Jagga Jasoos

Jagga Jasoos
Release date: July 14, 2017
Directed by: Anurag Basu
Cast: Ranbir Kapoor, Katrina Kaif, Saswata Chatterjee, Saurabh Shukla, Sayani Gupta

The audience is unkind, at times even heartless. They don’t care if your film took three years to make, or ten. To pass a nominal litmus test of viewer approval, Jagga Jasoos released this past Friday to not as much shows as you’d expect a potential blockbuster film to do. Perhaps, indicative of the approach of the film, where it greenlights itself straight into musical-mode.

Katrina Kaif, as Shruti, plays the narrator of the story and a journalist in Jagga’s tales of adventures. As she hosts a hall full of children, she sings and recites Jagga’s (Ranbir Kapoor) exploits, and the audience in the cinema hall is treated similarly. Concepts are broken down for the children and viewers to grasp them without letting their mind work or wander. “Is Jagga even real?”, you ask of yourself when Shruti breaks down his life in chapters from a comic anthology.

Right from the get-go, Jagga Jasoos confidently chronicles its protagonist’s journey, with small nods to Harry Potter, as an orphaned, bespectacled Jagga sleeps under a staircase. He doesn’t have a broom tuck between his legs to circumvent the world, but he does have an electric scooter which he rides adeptly on. Little Jagga is too shy to speak, because he stutters. Ironically, he lives in a hospital and is never treated for his speech impediment by the staff who seems to be in love with him, so much so that they let him live on their property ever since the day he was born.

Tooti Footi (Saswata Chatterjee) introduces Jagga to the magical world of singing his words, with rhyme and verse at his disposal, at the behest of some simply brilliant writing. Childhood expositions aren’t supposed to mean much in Bollywood, but this one makes you tear up within the first 30 minutes of the film as little Jagga sings ‘Jhooth, bas jhooth’ when Tooti Footi leaves him at a boarding school.

The overarching plots revolve around international conspiracies, localized militancy, and a boy’s quest to be reunited with his father. As Jagga sings, he becomes a much more self-assured adolescent knockoff of Tintin, reliving his favourite Feluda novels, with his schoolmates. Anurag Basu manages to create a universe that he so ably did in his last outing — Barfi! (2012), a world majorly bereft of texting, mobile phones and also refrains from any dosage of puns or lyrics, consciously written to deliver easy laughs or nudge-winks. With reams of paper that must have been penned while making the film, and I am very sure there must be reams, what the film lacks in a manufactured vibe of tautness, it makes up for in originality, quirk, and simply charming your frowns off with its unadulterated charm.

As the film devolves from an outright musical caper, to more of an action adventure in the post-intermission half, you are welcomed by an incredibly clever piece ‘Nimbu mirchi’ which captures the settling-in chatter of the theatre audiences perfectly, and calls us out for our indifference and irreverence for what goes around us in the real world and in a cinema hall, when we casually display indifference – ‘Humko us se kya?’ – at a blast in Syria, or another brutal gory assault in the city.

The lyrical storytelling reaches its ultimate peak for me, at a birthday party for a dead person, where the ensemble sings in unison, ‘Sab khaanaa kha ke, daru pee ke chale gaye’. And Ranbir captures the philosophy of life in as much singsong fashion.

Anurag makes compromises along the way, as his Jagga sings a little bit less with every passing minute in the “business end” of the things. Chase sequences, elaborate props start substituting moments of genius, to tell a story that goes far away from where it began. But it’s a grand adventure, a comic bestseller, all with meerkats, giraffes, zebras, leopards, fictional African tribes, yearly tips on growing up through VHS tapes by a father to his son, a travelling circus, secret agents, caricaturish comedy sequences and most importantly, conviction.

What makes Jagga Jasoos an experience I will cherish and remember forever are the witty idiosyncrasies, how disabilities are not pity-tear-jerkers, where a bumbling clumsy accomplice isn’t unwanted and most importantly the smile it plastered across my face with its pure passion and a will and heart that can’t and won’t cower, even in the face of real-world meta and in-film difficulties.

