Khoob Ladi – A review of Mardaani

Mardaani-7Rani must have been so upset when Kangana Ranaut first did Queen and then Revolver Rani. Not just because these were female oriented films without male stars and they brought fame and fortune to Kangana. I can imagine her saying “I am the Rani, see? Please pick films that have jewellery based titles, Kangana. I am Rani. Do you see that now?” And while we wait for Kangana to announce her next, Rani has already made a subtle move. You can’t think of Mardani without “Jhansi wali Rani”. As I entered the theatre, I was praying this not to be an “Aiyyaa” level disaster.

Because it’s important that this film be good. Not just because we need more sensible cinema, not just because I want heroines to succeed at their own terms, but because this mardaani01-jun24is a film about a deadly serious topic. Human trafficking is a huge worldwide problem, and we have really positioned ourselves at the centre of it. To our utter shame, our young girls (and rarely boys too) are easy targets, especially when there is no one fighting for them. This is the film to put the voiceless on centre stage and make us feel for them. And it does that. The plight of the poor girls is palpable. You feel for them as they are herded like cattle, humiliated, and dehumanised. You feel the dreams slip away, replaced by a nightmare they didn’t deserve. I felt anger rising at the whole apparatus that makes it happen, and then at the whole society that allows it to go on; including myself.

So we need an avenger; a hero that makes it alright for at least some of them. Someone with a stake in the game. Enter Shivani Shivaji Roy. She is a cop that uses her head. She follows leads, does surveillance and talks rationally. Sorry no Singham style public drama here. When the villain tries to get to her by using goons to publicly humiliate her family, she neither starts fighting them nor lecturing them. She tries to comfort her family. Strange no?

Tahir-Raj-BhasinAnd the villain. The guy running a prostitution racket is not a seedy gangster. He is a suave, English speaking professional. And he is menacing without being loud. Or probably because he is not loud. Tahir Raj Bhasin is a find, and I think we will see more of him in coming years.

And Rani is great, of course. From Dharmendra onwards our action heroes have performed one simple trick to show anger: loud voice. The harder they shout the more dangerous they think they look. Here is an action hero showing them how it’s done. She is most dangerous when speaking softly. When she delivers her ultimatum to the villain, it is believable. Even though she doesn’t even know which city he lives in at the point.

Pradeep Sarkar has been brave enough to make a taut thriller with a heart. It treats the young victims with respect. The camera never violates their dignity even when it is showing the violation. The writing is great and the dialogue brings characters to life rather than trying to show its own cleverness.

This is not a perfect film, nor an edge of the seat thriller with car chases and helicopters. This is an intelligent journey through an unspoken tragedy. Take a bow Rani, this is what second innings are made of. And well fought, lady. Khoob ladi ye Mumbai wali Rani. There’s no need to call yourself Mardani though. Manly is not good enough. This was a good womanly fight.

The Myth Of The Saviour Policeman (Review of Singham Returns)

283388_223573954346922_107082065996112_542364_5285302_nWhen we start the first of several fight sequences of the film, the hero grabs a gun, and just steps out in open and starts firing. This is where a thriller is supposed to make you shiver and anticipate a bullet hurting him. But you just know that the bullets are going to miss him. And surprise, surprise, even when once a bullet is rude enough to hit him, it probably doesn’t pierce his skin, because we never hear about it again. It has no consequences at all…. except to make him angrier.

And that is weird because he is quite angry to begin with. I mean, the scowl is practically stitched on the Devgan face. And that face is so serious that when he needs to express love, he says “Ata Majhi Satakli”. (No really, that happens. He just says that in a tender voice). So this is the almost cartoonishly “tough guy” hero up against cartoonishly evil, 80’s style villains. A godman that looks like Chandraswami and his politician friend. They are up against a leader who is getting increasingly popular, so they get him killed off in a massive gunfight. (This is Rohit Shetty film, even if there are rats in house it has to be dealt with in a massive gunfight. Thats just how it is).

Killing opposing politicians in the middle of elections? Really? These people never heard of “sympathy votes” in India? They act really surprised when they find out about this later (about 8-10 fight scenes later, I think). They are running “black money” out of unprotected warehouses in the middle of a village. They need to stuff Crores in an Ambulance and drive through several toll booths to get there. Then they just leave it to one guy and his goons, and hire such poor goons that one guy and zero guns take over that warehouse in 5 minutes flat. Seriously yaar, I know our leaders are supposed to be incompetent fools but SO incompetent & SUCH fools? Wow. I really hope the policemen take over the country.

1a87fd6428ca854ced32f7844117a573_LAnd they do, sort of, because the public turns against them. Why, you ask, does the public turns against its faithful and honest protectors? Because they
1. Try to arrest a popular Godman in the middle of a sermon with hundreds of civilians present there.
2. His Honesty, the Hero, beats up the Godman on the stage, in front of his devotees, for the crime of saying something His Honesty doesn’t like.
3. When a few troublemakers create a small trouble, His Honesty then orders a Lathi charge on all the devotees
4. He then brings the only witness against the Godman through a large, uncontrolled crowd, and is surprised when someone kills that witness.
When someone proposes that he be investigated for his role in all this, he takes out his uniform and throws it at the Chief Minister. The CM, by the way, is on the side of Police, helping His Honesty as much as he can.

singham-returns3To be honest, there are some points where Rohit Shetty appears to have a clue. There is one speech by a civilian against the police & system that got applause in the theatre. There are jokes about the hero being old, and using Daya to break open a door is always funny, even to someone who has never watched CID. But then there is a moment when a couple of cops are casually beating a guy hanging upside down in their custody, and leave when they get a call…. I think that was supposed to be funny…. I just fail to find police brutality funny. Because I see police not as a protection from those in power but a tool of those in power. In the struggle against corruption and for liberty they are culprits, not allies.

