Sad Old Days – A review of Happy New Year

10338709_10152757394123116_3258304274061944141_nFarah Khan has never made a great film, but she made two enjoyable ones. Main Hoon Na was total Masala, with an unforgettable heroine. Om Shanti Om was a nostalgia ride with enough for a Bollywood fan to enjoy. Then she made Tees Maar Khan…..

Remember how Shahrukh started? With Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman, Kabhi Haan Kabhi Na, Maya Memsaab….. then Romantic masala happened, and began an downward spiral towards RaaOne and Chennai Express.

So when these two join hands again, they are not at the peak of their careers quality-wise. The trailer was another bad sign. And yet, here I am, writing the review, and yes I went to see it. Don’t ask why.

When you base a heist film in Dubai, the comparisons to the recent Mission Impossible film are inevitable. And really unfortunate. One is a film with a complex plot, great stunts and unexpected humour, the other has closeups of nipples of an ageing superstar, a character who has epileptic seizures that are timed by the second, a character who vomits a lot, and a World Dance Competition where you only dance twice to be crowned a winner.

This is a “story” where some people want to plot a revenge by stealing diamonds. It is plotted by a Charlie (Shahrukh), a guy who claims he can’t get a job because his father was jailed. Really? He is joined by a few characters who specialise in being loud and having weird traits like seizure and impaired hearing.

Farah obviously has a lot of love for the old bollywood. It manifested in loving form in Om Shanti Om, which, with all its flaws, was at least warm hearted. In this film it manifests mainly in sexism. There is just one female character: that of Deepika. She dances in a bar. For than sin she is repeatedly abused verbally by Shahrukh for being a cheap and “bajaaru” woman. But she falls in love with him because he speaks English. No really. Thats all she falls in love with. Yeah really. She falls in love with an chauvinist pig because he speaks English. Oh Farah, what happened to the confident Chemistry teacher, the strong mothers, even the successful, unattainable heroine of your earlier films? Do you relate to this bimbo? Or is this your subtle way of portraying yourself: because you have a husband who was beaten publicly by a superstar and now you are making a film with the same guy and loudly proclaiming your love for him.

Sadly, I know that can’t be the case because nothing is subtle in this film. To show passion you show actual fire. To show well dressed you show velvet jackets. To show a Kathak dancer you show a guy in Salwar kameez. To show anger you show steam coming out of ears. I could go on and on about how loud this whole thing is. You have damaged film making, you have offended good sense….. But the biggest injury is to Shahrukh Khan.

Now I have never been a fan of SRK. I could, however, see what people liked about him. He was unique while being common. He was charming, above all. Here he is just a slab of meat with bad teeth. And too many tears. (Hint: if you have to use glycerine to show emotion, you’re failing to show emotion). King Khan is reduced to repeating dialogue of his past films to remind us who he is/was. Sad.

If it’s possible to feel worse for anyone else, it’s Abhishek. Just try and remember where he comes from. And then watch as he eats his own vomit in one scene. Yes he does. Just for laughs. My wife said in exasperation, why does he even do films like these? He is a good actor. Maniratnam has shown us that. Why not just do some art films and establish himself as an actor?

Ohh and speaking of art films, we have Anurag Kashyap in a cameo. I love that he can laugh at himself and is okay looking silly. But Mr Kashyap, why lend your name and credibility to projects like this? Because this is not a film. This is a project. A pure financial transaction calculated to make money. And it will make tons of that, but Mr Khan, isn’t it time to think of your legacy?

Ohh and before I go, let me talk a bit about the plot. Nah. Too many holes. Just one point about patriotism in the film.

The “dance team” is bad at dancing. They cheat to reach Dubai. Then they get offended when they don’t get respect. And then they start a song about how much they love their country. So these are thieves who want to steal Indian heritage diamonds and sell them, who cheat and make sure that people laugh at India for sending bad dancers. They are patriots? Wow.

This film is an embarrassment as a dance film. ABCD was wayyyy better. It has worse action than a South Indian remake. It has worse jokes than Tees Maar Khan. It is worse in portraying women than a Sajid Khan film. It is worse than any Rohit Shetty film, worse than any Salman Khan film, worse than Joker, even. This film now officially competes with Ram Gopal Verma Ki Aag.