The almost three-hour-long runtime of the film benefits greatly from sincere performances from Kapoor, Chatterjee and Saurabh Shukla. But Miss Kaif is as much as part of this brave film as the others. In a lot of content that has been written about the film, she has been dismissed as a Xanax to Ranbir’s cocaine in questions like, “What would have become of the film with a more able actor in place of Katrina?”. In whatever capacity she was initially cast, it’s as much of her film, as it’s any of the other cast members’ film. In some great disservice to her character, there are random dialogue inserts with a dubbing artist’s voice mixed in with her own voice. These inserts are not some chaste Hindu/Urdu couplets, just some completely normal last-minute additions perhaps.

Senior Valecha (yes, my father) made a dad-joke, one that did not take much imagination to woefully rhyme “Jagga Jasoos” with “Hagaa Jasoos”, mentioning the declared hateful verdict of the film on Whatsapp forwards in uncle-groups. The audience is not kind, but Jagga Jasoos surely is. Just like an overwhelming Indian parent with no regard for their child’s privacy or rebellious streak, the film provides with incredible joy, wonder, food (for thought and boxes filled with cakes and treats) and setting us ambitious standards (to look forward to Hindi films of the future)

To borrow from the film, Jagga Jasoos is made from the right-half of the brain, the one which is a little crazy, magical and not necessarily logical.

My rating: **** (4 out of 5)

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Dangal

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Dangal
Release date: December 23, 2016
Directed by: Nitesh Tiwari
Cast: Aamir Khan, Sakshi Tanwar, Zaira Wasim, Suhani Bhatnagar, Fatima Sana Shaikh, Sanya Malhotra, Rohit Shankarwar, Aparshakti Khurrana, Girish Kulkarni, Vivan Bhatena

Heroics of the Phogat Sisters, Yogeshwar Dutt and Sushil Kumar over the years, and the recent surge of Sakshi Malik at this year’s Summer Olympics have resuscitated life into the long-forsaken sport of amateur wrestling. To top it off, the only victors of any medals, or, any memorable performances of any kind at the said event were all by young women. Dipa Karmakar, PV Sindhu, and Malik, thrust into the collective pop-culture with immense glory.

For the second time in a single year, wrestling is bestowed upon attention that the sport has not seen in years of cinema, where an akhaadaa would only be used for comic relief or as a den for the brawny henchmen for the bad guys, at the most. The desi training grounds are treated with reverence and for what they are, strongholds of men who deem women entering the field as a potential sin that could land them in hell.

Mahavir Phogat (Aamir Khan) is a national wrestling champion who rues on missing out on winning a medal for his country on the international scale. Like many other athletes from the country, he suffices with a safe job to cater for his family, instead of persisting on with his passion for the sport. A son or two to fulfill his personal aspirations, is all he needs. But as fate would have it, his wife would birth four daughters, in the film’s most satirical sequences, where every member of the village has their own method on how to conceive a male child. The suggestions fail, and Mahavir’s dreams come crashing.

Until the oldest of the quartet, Geeta (Zaira Wasim) and the plucky Babita (Suhani Bhatnagar) beat up boys for bullying them. Mahavir does not reprimand his daughters, as his eyes widen in disbelief, and the realization sets in. All he wanted was gold for his nation on the big stage, and women can very well do that. The girls, first surprised at their father’s reaction, soon turn into soldiers for his marching orders. Borrowing their cousin’s trousers to turn them into the traditional knickers, so they can run at ease. The socks with their loosened elastic grip around the little girls’ feet. Knockoffs of branded polo shirts. The authenticity is pleasing. Mahavir’s wife’s outright refusal at allowing meat to be cooked in her kitchen. The film solidifies its strains through the many things that it gets right: the girls collectively revolting against their father, the young bride with a mournful deadpan on her face while the overgrown adults gush at the wedding, the veritable Haryanvi dialects down to the hilt.

