoor, mangalsutra and fake tacky wedding pictures to fool the neighbours. In short, it is a jolly good ride until they are caught snuggling by Babulal (Pankaj Tripathi), Guddu’s relative.

In less than 24 hours, they’re jerked wide awake from planning romantic destination weddings to playing “husband and wife” for their families, over and over and over.

What transpires from living in before marriage to still “living in” in a full-fledged marital setup is what forms the spine of Luka Chuppi.

Execution

From the word go, Luka Chuppi succeeds in drilling into your head the perils of indulging in young romance in a country like India. Be it the Sanskriti Raksha Manch’s hooligan-like antics in the beginning, Guddu and Rashmi’s sneaky live-in romance against the backdrop of the culture police or their desperation to living in like a sanskaari married couple, the urgency in these critical moments is palpable.

Kartik Aaryan and Kriti Sanon and perfectly cast for their respective roles, and fit in easily into their characters. While the chemistry between the two is hardly crackling, the duo is easy on the eyes and manages to draw genuine curiosity, sympathy and laughs from the audience. Thankfully, Kartik does not have yet another lengthy monologue as was the case in Pyaar ke Punchnama (which actually set off this bizarre trend) and Sonu Ke Titu ki Sweety, or dish out sexist dialogues in favour of bromance as was the norm in both these movies.

Image Source: Google

The film’s humour is the situational kind that you may have come to love if you’ve ever watched cult picks like Hera Pheri, Hungama, Hulchul and others of this genre. That said, it’s only in the second half when Luka Chuppi actually feels like a comedy of errors and tickles your funny bones, hard. A large supporting cast is intricately involved in the romance and boasts of weirdos such as Guddu’s much-older, single brother who feels betrayed much by the younger brother’s secret marriage and is merely a brink away from falling into irreversible depression.

Others in the cast include the top of the crop like Atul Srivastava (who plays the stumped father yet again mentoring his supposedly libidinous son on sanskaar) and Alka Amin (yet again the indulgent mother). Vinay Pathak plays the leader of the Raksha Manch and Rashmi’s father, his sole aim being to crack the election using the religious and cultural card. While earnest and at times even funny, Pathak’s role seems to have been written in a lopsided fashion – almost as if the writers could not make up their mind as to how they wished to paint him. On the other hand, Aparshakti Khurana, who seems to have undoubtedly mastered being the hero’s sidekick, plays it down for the film, securing a neat place as one of the highlights of the movie.

It is, however, Tripathi, dunked generously in broad strokes of a small-town stereotypical Romeo – donning shocking red trousers and a mismatched shirt – I had the most expectations from, which, I’m glad to say were largely met. Given the blatant typecasting, it is obvious the makers intended to write Tripathi’s character purely as a comic relief; nevertheless, it is to the award-winning actor’s credit that he prevents Babulal from slipping into that homogenous box and instead turns it into a key link in the chain of events in Luka Chuppi.

Winning Moments

In a film about sanskaar (or the lack thereof), what else can make an audience sit up and take notice than the words of a saffron-clad sadhu endorsing live-in relationships by alluding to the ancient yet controversial tale of love between Radha-Krishna! Then there is swag with which Abbas handles dad Trivedi’s tacit disapproval of his religion, and by that token, his existence. The cherry on the cake, however, sits pretty in the implied accusation that well, the Raksha Manch has little to do with dharm, and more to do with chunaavi mudda.  I kid you not, at this point, I was sitting with the stupidest grin on my face.

But you know what truly hits home with the film? Its rather straightforward, simple approach to young romance and the perils thereof, in a divided nation like India.

What else does the film score on?

The music. The movie is peppered with just the right number of songs to temper the slightly long-ish runtime and the occasional repetitive humour. Barring Poster Lagwa Do (sung by Nikita Gandhi), the remaining are generously infused with Punjabi lyrics and are a fun mix of slow romantic to high-on-beat music. My personal favourite is Tu Laung Main Elaaichi (Tulsi Kumar), a remake of 2018’s massive hit wedding song that, in Luka Chuppi, incidentally turns things around for the duo. In fact, since I watched the movie, I’ve listened to it no less than 20 times!

