The Underdogs

I rarely root for the underdogs. I mean when Kenya plays Australia and wins, its not the best men who won, its the lucky ones. Why would I root for luck, rather than ability?

But sometimes being an underdog has nothing to do with ability. You just weren’t given the same chances. Like in Lal Rang. It is about people in a mufassil town with no money, who are happy if they get to be lab technicians. But they want more. The central character whom the movie follows is no hero. There are no heroes in the film, really. But first, the theme. 
The rarest colour of comedy in Bollywood is Black. When you are laughing but whats happening is neither light, not happy. You still laugh because, well, because it is clever. Remember Jane Bhi Do Yaaron? Its a tragedy that you can’t stop laughing at.
Lal Rang has hardly any joy. It has a dark red theme, and it is about an issue. It is about the buying and selling of blood in Haryana about a decade ago. There was a huge scandal and many lives were destroyed because the “donors” sold too much of their blood, and their blood carried several problems way too often. Already sounds like a boring, preachy movie, doesn’t it?
It isn’t. It never preaches, it just shows what happens. and it helps that it has a great actor at its heart. Randeep Hooda is the kingpin of the operation that steals, buys and sells blood. He manages a network of thieves, professional donors, lab technicians, and doctors, but he does it with ease, with a laugh and a kind word, he says that even when he has to beat up people, he’s never angry, he does it with affection. Hooda is a powerhouse. His energy keeps the film afloat and makes it almost possible to forgive everyone for their crimes. 
Almost. Because you know that as you are following these guys, in the background are blood shortages, and a market full of desperate people being fleeced in their hour of need. There are no heroes in the film. 
But there are no monsters either. The guys are all too human, preoccupied with impressing girls, and fighting for their love. Ordinary people. This is the most human look at crime I can remember in recent times. It is brutal, gripping, dark, but funny at the same time. 
And it is going to get totally and utterly overlooked. “Major” critics like Masand have not even seen it fit to review the film. The excellent music is not playing anywhere. There is no talk of Randeep Hooda winning awards, even though he deserves them all for this film. This film, with a newish director, no item song, no brand name star, and a basis in reality is the ultimate underdog. Not because its not good, but because the system is stacked against it. The Janta is not pulled into cinema because of raw quality. Even Badlapur and NH 10 needed stars to succeed. 
So this is the underdog I want to support. Not trash like Fan, this is the kind of cinema we deserve, and we should fight for. Lets do that, lets just watch the film and fight for cinema’s underdogs. 

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Deadpool: Dead Awesome 

  
 First thing first: Deadpool is awesome. It’s the most fun you’ll have in a movie theatre this year. Unless you use the dark theatre for things other than watching a movie. 
The second thing: just like the “joke” above, this is not for kids. This is a comic book movie unlike any other. 
Before Batman Begins, comic heroes were a joke. And a silly joke at that. They did their antics, and the villains did their thing, with no thought give to anything except special effects. There were cardboard characters, with no inner life, and no story arc beyond one film. Batman trilogy introduced a great new twist with dark, brooding films, and Marvel has been wavering between grit and joy ever since by focusing on its myriad heroes. X-men stood slightly apart, focusing on the political and social. Till now. Till Deadpool. 
Deadpool is the story of a broken man. It starts with an ex-marine who describes himself as a bad guy hunting worse guys. Then he meets the girl, falls in love, and is hit by cancer. He is willing to do anything, ANYTHING, to avoid separating, and undergoes horrible torture for the promise of superpower to cure the cancer. 
As he becomes a man who can heal itself almost instantaneously, he discovers the side effects of near immortality. He is hideous. Pretty hideous. Like a tumor with eyes and a mouth. He knows she loves him and his damaged soul, but isn’t sure she will love him with his damaged looks. The irony. 
Wait, this sounds like a really boring movie. Deadpool is anything but boring. 
  Modern Batman and Superman are quiet creatures. Men of few words and much action, always struggling with the morality of their actions. Deadpool isn’t that. He is a motormouth. He is always talking. Either to himself, to the villains, and all too often with the audience. He knows he’s in a movie. He breaks the fourth wall constantly, and with superb wit. And he is a man of action as well. Morals? Eh. He doesn’t lose roomy h sleep over them. If you’re in his way, you are going to get hurt. 
Wit, heart and gore. That’s the punchline this movie deserves. It is hilarious, poignant, violent, brutal, touching; sometimes all within moments. It never slows down, he never shuts up, and we never get bored. Not even during the credits. 
This will change superhero movies again. Watching Batman v/s Superman feels like work against this. Deadpool is gritty, rough, has well written characters, and is not boring. It is also very explicit. If you can’t stand a cartoon Deadpool touching a unicorn pretty inappropriately, don’t watch this movie. 
If you have to watch a movie this Valentine’s Day, watch Deadpool. You may have more fun watching the screen than…. well, you know, doing extracurricular work in the theatre. 