The young girls blossom into women. From here on, the struggle for the international gold intensifies. Dangal, the film’s crowning jewels are the four young women and their casting, direction and the finer details to their costumes, cosmetic appearances and wrestling technicalities, providing greater depth to the film, much like the corner pockets of a pool table. What would a plain cue-game table surface be without the drop pockets? Aamir Khan, as the coach, father, and overwhelming patriarch of a slowly-progressing Haryanvi hamlet  is compelling, cruel and achingly wonderful. Be it the rotund paunch, the dusted kurtaa paijaamaa and somewhat glued gamchaa around his shoulders. A natural progression in the behavioural pattern of Mahavir Phogat, as he ages from the young office clerk to the father gracefully folding his hands at a grovelling wrestling roadshow organizer. The hothead in him, springing into action when the occasion requires.

Fatima Sana Shaikh as Geeta is tenacious, earnest and fresh. The obliging nods that Indians usually give off while obliging to their seniors, the dimpled gentle shy smile and the beautifully choreographed double-arm underhook and Fisherman suplexes, a complete wrestler. Sanya Malhotra as the slightly little more obedient younger Babita is equally intriguing to watch. The rigorous physical routines are captured to the last bit. The young Zaira and Suhani practice their bridging and hip tosses enthusiastically. Except for the final German suplex that looks a little off in slow-motion towards the climax, Kripa Shankar Bishnoi’s wrestling choreography is excellent. A special mention for Girish Kulkarni’s conniving coach act.

The picturization of the athletic events is decently notable. The presentation is a lot better than earlier sport films. Daler Mehndi, Raftaar, Jonita Gandhi and Sarwar Khan – Sartaz Khan Barna, Saddy Ahmad collaborate with Pritam to render a thumping soundtrack that colludes perfectly with the narrative. Though, what transcends the superb technical quality of the film, is the clear assertion of the film’s women as the film’s true deserving heroes. In a film universe, where young women are constantly commodified into mascots for product placements, Dangal creates role-models for little girls and boys to look up to. Thoroughly enjoyable, moving and powerful; this is undoubtedly one of the best films of this year.

My rating: ****1/2 (4.5 out of 5)

Befikre

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Befikre
Release date: December 9, 2016
Directed by: Aditya Chopra
Cast: Ranveer Singh, Vaani Kapoor, Akarsh Khurana, Ayesha Raza, Armaan Ralhan

Yashraj’s common tropes of using a European destination for chastising the underlying, now sexual, then romantic, experiments of the Indian protagonists; invoking elaborately choreographed dance-offs to ease out tensions in love stories, or making the lovers acknowledge their actual sentiments for each other; and clinging on to straws of traditionalism, while reaching out to the new, morally and culturally progressive; they all find a place in Befikre. In the middle of these cliff notes, there is some humor, much anguish, and an underhanded indie rom-com like “carefree” approach to deliver a film without a hokey antagonist.

The film opens with the much-talked Labon Ka Kaarobaar where innumerable hetero couples kiss, there’s diversity in the kissers’ colors, shapes, and sizes, but not in sexual orientations. Every thing is picture-perfect straight, and then Dharam (Ranveer Singh) lands in Paris, and his flatmates are two very attractive gay women. Dharam being the virile, sex-crazed lad, vividly imagines himself in a threesome with them, winking at the viewers and himself. Could this point to a desi-retelling of a forgotten American Pie sequel, or perhaps something more real that actually turns out an intriguing character study? Sadly, neither.

He gets out to ‘party’ on his first day itself. Even with his well-formed biceps, tailored denims that grip his butt perfectly, and a healthy hairline, he faces rejection. This scene was empowering to watch in particular. More like a soothing Aditya Chopra petting our heads in wistful consolation. Springs in Shyra (Vaani Kapoor), the local, who knows the bars and the city in-and-out. They hook-up over a “dare”, a plot device that’s conveniently brought up again and again to help the protagonists in making bad decisions and some memories for their characters.

