Monday, 29 December 2014

Film Review - Ugly

Eye of the Beholder

Film: Ugly
Cast: Ronit Roy, Rahul Bhat, Girish Kulkarni, Tejaswini Kolhapure
Directed by: Anurag Kashyap
Duration: 2 hrs 7 mins
Rating; * * * *

Anurag Kashyap’s much awaited Ugly has finally hit the theatres just as we say good bye to 2014. Suffice to say that even though this tale is dark and grim, it is a good way to end the year, after all, Ugly is certainly one of the best films of the year
While Wasseypur was whacky and brave, this is the Kashyap we know of from Black Friday – a director who doesn’t mind walking the lonely path and do his own thing and yet connect with the audiences. Much like that film on the Mumbai blasts, Kashyap also extracts some terrific performances from actors who are not in the A list of stars. 

Plus, he also has that knack for writing and crafting brilliant scenes. Imagine the child is kidnapped while the father and his friend go to the police station to register a case, the cop instead of looking into the matter with urgency is more curious to know about smart phones and how a person’s photo can be displayed along with the number when he or she is calling. As absurd as it may sound, it is one of the most remarkable scenes among the films we have seen in 2014. 

At the heart of it, Ugly is a kidnapping drama. A ten year old girl vanishes from a car when her father Rahul (Rahul Bhat) leaves her alone for just a bit. But it is not your standard formulaic kidnapping story, this is more of a human drama and every character here has something at stake. Rahul is a struggling actor still looking for his big break, his best friend Chaitanya (Vineet Kumar Singh) is a casting director who first notices that the little girl has gone missing. The actor is separated from his wife (Tejaswini Kolhapure) and she is inseparable from alcohol. She is now married to a top cop (Ronit Roy) who is a tough cookie and will go to any extent to find his step- daughter.

Investigating the case Jadhav (Girish Kulkarni), a no-nonsense cop who will go that extra yard since his boss is involved in the matter.

None of these finely characters are what they appear to be – there is deceit, double crossing and ultimately all of them are serving their self interest. Kashyap succeeds in making the film more than just a kidnapping tale. In fact, for most parts of the film you are more attentive to what the people are upto and why rather than ponder about the little girl, everyone has their own agenda here.

Unlike say Inkaar (1977, which was inspired by Kurosawa’s High and Low (1963) which were in a thriller mould to a large extent, Kashyap exposes the frailties of human nature. 

While more and more film makers are moving away from Mumbai when it comes to shooting outdoors, Kashyap’s love affair with the city continues and cinematographer Nikos Andritsakis (Love, Sex aur Dhokha fame) captures every detail. 

The acting department deserves kudos. Rahul Bhat as the tormented father and Ronit Roy as the heartless yet dignified cop are spot on. Vineet Singh as the sleazy friend and Tejaswini Kolhapure as the mother are apt. National award winner for Deool (2011) and well known Marathi actor Girish Kulkarni makes a smashing debut in Hindi films.

All in all, Ugly is the work of a director who is on the top of his game.

Published in The Navhind Times on 28th Dec 2014

Film Review - Home Sweet Home (Konkani)

It’s Better In Goa 

Film: Home Sweet Home (Konkani)
Cast: John D’Silva, Rajdeep Naik
Directed by: Swapnil Shetkar
Duration: 2 hrs 17 mins
Rating: * * *

There are very few Konkani films made every year and at times, they lack consistency in terms of story-telling and craft. But am very happy to report that Swapnil Shetkar’s latest venture Home Sweet Home is film that will strike a chord, especially with the Goan audiences. Tackling the subject of migration, land sale and Goan-ness, the young director makes some pertinent points without being too preachy most of the times.

The writing (by Shetkar himself) is admirable with some witty and peppy dialogues but the film flounders in the last final act. But barring that this effort is quite heartening and if this is a sign of things to come, we can expect Konkani film makers to raise the bar even higher. 

John (John D’Silva) plays an NRI who doesn’t have much of a family and returns to Goa after a decade and a half. He strikes a friendly note with a taxi driver Raj (Rajdeep Naik) but John gets the shock of his life when he reaches his home. Well, there is no house there to begin with instead he finds that an apartment has replaced his ancestral abode.            

While he was away, he had left it in the safe hands of his friend (Luis Bachchan) but turns out that a builder ‘bought’ the property and built a residential complex. There on begins John’s struggle to get back what rightly belongs to him and giving him company is the taxi driver.

The camaraderie between the two men is what pulls the film through. While there is an occasional dose of humor, the screenplay also makes points about this whole issue of Goans leaving for greener pastures abroad and non-Goans coming and settling in Goa. “If there are so few opportunities in Goa how come outsiders are coming settling here?” a character rightly asks.