Story, Identity, Spectacle: A Review Of Tamasha

It starts with a boy. An old guy under a tree narrating stories from all over the world to a child. And it moves to the grown hero making a friend, and more, with a girl without exchanging even their real names.

tamasha_640x480_51442924553It starts with the girl. Alone and then, not so alone, as she strikes a friendship with a stranger. With a promise to not remain friends. But you know how it is. They become more than friends. Get separated. They meet again, but she meets a completely different person when she meets him again. Gone was the reckless storyteller, the impulsive raconteur, the guy brimming with life, with weird ideas and stories. She found a corporate drone.

This is the story of that guy, and their relationship. This is a story of the usual middle class story we all are told and then we all attempt to replicate. Work hard at the “subjects”, study, work, die. Excellence, when it happens, is an accident. Happiness at job, if it happens, is happenstance. Happiness in life is defined by standard goals and predefined milestones.

This is about the chains that bind us, about the pain of the chains and the pain of breaking the chains. Is there liberation at the end of this tunnel, or have the chains dug so deep they’re now a part of us?

This is not perfect film. The weirdness becomes too much at times. The narrative is self-indulgent. The stories of the old storyteller are often too jumbled up to follow. About an hour in, I was scared about where it was going. But this is a film that grows. I suspect that may happen in more ways than one.

tamasha-2Imtiaz Ali has a bad habit of making films that become habit themselves. How many times have we seen Jab We Met? And I have revisited Rockstar several times, often gaining another perspective. This has the potential to be another such affair. But equally, I fear this will not be universally acclaimed. This will be a harder sell for the masses than even rockstar. The lead couple is my hope to give it a leg up.

Because the lead couple is great. Ranbir Kapoor is a chameleon throughout the film. His conversations with the mirror are fantastic. His immersion in his character at holiday, at work, and the progression through the film is flawless. But Deepika, in my view, is what made the screen sparkle. She infuses so much in her character I can imagine her lying utterly exhausted at the end of every shot. This film would have found it hard to sustain interest, despite all the clever writing, had she not been in it.

It is a truism that Rahman’s music grows on you. So do Imtiaz films. and when they collaborate, they create something slightly magical. A kind of slow, imperfect, emotional magic. I liked it. And I think I’ll watch it again. Give it a go. Expect weirdness.

In the classic love stories, heroes go in search of the heroine after they lose her. In Tamasha, the hero has to find himself. And thats what the movie is about.

The Disappointing And The Disappointed: Dil Dhadakne Do

Disappointment. It’s a loaded word. If all depends on context, doesn’t it? It doesn’t mean a failure. Not necessarily.

Dil-Dhadakne-Do-Movie-StillsJust look at the Mehras. The son, heir apparent to a business empire, has not  head for business. The daughter, expected to be a homemaker, is not obliging by getting pregnant. Their mother is seen as distant and manipulative by her children, and their father’s infidelities are the worst kept secrets of the “society”. The “samaaj” of 60’s has been replaced by the society, but the story is as old as indian cinema: a family drama.
Yeah. This is a true blue family drama. Sounds disappointing, doesn’t it? There are times when it verges on melodrama, and the climax is a total contrivance. Worst transgression in my opinion is the voice over exposition. We didn’t need the voice telling us what we need to feel at the moment.
But this is not you friendly neighbourhood melodrama. This is  drama proper. The parents, trapped by their own facade and the need for appearances, the the grown kids, still trapped by the expectations of their parents. This is a typical Zoya Akhtar film, and therefore its all about being true to yourself, and to the people you love. But mostly about yourself. It’s not selfish for you to run away from the responsibility of inheriting an empire, its selfish for them to expect you to.
Screen Shot 2015-06-06 at 5.06.15 pmAnd as much as this is an individualist manifesto, its also a feminist one. Because feminism, at its core, is all about respecting the female individual equally. The acidic barbs of the mother in law of Priyanka’s character and the condescending, insufferable boredom of her husband are so heart breaking without making them villains. (Except in one unnecessary scene near the end). Similarly the parents, so easily villainies, are simply people grappling with their own problems. Shefali Shah playing the mother steals scene after scene with her portrayal of a woman who’s domineering and vulnerable at the same time. Anil Kapoor is great at playing the man playing at being a patriarch. Petty, selfish, and used to have his way. His acting is pretty good but it’s made even better by his children’s response. Both, especially Priyanka, seem like kids when confronted with him. Beautiful acting. Priyanka only lets her body to relax with her brother and her old flame, played by Farhan in a surprisingly small role.
A film about gorgeous rich people grappling with petty rich people problems on a cruise seems like a limited, unappealing concept. It’s made broader by making it universal. The issues are not specific to the rich. This is universal precisely because it’s about the smallest unit: the individual.
The comparisons with Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara are inevitable. Both occupy the same space, and that may be a problem. Farhan almost plays the same character in this, and Anushka is too similar to Katrina in the previous film. I compare this to Zoya’s debut, Luck By Chance and miss the delicious ending. But I can’t fail to delight in an intelligent story, brilliantly acted. This is an exquisite venture. Note the song Galla Pooriyan. It’s a single shot dance number with about a 100 moving people. I was mesmerized by it.
If her previous ventures were four star, this is distinctly three, three and a half. Gratification and disappointments are all about expectations. I kept looking for a rougher edge here, a sliver of quirk; and the best we got is a spectacled little girl with maybe four lines in the film. All of them brilliant. Bring her more centerstage, and push out the irritating pontification by the dog going on and on about how weird humans are. Then we’ll be talking about something remarkable.
So yes, to people expecting the world of Zoya Akhtar and the superb cast, this may be a slight disappointment. But this is not a failure. Not at all.