Gradually, they decide to live-in together, and mutually pledge that they won’t become the conservative husband and wife, nor do things that conventional lovers do. It is this oath that keeps resurfacing whenever they are consumed with the thought of confronting their feelings for the other. It’s frustrating to watch them see past versions of their younger selves, popping up with a song and dance in French, and yet, commendable, at the commitment to the tomfoolery and the showmanship. If this film had fifteen more minutes of ditty-dancing, it’d qualify as a full-blown musical.

For the lack of any real friends, Dharam and Shyra confide in his professional, cough boring cough, comedy routine and her aloo paraanthe. There’s the usual aggrandizement of grandeur in the way of beach vacations, holiday sea cruises, cosmetic perfection, except for the little black bush of hair in Ranveer Singh’s armpits, leaving hardly any scope for any frame to appear slightly sad, or even melancholic. But can we really blame them for this plastic manufacturing?

Aditya Chopra serves us what he thinks we would like to dish up, at the fag end of the year, in the throes of soft kisses and extremely mellifluous music, a film that is not particularly hollow, just like the millennials that are his target audience and the film’s primary characters. If it weren’t for their superhuman dancing finesse, the baffling excesses, and that mess of a Priyadarshan film-like climax sequence, Befikre could have passed off as a decently watchable experience. A balance that Imtiaz Ali has mastered, Aditya Chopra flounders with this time around.

My rating: ** (2 out of 5)

Kahaani 2: Durga Rani Singh

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Kahaani 2: Durga Rani Singh
Release date: December 2, 2016
Directed by: Sujoy Ghosh
Cast: Vidya Balan, Arjun Rampal, Tunisha Sharma, Jugal Hansraj, Kharaj Mukherjee, Tota Roychoudhury, Manini Chadha, Amba Sanyal

In the spring of 2012, or as we in Mumbai call it, the relatively less hot days of the year, Vidya Bagchi sifted through the colorful streets of Kolkata to find her husband with a heavily pregnant womb, and some layers of deception running along. In the created universe, Bagchi was an easily believable protagonist. A vulnerable woman with life growing inside her, considered as the most pious state of womanhood by constantly pushed rhetoric and religious propaganda that bills a woman’s motherhood as an ideal.

This time around, she’s not as two-dimensional. Not half as easily believable. In a small song-montage, Vidya Sinha (Vidya Balan) describes an idyllic Sunday with her paralyzed daughter Mini (Tunisha Sharma). A few minutes later, chaos begins to descend on them, and a car accident later, Sub-Inspector Inderjeet Singh (Arjun Rampal) discovers minute details of Vidya’s life through a diary that she maintained until eight years prior to the day.

Soon, another angle floats to the surface. Inspector Haldar (Kharaj Mukherjee) claims that Durga Rani Singh is a wanted criminal who’s forged a new identity, and is apparently in the sleepy town of Chandanagar; “the town that’s as big as a football field”. Durga bears a stark resemblance to Vidya, and that is me putting it mildly. Inderjeet is conflicted about the two sides to the comatose Vidya/absconding Durga situation.

Eventually, from looking for her husband in Kahaani to looking for her daughter in Kahaani 2, the extensive searching and innocuous prying gives way for a prolonged dark exposition of Durga’s origins. Her punctuated loneliness, her social anxiety and a throbbing sense of grasping on to someone who she empathizes with, who she sees herself as a younger version of her own self. Durga confines herself to a tiny house in the hills of Kalimpong, for reasons initially unclear. Bereft of vanity, and any desire to pursue her interests beyond her job at a school, she struggles to make emotional relationships.

This Vidya is far removed from the amiable, and charming, sundress clad Vidya of the earlier film. Her timidity, attributed to a graver issue, can often be alluded to create an element of doubt in her actions and her statements. A looming sense of suspicion hovers around the affairs, much like noir films of the past. The film deals with sexual abuse from a crystallized point of view, where the crime is openly addressed, and quite openly accepted by the perpetrator as well, separating the enablers from the resistor and the sole condemning agent.