Yay or Nay?

Luka Chuppi, despite its obvious flaws is earnest, mostly hilarious yet social relevant – without being preachy. Plus, at a time when being political (and expressing condemnation of the powers that be) can get you trolled, fired from your job and everything else you may not have possibly imagined, Luka Chuppi is an act of courage.  That makes it at least a one-time watch, and yay, yay, yay! All the way!

Rating: 3.75/5

Dil Juunglee Review: A drab two-hour ride on some farzi love

Dil Juunglee feels like a phony experience disguised as a romcom. Period.

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I am a 90s kid and have grown up on hundreds of quintessential nauseating Bollywood romantic flicks of that era. From fawning over the Rajs and Rahuls of DDLJ and K3G fame, to dissing the Poojas and Tinas and Nainas, it has been a long and conflicting ride about which side of sensibility to stand on – while also shamelessly lapping up all that came my way because there was hardly any choice.

Last checked, with the evolution of cinema, I (including so many of my generation) had graduated to post-millennial Meera, Silk Smitha, Kashibai and so many other strong, intriguing women who were much about love, but so much about their own selves as well.

Which is why it was quite a frustrating exercise to wrap my head around Taapsee Pannu’s Koroli Nair – an immature caricature of a tortured girl constantly looking for love to fill her own sense of self.

Koroli is the shy, reserved daughter of an uber rich business tycoon who wants her to take over the family business but she has other plans – to continue teaching English literature – and to be ‘happily married’ to whoever loves her. In the framework of this simple, threadbare character sketch some other supporting filler content appears – Koroli’s Maggi-like curls and the prominent bangs, her glasses (because how else will we believe she is a teacher!!) and her insanely annoying ritual of sticking notes and writing pages and pages worth of sob material in her scrapbook that is supposed to give us an insight into her perpetually screwed love life.

When she is not lamenting her imagined love life, Koroli spends her free hours poring over romantic novels, and has a best friend named Shumi (Srishti Shrivastava) who spends her free hours raising eyebrows at Korolis’s serious (read: clingy) take on relationships urging her to go ‘get some action’ instead.

Which is fine and actually interesting advice, considering Koro is the dampest, most insipid female lead character ever written in the history of cinema. No wait, that has to be Ameesha Patel’s Sonia from Kaho Na Pyaar Hai. But then that was the year 2000, and to have women portrayed like they are lost kittens waiting to be rescued even in 2018 is an unforgivable cinematic catastrophe.

On the other hand, we have Saqib Saleem playing Sumit Uppal, the stereotypical Delhi lad prepping up for the typical Bollywood debut – while moonlighting as the head instructor at Gulati gym in Lajpat Nagar and as a reluctant model in condom ads. He also has an average-looking, bespectacled best friend (Abhilash Thaplial) who stands by him as the loyal sidekick, offering us more relief with his straight-faced remarks than the hero does with his pretend Delhi attitude. See how many clichés we’ve already run into – and well, the meaty chunk of the movie hasn’t even begun!

Sumit is desperate for a break in Bollywood and ends up at the British Council where Koro teaches. From then on, there is some predictable wordplay where Sumit spends more time ogling at Koro than actually getting the diction right, there is a nightclub scene where Koro lets her hair (and top) down Naina-esque style from Kal Ho Na Ho and the leads then dance with abandon, already crossing over to the other side of shikshak-shishya maryada.