Thats why, when the theatre cheers for the hero beating up -even shooting- people he doesn’t like, I felt more and more depressed. His Honesty is actually His Brutality. In the fight of that bullet against the hero, I was at least a little on the side of the bullet. Somebody please stop him.

PS: This is a loud film. Very very loud. And look out for the metallic “ting” sound that occasionally means the Hero has hit someone especially hard

The Difficult Modi Coalition

When Modi was contesting elections, those who liked him kept comparing him to Reagan and Thatcher. They are both thought of by Indians as leaders who brought their countries out of slowdown and onto the highway for growth. But many also remember them as leaders that invigorated the Religious factions and gave them power in Politics.

This is a difficult coalition to maintain. The republicans have been struggling with it for decades, swinging from more libertarianism (capitalistic) to conservative (religious). That is what BJP has been dealing with since its inception and what the current government has to deal with at an even higher scale.

What a libertarian like me wants is for this govt to be a plumber. Remove the clogs that have jammed the pipes of free markets and make it easier for people both Indians and foreigners to set up business. That’s what the whole Gujarat Model talk is about.

Then there are the religiously inclined. BJP campaign was all about development. It was all about progress. But people already knew Modi. The same way that a lot of Muslims will never vote for Modi, a lot of Hindus will ALWAYS vote for him. He is a symbol of Hindutva, whether he likes it or not. And the Hindutva supporters are always going to keep demanding a Hindu Rashtra. If it is anti-Muslim, so much the better. This is also a faction that fears and detests the outsider. MNCs, goods from abroad, foreigners trading and investing in India are all source of unease and mistrust. These, unfortunately, are all essential for growth according to libertarians.

So far, it’s hard to judge which way the balance will tilt. There is movement on de clogging, and there is a lot of talk of India as a cultural entity, which inevitably leads to that entity and identity being tied to what we now call a Hindu religion. That’s problematic for a country as diverse as ours.

Tomorrow is another test as Modi makes a seminal speech. He will do well to remember where he is standing. Lal Qila was built by Shahjahan. It is a problematic symbol of an emperor’s ambition to leave a mark. His spending on monuments left the state weak, and led to rise of extremism in the next generation. Modi is ambitious. He wants to leave a mark in history. He wants to be remembered as a leader the way he remembers Patel. That is a good news. He is also very sharp. That is another good news, because he hopefully knows that it’s all about how well india does.

So embrace Reagan & Thatcher, Mr Prime Minister, but remember that they are celebrated for growth and de clogging, not for religious extremism. And for all the talk about Patel being a Hindu Nationalist, he is loved for bringing India together. Remember to keep us together, and move us forward.

Guardians of the Galaxy

When you name your film Guardians Of The Galaxy, the bar is set really high. I mean guarding a simple planet can be tough enough. Galaxies are notoriously difficult to guard. Well, it’s Marvel, makers if such heroes as Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America and Thor… But wait, all of these together could only save New York. And Iron Man almost died! And the city was more or less destroyed anyways. These guardians better be super awesome. Let’s meet them.

10608627_10152582474948116_3979486393567077844_o

So the first guy is Peter Quill, a planet hopping outlaw from Earth. He is also called Starlord. By no one. Literally no one except he himself uses the name Starlord. It’s like you trying to get a cool nickname for yourself. He accidentally teams up with a bunch even weirder and less accomplished. A female assassin on the run from the people who created her, a tough guy looking for revenge against people much more powerful than himself, and a raccoon genetically modified so he acts like a human being. That’s right, a raccoon. Basically a large rat. Oh and there’s a tree called Groot who walks and talks. Well, i say talk, but actually he can speak only three words. “I am Groot”

THESE guys will save the Galaxy? Yes they will. And then you add some super strong objects, super evil villains and some pretty heroic heroism. These guys will not only defeat the villains they will win your hearts too.

So here is what it is about. This is a story of a bunch of misfit-criminal-outlaws operating at the fringes of the “civilised” world. It is a world of gangsters and grubby bars and seedy 10500254_10152582475228116_6287548585530956908_ndiners, but there are caught by the squeaky clean people of a planet under threat. They need to escape, and figure out how best to use a strange object in their possession that everyone seems to want. They have to keep it away from people who’d use it to destroy the whole galaxy, or enslave it.

This is a film of the spirit of adventure, and about the world of adventure seekers. Its stimulating, interesting, invigorating and enticing. It makes you want to inhabit that world, grubby and chaotic as it is. And it features a retro soundtrack that has brought songs from 70’s and 80’s to the top of charts in 2014

If you have watched Kkrish and thought out kids deserve better entertainment, if you watched Kick and thought this is so lazily written, if you watched Dhoom and thought you needed characters you really care about: watch this. Take your kids and enjoy a fun ride. This is not super simple; it is heavy on dialogues, has a lot of characters and a lot of new names. But you know what, we learned the names of Chacha Chawdhary’s family, Hum Paanch family and even the vast and ever changing families of Tulsi etc. We can do this. And we will have fun doing this.

I don’t know whether it’s still running in your city, but if it is, go see it. By the time I saw it only the Hindi version remained, but that was fantastic too.

So step aside, super heroes. We have silly heroes, and they are pretty damned good. They might even actually guard the galaxy for us.