Vidya Balan’s performance scales the heights viewers have come to expect from her over the years. She powers through clumsy, everyday violence-like action sequences, and sets the house on fire, literally and figuratively, with psychotic rage for that one slightly predictable final jolt in the plot. Her passionate display, along with fast, brisk cuts in the build-up to the revelation of her character’s years in Kalimpong, supported by a devious Jugal Hansraj, a mean Kharaj Mukherjee, and a weary Arjun Rampal, with a slightly overtly chirpy Manini Chadha as his wife, keep the film heavily gripping for vast parts.

As comparisons are bound to be made, Kahaani 2 is as different of a film as it is similar to Kahaani. There’s a failed attempt at resurrecting a Bob Biswas like mercenary, a purpose for deception and there is expansive range for Balan to be the boss that she is at this acting job, and the limitedly infringing landscapes of Kolkata. Kahaani 2 is pulp, though not as cheesy as genre films, still somewhere a mix between the traditional and bold, constantly entertaining.

My rating: *** (3 out of 5)

Dear Zindagi

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Dear Zindagi
Release date: November 25, 2016
Directed by: Gauri Shinde
Cast: Alia Bhatt, Yashaswini Dayama, Ira Dubey, Shah Rukh Khan, Angad Bedi, Kunal Kapoor, Ali Zafar

In one of the myriad marketing campaigns before its release, the film’s protagonist Kaira’s character was pushed as a ‘verified’ profile on a dating mobile application. All with a descriptive bio about her profession, likes and pet peeves, and pretty stills of Alia Bhatt from Dear Zindagi. Perhaps, in a bid to humanize her on-screen persona, unlike the “heroines” of the past, where a constant effort was made to sanitize and idolize the woman, as an object of desire and worship.

Gauri Shinde’s Kaira (Alia Bhatt) is a cinematographer with fluttering romantic interests, and a remarkable ability to disconnect from these men when they tend to get “serious”. After one of her another shocking departures from a dishy manbun sporting Raghavendra (Kunal Kapoor), Jackie (a charming Yashaswini Dayama) lectures her in an inebriated stupor on how he was the ideal ‘match’ for her. Creating a verbal checklist of qualities that she saw in him, only 2% of the world’s population is good-looking, why would Kaira want to give up on someone who’s in that precious creamy layer.

Of course, Kaira doesn’t have definite answers for her actions, her reasons still unfounded. After being on a momentary career high, things come crashing down for her, thus forcing her to get back to her parents in Goa. Her friends call her the world’s only person who’s averse to the idea of a trip to this Indian beach-haven. Once there, she is faced with exaggerated shaming and cornered into submitting into a wedlock, she continues to act out like a rebelling teenager and a part disgusted young, rich adult. Texts filled with hate, multiple exclamation marks, she types and backspaces before hitting the send button; bottling all her angst for an ex, a landlord, and another ex.

Faced with sleepless nights, she chances upon a gig for a family acquaintance’s hotel, that’s coincidentally hosting a mental health awareness summit. As she waits for the summit to end, she makes light of the serious medicinal jargon being spewn inside. Enters Dr Jehangir Khan (Shah Rukh Khan) in his torn jeans and a scoop-neck t-shirt under his hoodie. Fascinated by his ‘different’ approach towards the business of secrecy and whispers around Rorschach tests, Kaira decides to start seeing him for therapy.

After an elaborate build-up, commences the most fulfilling and, simultaneously, cliche sequence of therapy where Khan repeats lines that we may have come across in TV shows, novels, and even agony-aunt columns in newspapers/magazines. But then, it hasn’t ever been Shah Rukh Khan telling us why we need to date people, opting out of very complex situations, and not letting our past blackmail our present into ruining our future, the pulp of Indian Uncle Whatsapp forwards. His character’s wit still subdued from that of his personal and public high-standards, yet as mature as a wise and accomplished fifty one year old.