For most parts, this Goan, non-Goan issue is tackled sensible, there is the odd scene where it goes overboard though. The finale acts as a dampner and instead of wrapping it up nicely it takes a rather unexpected route.

But that is a blemish we’ll have live with otherwise Shetkar and co have done a mighty impressive job.

Barring those pointless close-ups and there are quite a few of them, technically you can see there is an effort to get it right. That long take scene for example, when the two men are having a conversation Raj’s house over a drink, it’s an example of a good writing and it is equally well shot. The background music also contributes significantly when it doesn’t become too dramatic that is.

The lead actors have done a remarkable job. John D’Silva is a big name on stage and proves again that he has it in him in front of the camera as well. Very few actors are gifted with such terrific timing and John D’Silva is surely one of them. Rajdeep Naik, another stage artist also holds his end equally well and together they make a good team. 

For those who love anything Goan, this film needs your encouragement and hence it’s not to be missed.   

Published in The Navhind Times on 28th Dec 2014 

Film Review - Night at the Museum 3

Art Effects 

Film: Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb
Cast: Ben Stiller, Robin Williams, Ricky Gervais
Directed by: Shawn Levy
Duration: 1 hr 39 mins
Rating:  * * *

If you have seen any of the two previous installments of this franchise, then you know exactly what to expect in this edition of Night at the Museum and if you’ve liked previous films, this one will please you as well. 

Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb is a fluffy family entertainer. For kids, it might also serve as a lesson in world history but then barring a couple of characters, you’ve seen the others before.

In the opening sequence set in 1938, we are told about the tablet of Ahkmenrah which is extracted in Egypt but the locals fear that it will bring the end.  The tablet is pretty much the size of a 10” tab. 

In present day, Larry (Ben Stiller) is in charge of a high profile event at the Museum of Natural History and suddenly everything goes haywire. Ahkmenrah, Teddy Roosevelt, Sacagawea, Attila the Hun, Dexter the Capuchin Monkey and the Tyrannosaurus skeleton they go crazy. All because that age old tablet is now getting corroded. 

The solution is to go to England and seek advice from Ahkmenrah’s parents who are in the British Museum. There, the gang also meets sir Lancelot an additional character among the usual suspects.

The entertainment is harmless, you don’t even have to join the dots they automatically join themselves. There are a couple of funny scenes, one involving a cameo by Hugh Jackman which is genuinely funny.    It is also peppered with some pop-cultural and historical references from time to time in order to cater to those who might find the proceedings a little dumb for their liking.

The film drags towards the end making you a little desperate but if middle of the road entertainment is your thing, then go ahead and enjoy it.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Film review - PK

Food For Thought

Film: PK
Cast: Aamir Khan, Anushka Sharma
Directed by: Rajkumar Hirani
Duration: 2 hrs 33 mins
Rating: * * * ½

Since he made his debut as director in 2003, Rajkumar Hirani has made four films and each one has wooed audiences and critics alike. The distinct feature of his films is that not only does he entertain, but in the process he makes larger points about society and people.

This time he has admirably taken on an issue that has not been highlighted much in films and, if it at all, it has mostly been in a preachy form: godmen and religion have plagued society for long, and Hirani attempts to address this matter.

The end product may not be entirely satisfactory, but for what the director has attempted to highlight and does successfully, the film deserves applause. Plus, whenever the screenplay hits a few road bumps, the lead actor Aamir Khan comes to its rescue with his savior faire.

Imagine someone from an alien planet who lands on this earth and discovers our strange ways of life. By strange I mean, hating, mauling and killing other people for no discernable reason except that they belong to another religion or caste.  Ideally, I think he or it would laugh at us for being the densest species in the universe, for our infinite capacity for self-destruction.

PK (Aamir Khan) is an alien who has come from outer space but looks human. He lands in the deserts of Rajasthan wearing nothing but his birthday suit and the ‘remote control’ of his spaceship. He doesn’t speak any language but eventually learns Bhojpuri in just six hours. And like many humans, he rolls his eyes and bobs his head. The ‘remote control’, or the device with which he controls his spaceship, is stolen and he is stranded. Luckily, he acquires an ancient Panasonic two-in-one (model RQ-565D for those interested in trivia) to cover his family jewels.  He is told that only God can help him retrieve it but the question is, which God should he turn to for help? He tries all possible options – Jesus, Allah, Krishna and the other deities – but with no success. This is where director Hirani lays the ground to make bigger and bolder statements. Occasionally they are not so subtle, and that factor depends entirely on your own sensibilities and notions.

Anushka Sharma plays Jagat Janani and wisely enough, she prefers to be called Jaggu. A television anchor who returns to India from Belgium, she doesn’t buy PK’s story to begin with, but when she is convinced, she helps him retrieve his ‘remote’ which is in the possession of a self-serving godman (Saurabh Shukla). That sets the ground further for an all-out expose of blind faith that plagues the country.