The next morning apologies are exchanged, some flirting and eye-gazing happens and before we know it, Sumit invites Koro home – only to have his mother (Supriya Shukla) barge in on some embarrassing cuddly couple moments and spend the rest of the day admiring Koro’s fair skin and her Anglo-Indian genes…and well, the fat load of cash. There are a few more fast-forward moments which lead to an instant overturn of Mommy Uppal’s affections for the could-be-bride and Koro is instantly thrown off the pedestal – because she is ‘manglik’ and Mommy realized not even White skin could save her son’s anyway-doomed life.

I will spare you the details so you can partake first-hand in some of the headache-inducing plot twists that come soon after as the duo decides to lay Mommy’s well-meaning concerns to rest and decide to elope and get married anyway. Which, by the way is the cue for Armaan Malik’s admittedly punchy number Beat Juunglee – a trap essentially to make you feel a little less lost about where the movie is headed.

But a few more songs (including the genuinely soulful Dil Jaane Na where the leads showcase some effortless chemistry) later you realize you are just as god-smacked as you first were when this immature pair with their childish tricks fell in love for reasons that had remotely anything to do with love – and then snapped apart like your patience does when the credit card guy calls you from an ominous-looking number and you hang up on him anyway.

What was designed to be a unique rom-com because of the ‘special’ packaging fails to keep you hooked because there is too much fluff in the characters to base an entire 120+ minutes movie on – and your initial impression of both the leads being downright clueless comes to fruition as more layers are peeled away.

Even as Koro next sports a chic hairstyle and a brand new wardrobe and has upgraded herself to fit into Dear Daddy’s entrepreneurial dreams for her.

Even as Sumit seems to have successfully oriented his life away from condom ads and punk-mythology shows, toned down his brash ways.

Even as the trajectory of the story physically moves from Delhi to London.

It was painful to see Tapsee give her all to this ridiculous character, after having recently portrayed some powerful ones in Pink and Naam Shabana, including her role as the feisty Nimmi from Running Shaadi, a far better project than the current one. On the same note, we have Saleem who looks and speaks his part (a little too much though), cracks fifth grader jokes along the lines of ‘Roses are red, violets are blue’ and tries to convince himself- and us- that he really is a boy who’s fallen madly in love.

It therefore, appears outright foolish when Saleem as Sumit tries to imitate 21st century Devdas – an outstanding portrayal of which Abhay Deol is remembered for in Kashyap’s Dev D and standards the former might take ages to achieve.

Supriya Shukla remains grossly underutilized through the movie as have the other fringe characters making up this charade. On her part though, Nidhi Singh as the Delhi-bred girl with the Dilli ki ladki ke nakhre and accent shines in the limited room accorded to her, overpowering even the leads’ performances. Santosh Barmola, whose first screen appearance was in the extremely forgettable, shady Warning (yes, that Varun Sharma movie about sharks attacking in the open sea) plays the mild-mannered, suave rich guy with panache in Dil Juunglee – but there’s just so much you can do when the script is flagging off in all directions. Of course, the fact that he looks drop-dead gorgeous helps his case, making you wonder why he hasn’t been offered meatier, saner roles in Bollywood.

Nevertheless, despite the occasional humor and fleeting flashes of some passable acting, this is a movie that couldn’t have been rescued anyway, given the sketchy roles and the abysmal character graphs. From debutante director Aleya Sen to the actors and the supporting cast, everyone seems to be trying too hard to inject some element of Juunglee-ness in the movie – the outcome being the movie neither touches your heart nor feels wild.

Rating: 2/5 

 

Sonu Ke Titu ki Sweety: Sprinkled generously with gender stereotypes, but undeniably funny

No more just men versus women, it’s Bromance versus Romance all the way

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Source: Google

When was the last time you sat down and openly laughed at gender stereotypes playing out in myriad ways on a 70mm screen, along with a bunch of other cackling adults (and teens, and hapless 2 year-olds who had no business being there), without a few pairs of eyebrows shooting up?