Kaira’s development from flagging off her sessions by the classic “I’m asking this for a friend.” and evolving into letting off details of her anxieties and insecurities, slowly, is the fruit of Khan’s casual approach to his job. Not sure how many real shrinks would take their patients on long walks on the beaches of Goa; though, a comfortably-dressed Khan playing Kabaddi with the waves is endearing. The grandeur of a superstar doesn’t take away sheen from what is Alia Bhatt’s virtual diary. After Udta Punjab, she is back to playing a rich-kid, albeit with an underlying professional ambition, to reduce the shine from her character’s economical affluence, only slightly.

She settles into the skin of Kaira, a frustratingly confused millennial, haunted by a fear of abandonment from deep-rooted emotional upheavals. Her character’s journey is complete with a graph of metamorphosis, a little too good to be true, and a song-and-dance flourish to top off the film with a traditional cherry, when it consistently takes the path of being “off-beat”, where even the cliffhanging point of an intermission is also punctuated by a lack of any real conflict.

A trade-off between commercial filmmaking and a settled indie approach is thus achieved. The chopping of the loose flab of commercial celluloid cellulite could have easily rendered a tauter, and an equally relevant film about mental health issues, and the stigma attached to it, in a Hindi film universe, where we still continue to portray mental asylums as either pits of hell filled with delinquents possessed by spirits, or just sparingly exploited for comic relief.

In a society that continuously awards a person who shuts the lid on their vulnerabilities, Dear Zindagi asks us to be accepting of our life’s miseries as openly as we put ourselves out there in a dating pool with billions of other people, hoping to be that one snowflake who captures the imagination of the most right-swipes.

My rating: *** (3 out of 5)

Ae Dil Hai Mushkil

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Ae Dil Hai Mushkil
Release date: October 28, 2016
Directed by: Karan Johar
Cast: Ranbir Kapoor, Anushka Sharma, Lisa Haydon, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Imran Abbas, Fawad Khan

When he’s not making films, in recent years, Karan Johar maintains a certain visibility all around you throughout the year. Be it a dance reality show, a pan-India talent hunt, his own talk show, promoting others’ films on more reality shows and on social media. Even now, as I type this, there’s a marathon of reruns of his talk show’s last season to build up hype for the upcoming new season. The man is literally omnipresent, just like your Gods.

He’s gone on to point out the flaws in his earlier films, and in his last directorial outing as well. He’s also confessed to yanking out the last tear drop out of his viewers’ eyes with his films. In his first film, he fiddled with love and friendship, he placed them together when Rahul says, “Pyaar dosti hai” (Love is friendship) and ironically, casually goes on to dismiss his good friend’s advances for another girl he’s hardly as good of a friend with. In his second, the comparatively smaller set of main and ensemble cast and scale grew in multiples of tens and hundreds, and yet here, another Rahul dismisses a Naina who loves him. Going on to, ugh, ‘friend-zone’ her.

His cast grew even bigger in numbers with his high school musical, and he played around with similar themes. This time around, he has a very small set of characters. Ayan (Ranbir Kapoor) and Alizeh (Anushka Sharma) lay their eyes on each other in a nightclub in London, and proceed to make out, but it doesn’t quite work out and they end up spending the night traversing through different bars around the city and indulging in conversation about anything and everything in between. In an indie film-ish fashion, the film centers heavily around the two of them. They become a part of a complete song-and-dance number in a pub, and yet, go on to poke fun at how actors can dance on mountain tops in sub-zero temperatures. Mind, these are some of the film’s most enjoyable minutes.

Ayan develops feelings of love out of a rapidly growing friendship with Alizeh, but she insists that she values the friendship more than the ephemeral nature of a relationship based on physical attraction to him. She has a tattoo of an ex-boyfriend’s name on her wrist, and points to him as a weakness. She continues to associate a sense of vulnerability to the whole business of love. Things don’t work out how Ayan wants them to, and ends up blocking her on his phone for three months post her wedding.

All through the courtship, the conversations are laced with colloquialisms, informal, and refreshing, sometimes falling back on some cliched moments, but infused with character by their portrayals. The excessive Karan Johar self-referencing seems little too forced even when the protagonists claim to be big fans of Hindi films. Also, the little bit of background music created especially for Lisa Haydon’s character, reminds you of the whole “Miss Braganza” jingle from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. This isn’t pleasant nostalgia.