The first half of the film is breezy with some witty dialogues and situations. It is not easy to make people laugh by portraying their own silly beliefs (like the majority of students praying before their exams as if that will alter the result, to quote just one oddity).

Boman Irani as Jaggu’s boss and Sanjay Dutt as PK’s rustic buddy make an appearance with relatively little screen-time.

While there is subtlety in some scenes, as when PK visits religious places, Ghalib’s Zahid sharab peene de masjid mein beth kar sung by Mukesh plays in the background as he approaches a mosque and he lands up at a church with a coconut and incense in a thali.

At the same time there are passages that are preachy and the second half of the film takes a tumble with the dramatic climax. The faults are easy to spot but they can be ignored because the larger picture takes precedence. The theme of godmen was tackled in Oh My God as well but this movie takes it a notch higher. The writers (Abhijat Joshi and Hirani) have ensured that they are equal opportunity offenders when it comes to different religions. 

The success of the film lies not only in what it portrays on the screen but also in how it makes the audience ponder about the central theme. After all, how many films offer any food for thought these days?

While a couple of the songs (Love is a waste of time and Bhagwan, Hai Kahan Re Tu) may be hummable and well-picturized, they are out of place in the narrative and slows down the momentum. The background music is also a bit frenetic at times.

Of the cast, Anushka Sharma is sufficiently bubbly and charming as her character demands. Aamir Khan gives one of his best performances and plays the lead role with terrific conviction and ease.

On the whole, PK is far from being flawless but it remains a must watch film for those who believe in god, and also for those who don’t.

Published in The Navhind Times on 20th Dec 2014

Monday, 15 December 2014

Film Review - Lingaa

Return of the King

Film: Lingaa
Cast: Rajnikanth, Anushka Shetty, Sonakshi Sinha
Directed by: K.S Ravikumar
Duration: 2 hrs 55 mins
Rating: * * 1 / 2

It has been four years since Enthiran when Rajini saar graced the screen (not counting the live action capture disaster Kochadaiiyaan) so Lingaa comes after a considerably long for wait for the fans of. They will be and usually are happy with whatever he does, there is no two ways about that. But what about the rest ?

Well, as a film Lingaa is not just old school it is antique school. As a story there is absolutely nothing novel on display here, in fact some of it is embarrassingly shoddy, like a heist scene for example inspired by Peter O Toole’s How to Steal A Million (1966). But you have to hand to the man, the superstar himself who brings a great deal of zeal to the table and becomes the singular reason you want to watch this film.

Lingaa (who else by Rajnikanth) is a petty thief aspiring to pull off a Rififi kind of job with his friends. A television anchor (Anushka Shetty) who otherwise is a crusader to exposed wrong doings is a witness to the crime but instead of bringing him to book, she is highly impressed by him. After all he is Rajnikanth.
There is also a dream sequence song and dance routine inspired by Pirates of the Caribbean and Mission Impossible. Not quite sure what the lyrics meant in Tamil but the subtitles said the following – “Mona, my catalyst gasoline darling” and “"Your Mona is like Fort Knox treasury.”

Ms. Anchor takes him to her village because he has ‘royal blood’ and the doors of a temple which has been locked for decades should be opened by royalty. In flashback we are told about the origins of the temple where during the British era, in 1939 to be precise, Rajnikanth plays Raja Lingeshwaram who volunteers as the district collector of Madurai since he has studied civil engineering at Cambridge. He is also seen reading Joseph Campbell’s A Hero 
With A Thousand Faces (self reference?) and we can only presume it was a draft because the novel was published in 1949.

King turned collector turns king again to help the people suffering from an acute water crisis to build a dam. Sonakshi Sinha plays his love interest and sleepwalks through her role as if she was romancing Akshay Kumar or Ajay Devgn.

There are plenty of references to Rajini’s reel (Baasha, Billa) and real life (his profession as a conductor and political statements). The well informed crowd (even in Goa) whistled and clapped at every such occasion.

The dialogues are a hoot, at least the subtitles certainly are. Surely a lot of effort has gone into writing some of those crackling lines and to suit his image, there are social points made as well.   

For those unaware of why Rajnikanth is such a phenomenon, Lingaa gives ample reason and proof. Whether it is his dialogue delivery, his facial expressions, his style or even his walk, you know you are watching a very special actor in action.

And that brings us to the grouse I have with the film and some of his other films recently. Why have such inane scripts for such a talented actor? The audiences love his act anyway so isn’t there any writer /director out there who can raise the bar instead of just dishing out the same fare time and again? 
The audiences may or may not but Rajnikanth surely deserves better.

But meanwhile, if you are his fan, Lingaa is a wet dream.  

Published in The Navhind Times on 14th Dec 2014