What have we come to?


To see or not to see: a review of Haider

It’s a weird juxtaposition of Gandhi Jayanti and Dashehra this year. One the celebration of peace, and the other about finishing off the enemy. Forgiveness v/s punishment. Haider has released just at the right time. It is a story of revenge. Or rather a story of contemplation of revenge, life and death.

Sahid-in-HaiderAt its heart is the story of a family. Tabu’s husband goes missing, and her son, Haider (Shahid) resents her growing closeness with his uncle. This family drama is complicated by the setting of the story: Kashmir embroiled in militancy and caught in a web of violence. The father was caught by the army helping the militants as a doctor, though his political sympathies are not known. The uncle collaborates with the army, and is neck deep in corruption. Haider’s girlfriend is daughter of his uncle’s accomplice in crime. And Haider suspects that his uncle may have something to do with what happened to his father.
And therein lies the rub. This film is no patriotic mouthpiece. Army is an occupying force in Kashmir in this film. They search randomly, arrest many innocents, and torture them for information. They also cooperate with local corrupt forces and indulge in, and reward extrajudicial killings. The militants, as portrayed in film, are more or less honest fighters, looking only for freedom from what they see as occupation. This is an unusual tact for an Indian film to employ, and made me very uncomfortable. A friend helped me decipher a code: At one point, Haider tells his mom that she looks at everything just from her own point of view. Doesn’t try to understand the other’s point of view. That’s what this film is doing. It’s only showing the point of view of Haider, who was always sympathetic towards militants. It’s his point of view that comes though, not a neutral one. We are seeing another side of the conflict that has so scarred the paradise on earth. We only see our side of the story, why not look at the other side’s version too.
While I’m sure there are a lot of genuine grievances of the Kashmiris against the Armed Forces, the issue is not as one sided as portrayed here, as an example, as the fate of Pandits is barely mentioned at all. But looking at it as a biased account, I can leave the political issues aside, and concentrate on the heart of the matter: the hearts of the people.
And there the story takes life. I have heard someone say: the only thing worth writing about is the human heart in conflict with itself. Viewed thus, this is a story about just two people: Haider and his mother. This is a complex relationship, and suffice it to say that a lot of Oedipal issues arise there. Tabu, caught between her son and her lover, and Haider caught between resenting, hating and loving his mother. Is his hatred of his uncle driven by the desire for punishment for the immoral acts of the uncle, revenge for his father, or just plain jealousy for someone his mother loves? His resentment for the army gets mixed with his love for his father, and his mother, and as a viewer I was unable to tease out what is driving him. That’s how it is meant to be.. And the uncle is torn too, villain though he is. He genuinely cares for Haider’s mother, and is therefore unable to totally remove this obnoxious presence Haider from his household.
And make no mistake, Haider is obnoxious as hell. Whether under the guise of grief, hurt, or plain mental instability, he is a source of lot of discomfort. The song Bismil is the highlight of the film, and there Haider is publicly humiliating his uncle. Another great scene, filmed on Lal Chowk, is a monologue of Haider against the powers in Kashmir: the ones his uncle are a part of.
Shradha Kapoor, playing the love interest, is peripheral to the film, but her father is more central. He seems mild mannered, innocuous, but is sinister. Same as the two Salman fans shown in the film.
Tabu-Bollywood-film-HaiderIf you love cinema, you may just want to see this for the acting talent in here: Tabu excels in portraying a complex, difficult character. Shahid is just superb. Shradha Kapoor is good too, and K K Menon has the best Kashmiri accent of all, but he is too much like any K K Menon we have seen. The small role of Irrfan Khan just punches in energy, shows why he is becoming a star.
It is the inner struggle, superlative moments, and perfectly drawn characters, and superb performances that take Haider towards greatness. Alas, the bloat weighs it down. The film is longer, slower, and at times duller than it should have been. There is a great movie somewhere in there, and it talks about the dilemma of the two holidays we just celebrated. There just were too many distractions, leaving it a very good film instead. This is 3.5 stars instead of 5, but that is still well worth watching.
PS: I’m ashamed to say that I have not read Hamlet. I tried to look at the film as it is, not as an adaptation of something.