Tanu Weds Manu? But they’re already wed! 

kangna-story-650_032415125349Yeah they’re wed, and that’s the problem. Tanu met Manu in the brilliant, rustic, chaotic land of North Indian marriages. But they live in the clean, organized, sterile English country side. Neither their marriage not their sanity was safe there.

So they’re back. To a world full of amazing characters, where Tanu is a legend in her street and where Manu is…. well the same dull, sincere guy. There is contemplation, then serious contemplation about separation, a legal notice gets sent, and then life throws a curve ball.

Turns out theres a Tanu lookalike. Same face, different person. This one is not a flirty rebel, but a tomboy. And our guy is first intrigued and then enamoured. Amazingly, so is she. Meanwhile Tanu is rekindling old flames and setting fires. In addition to the same old suitor from part 1, there’s another, more cunning and a lawyer to boot. What happens next is an entanglement that seems hard toconciee and nearly impossible to resolve.

But it is not simple. Never simple. because we still have to add the eccentric parents, the races atmosphere, and for the sake of variety, this time we add Haryana. Not the scary Haryana of NH 10, though we saw its traces here, but a Haryana revelling in a wedding. Not a grand one, but small, intimate and amazing fun. And we have another wedding, where Sardars and Sardarnis are trying hard to garba. There is the hero’s sidekick, the lovingly named Pappi, who wants a starring role this time, to show our guy how marriage is done. And plans to rescue his love before she is forcibly married off to another. And there’s a twist there too.

tanu1april21All in all, this movie takes the tradition of celebrating love in the midst of weddings, and showcases a shattered marriage, a few smouldering flames and a lot of real characters, real drama. The choice, this time, is primarily with our hero though. And the love he has for the look-alike, is it the differences from Tanu that he loves, or the similarities?

This movie is about a complex web of relationships. About conformists and rebels, about the dull and the bright, about the things people can and won’t do for love, and about things people can and don’t accept for love. And this film is about Kangana Ranaut.

Kangana-Ranaut-Tanu-Weds-Manu-Returns-300x208For too long we have had hero led films. Even though Madhavan is a star in his own right and a good actor, this film is about Kangana. She is a powerhouse of performance. In the two roles as different as can be, she expertly manages the accent, the mannerisms, and the body language. She does the big things right, she is able to establish the two as separate expertly. But what she does brilliantly is getting the subtleties right. In small, subtle reactions, she shows what the character is really feeling underneath how she is behaving. She shows how people who only see the surface judge both of them wrong. That our hero is not the male actor here.

Kangana is the hero of the film in so many ways. Doing the hard heroic things while Manu is the stoic, silent type. He has his strength, and his moral compass telling him to do the right thing, but he sometimes fails to see the bigger right. The right thing to do and the right of the person standing with, or against, him.

And thats what the film is about. The people who are, for the most part, trying to do the right thing. Just unaware of what the right thing is. Isn’t that what marriage is all about? Isn’t that what life is all about?

Calcutta Noir: a spoiler free review of Detective Byomkesh Bakshy

 

 Dibaker Banerjee is the most important name that most Bollywood lovers should know but don’t. He’s responsible for a lot of new cinema: smart, entertaining and commercially successful. ‘Oye Lucky Lucky Oye’, ‘Love Sex Aur Dhokha’, ‘Shanghai’, and of course ‘Khosla Ka Ghosla’. Original, low budget, and superbly written. Detective Byomkesh Bakshy, however, is based on an old and beloved character and financed by Yashraj films. Can it still be superbly written, though? 