With serious projects like this year’s thought-provoking Padman (based on real-life revolutionary Arunachalam Muruganantham credited with generating awareness around female menstrual hygiene, particularly in rural India) – and the politically tainted, violence-inducing Padmaavat – that spoke of a beautiful Rajput queen’s fearless act in the face of savagery, lust and a probable miserable death at the hands of a brutal Muslim ruler – a lot of food for thought has been fed to the audience in the span of a quick two months.

And while I wholeheartedly agree with, and respect each of these premises explored in the aforementioned films, they are hardly viable opportunities for a regular movie-goer to burst out laughing without being judged. Not that we wanted to.

But if you, like me, have been looking to give your over-analytical mind some rest and play silly, Luv Ranjan’s latest flick might just help in loosening up those overworked intellectual muscles. In Sonu ke Titu ki Sweety (indeed, a tacky tongue-twister), you step in knowing what to expect, given the director’s penchant for making laugh riots of a similar nature in the past– in fact, you sort of look forward to leaving all the isms behind and just partaking in a rom-com that is of course ridiculous, and sexist, and audaciously stereotyped in chunks, but makes you chuckle anyway.

Borrowing the familiar shtick first used in Pyaar ka Punchnama to roaring success, and then re-used in Pyaar ka Punchnama 2 to relatively smaller success, Ranjan adopts a mix-and-match of sorts and inverts the popular love triangle on its head in this instalment.

The core elements remain the same – the director takes a laidback route and retains the film’s foundation on the commonly accepted Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus theory while introducing some interesting twists. This time it’s not just men versus women, it’s a battle of the sexes over a man. Yes, you heard that right.

At the helm of the story stands a young, love struck man who falls in love faster than you could blink an eye, a scheming, manipulative woman who does everything right by Sooraj Barjatya’s culture book (jarringly and nauseatingly so) and an equally kameena best friend who would do everything in his power to rescue his buddy from the clutches of this woman – who, by her own admission, is not the “heroine” but the “villain” in the story.

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The film opens with Sonu (Kartik Aaryan) delivering a monologue styled along the lines  he delivered earlier in Pyaar ka Punchnama and that had worked wonders at the time because it was fresh, and funny. Only this time it seemed tiresome already. Thankfully, it is directed at a customer’s tedious demands than his buddies stacked against the sofa like a neat row of pillows, waiting to begin his endless diatribe. Other details follow – we get to know that Sonu runs an event management company and his bachpan-ka-yaar from way back in nursery, Titu (Sunny Singh), takes care of the family halwai business. The duo are your classic, cutesy and sometimes annoying chaddi-buddies, meaning, they’ve been best friends since nursery and continue to be attached to the hip even at the ripe old age of 28.

Titu is the gullible, naïve quintessential romantic who seems to always fall for the wrong woman – it could be anything that threatens Sonu’s sniffer-dog sensibilities. Okay, let’s be fair, the first girlfriend (Ishita Raj Sharma) with her overzealous emphasis on maintaining Tinder privacy was too much to take, but that in no way discounts how badly Sonu wants to press the pause/stop button on Titu’s apparently glowing love life every time it takes a serious turn. Following which, Sonu apparates like a knight in shining armour to ‘rescue’ Titu by effectively leading him to break up with his girlfriend (s) in dramatic ways that could make even 70s’ actress Rakhi cringe. We are given to understand Sonu has had a practiced hand at this sort of thing.

Enter Nushrat Bharucha as Sweety (really, who goes around with a name like that in 2018 for Chrissake!), an educated, susheel, sanskaari, pretty damsel via the arranged-marriage scenario, a cardboard-cut bahu prospective grooms and their families publish ishtehaars for in the seedy-looking matrimony section of the Sunday newspaper. She looks right, says all the right things at the right moment without ever slipping up, and while this is ideally a dream-come-true for a big fat joint family that wants to retain its hold over the potential new member and mould her into the established setting, Sonu suspects this whole easy-breezy vibe around Sweety as too-good-to-be-true.