This is the film about old Calcutta as much as it’s about Byomkesh. This is a love letter to Calcutta of 40’s and to the Noir cinema. Noir started in Hollywood, was named in France, but we all know it via Guru Dutt. Play of light and shadows, mysterious characters, and a story of crime and suspense slowly building to a climax. 

 

 Byomkesh is not a detective. He is a truth seeker. But in this film he’s just a guy with a sharp and curious mind. So the plot: Calcutta 1943, in the middle of the world war. In the lively setting of a men’s hostelry run by a Dr Ghosh, a man disappears. His son comes to Byomkesh who starts investigating by, of course, taking up residence in the same hostel.

There are multiple twists and turns, and several characters. Including a seductive actress Angoori Devi, a politician and his rebellious nephew, the paan loving roommate of the disappeared man, a Chinese merchant of legal opium, a Japanese dentist, a British policemen  and so on. Each character, even a receptionist who only appears in two scenes seems to be real. Each one could have a backstory worth telling. Each seems to be unique, rather than some cardboard cutout. 

That’s where the strength of this film is: beautiful characters and fantastic backdrop. It feels like being in a pre-independence metropolis. The look is not just apparently authentic, it’s also loving and beautiful. Even the way characters move and act feels old-time, probably reminding me pleasantly of Classics like CID. 

But CID had Dev Anand, right? Can Sushant pull of a suave detective? Well, we don’t really know, actually. because the Byomkesh we see here is not a suave detective. He’s a sharp but bumbling beginner. He is eager, excitable, human, and he makes mistakes. The character and the way Sushant Singh plays it are fabulous. Also fabulous, all the other actors, especially Neeraj Kabi as Dr Guha and Swastika Mukherjee as Angoori Devi. The only problem, as so often with the noir, is the suspense. Although pretty unpredictable, and enchanting in its own way, not nearly as satisfying as a great mystery story ought to be. Special mention: the music. Its not at all authentic to the Calcutta of 40’s, but seems authentic to the film, somehow. Using influences from jazz to metal, the music creates a great sense of what being in the story is like, while the visuals give a sense of the time and place. Very clever.

Do watch the film. The atmosphere, the music, some long, caressing shots, the performances, and above all the characters. I liked it. It was a daring call for both Sushant and Yashraj to make, and I hope they are rewarded. These are the experiments we need to succeed. To take our films out of Mumbai/Delhi centrism, to take out character actors out of caricature and to broaden the scope of our cinema to the genres of tomorrow. But first we pay tribute to a genre of yesterday. Remember the name: Dibakar Banerjee. You’ll keep hearing it all the time now.

Poor Mr Tarantino – A Review Of Kill Dil

480There is a new kid on the block in Bollywood. Quentin Tarantino. Naam to suna hi hoga. Okay he’s no longer a kid, not from Bollywood and not so new. Because of course we have been copying his films for a long time. (remember Kaante?) but the latest thing is to copy his style. People at the periphery or outside of law, spouting spunky dialogues, with sexy music and awesome action. Basically portraying badass dudes, with some good looking women at the periphery. 

And there I just described Kill Dil. Or at least what it was aspiring to be. But does it make it? It’s a story of two orphans “rescued” by a Don who later puts them to work as hit-men. They look good, do awesome stuff and live reasonably well. Until Love.

Govinda-in-Kill-DilThe best thing about the movie is Govinda. He just shows that he’s a rockstar. He just chews up dialogues and throw it with either honey, lemon or lemon coated honey. He makes you want to throw some “chillar” at screen. Then there’s a heroine who never gets any character traits. And lastly we have the two heroes. They are ernest for sure. They kill, they sing, they dance and they fool around. Sometimes all at the same time. One falls in love and film decides to take a patli galli detour from Edgy street to Melodrama Highway, a road devoid of any twists.

This film is so predictable that the ending was a surprise only because there was no surprise. It’s banal, inconsequential and frankly boring by the end. It’s so without any twist that it’s not Tarantino at all, really.

Because the thing about Tarantino is very very good writing. That guy changed a passage from Bible to make it sound cool. This slow train along well trodden path would not cross the desk of his third assistant. The film has its moments, mainly in the first half when showing the guys from street meeting a bunch of upper class people. There the dialogue is interesting and the story still holds some promise. Alas, that was shattered.

When the only good thing you can say about the plot of a film is to thank the Lord for not making it a love triangle, someone has lost the plot. No amount of male bonding, clever dialogue or star power can make that into a Tarantino film.

PS: I know comparing to Tarantino is unfair, but when you name your film after Kill Bill, you’re asking for it.