Thereafter, he swoops in once again and makes it his life’s mission to break Titu and Sweety up before the damage is done. His insecurity over losing his place in Titu’s life and the obvious dents in their friendship adds fuel to fire, stoking his otherwise noble cause. Sweety too, is no wallflower either and has no intentions of relinquishing her control over Titu and his entire family, and openly declares war when Sonu least expects it.

From that point on, it is the launch of one psychological attack after another – with fervent blows raining from both sides – from sex to ex to food to every other trump card in between and beyond.

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An oddly exciting plot, Luv Ranjan optimizes popular male-narratives to the maximum, by brushing the women in strokes of monochromes – mean, manipulative, controlling gold-diggers, while painting the men as blameless bystanders in their own lives. That’s fine, as a director he is catering to the majoritarian viewpoint he knows will draw easy, cheap laughs. But apart from Sweety brazenly admitting she is ‘chalu’ and a ‘villain’ we don’t really see how she really is that wicked, wretched monster out to ruin Titu’s life. Much of what she does is how most women think, and if given a chance and/or possessed of brains like those of our anti-heroine, would do it her way – the Chanakya neeti way.

In the absence of any clear defined reason for the Sweety-hating, thus, the movie – especially in the second half – looks sort of scattered and tangled, leaving you impatient for the battle of the sexes to end asap, saved only by a startling climax. The heap of overbearing, dhinchaak Punjabi music, although enjoyable, seems overwhelming, at times taking you by surprise because frankly, movies these days hardly have enough songs worth tapping your feet to!

Notwithstanding the glaring yet bearable hiccups in the storytelling, the writing is crisp and the comic timing of the actors impeccable, which means you keep laughing through some genuinely smart punches, as well plenty of absurd misogynistic logic casually thrown around. While that might cause some discomfort at times, the biased script is sufficiently powered through with the actors’ (especially Kartik) earnest performances to let you keep feeling that way for too long.

Though Kartik is mostly credited with sincere performances in Ranjan’s movies, his best being Pyaar ka Punchnama, he seems to have a lot more potential simmering underneath, a glimpse of which we would like to see in a genre other than the women-bashing cinematic franchise he has helped build and popularise till date. Given the limited scope in the script, Nushrat Bharucha too pulls off a nuanced performance in a role that could’ve easily been overdone – and makes Sweety relatable than an outright evil witch who must be hated. Ironically, it is Sunny Singh’s Titu that, despite being the crux of this rom-com, has little to do and largely gets overshadowed by the other two, despite consistent attempts.

Keeping aside the lead actors’ performances, and a refreshing supporting cast (with all the members belonging to Titu’s family), it is Alok Nath’s rendition of the perpetually drunk, uber-cool granddad (Ghasitaram) throwing the swearing and the sexist jokes around that truly sinks into your memory, as you see him turn upside down his decades-long image of sanskaari babuji and fling it out of sight. Paired with his best friend Lalu (Virendra Saxena), he seems irrepressible – the duo consistently couched in the men-will-be-men zone, but never losing their charm – a camaraderie viewers will be compelled to dig.

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The same cannot be said of Sonu and Titu though, who refuse to grow up and quit labeling the opposite gender in tones of black and while. Hypocrisy is generously sprinkled, with the men complaining of how God has stopped creating “good girls”, missing their own lack of worthiness as “good boys” by a mile and more. However, even under the heavy-duty influence of his childhood bestie, Titu seems to grow a brain at some point in the movie. Does he make it all the way to the other side of sense and sensibility or does he get pulled back into the frat-boy cult this side of the fence? Find out by giving this blatantly stereotyped, yet light-hearted Bromance versus Romance a chance.

Meanwhile, after watching three full-blown chapters of the all-male perspective on relationships, my eyes are itching to see the tables turned on the men, and a bunch of women sharing boisterous, guttural laughs over the same.

High time someone played to this section of the gallery, isn’t it?

 

Rating: 3.5/5