Soon, enters Saba (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan), an Urdu poetess who obviously mouths some heavy lines in the language. Her dynamic with Ayan is entirely different. She insists that they let the silences and their eyes do the talking. Alizeh wished on being her lover’s zaroorat (need) and not aadat (habit), Saba is quite the opposite, traditional relationships are passe for her. Both of these women are categorically different, and explore different sides of the same man. Alizeh recounts how she was dealt a child out of a troller, while Saba faced a different man. Their first, and only, interaction with each other, is subtle and dramatic at the same time.

The unending conflict of the film is unrequited love, and the complexities around it. A subject which may involve stalking, physical assault and maybe even an acid attack if the “lover” is too jilted (read as: stupid and destructive). Johar does away with the ugliness of it all, and rather focuses the gaze of the camera on the glossy details. The principal characters are also noticeably self-aware, and even self-deprecating. When Alizeh asks Ayan what kind of rich he is, Johar makes him say that he’s outrageously rich. Saba is nonchalantly accepting of the criticism that her literary works are handed out. Alizeh dismissively shuts off Ayan every time he goes over the top, very cute!

The ladies are interestingly written, even though I can’t recall what Anushka Sharma’s profession is in the film. Right from her arrival, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan holds you by the collar, and playfully fidgets with your shirt buttons, until you sweat bullets and run out of tissues. On the other hand, Ranbir Kapoor is doing the whole man-child shtick for the fourth time in as many years. He acts well, and is probably even the best at being the overgrown version of an irritating teenager. The film is unapologetically glamorous; reflecting Johar’s self-confessed affection for showing good looking people dressed in designer clothes, and still makes them appear empathetic.

Ae Dil Hai Mushkil doesn’t yank out your soul. At the best, it warrants not more than three cries, and that count doesn’t include the climax of the film, at all. AT ALL. With only one proper choreographed dance routine for the stellar soundtrack, the run time of the film remains well-paced for two thirds of the film.

After 155 minutes in the cinema hall, Karan Johar doesn’t leave you with a moral commentary on Indian familial values, or a grim tale of unrequited love. Instead, he’s delivered an enjoyable film with an underbaked final act that leaves you entertained, even though slightly shorthanded. It’s official, KJo is drifting away from his usual style and it’s gonna take him and us both some time to deal with this. ADHM still has the magical mix of his trademark storytelling with conviction combined with magical music going for it.

My rating: *** (3 out of 5)

M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story

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M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story
Release date: September 30, 2016
Directed by: Neeraj Pandey
Cast: Sushant Singh Rajput, Anupam Kher, Bhumika Chawla, Rajesh Sharma, Kumud Mishra, Kiara Advani, Disha Patani

Growing up, I was quite the anti-establishment/contrarian kid. I opined that the world’s greatest batsman isn’t that. Triple H wasn’t boring in the early 2000s. Shah Rukh Khan isn’t the demigod that he is. One among a long list of such views was that Mahendra Singh Dhoni isn’t all that heroic. Especially, after assuming the captaincy of the Indian team. Sure, he was winning it all, but then he wouldn’t often put himself in the line of fire when the situations demanded. Rather, he would only promote himself up the batting order when things are safer; then came along April 2, 2011, the night of the World Cup Final, and all of my doubts were vanquished by him.

I grew up to realize that Tendulkar definitely is the greatest batsman, Triple H was indeed boring then, and Khan is a demigod. Dhoni played up the order, struck his helicopter shots and won us the cricket world cup, and along the way earned my prized lifelong fandom. M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story builds up to this lovely crescendo, thereby avoiding all mention of the few clouds of controversy that came to surround the franchise he plays for, and is “coincidentally” the vice-president of the team’s holding company, India Cements.

There isn’t much to his initial cricketing abilities, as he’s picked up for wicketkeeping due to his goalkeeping skills in the school’s football team. Post that, there isn’t much either, as he’s shown saying that he likes batting better, and one day, he wows the people around him with his genetically gifted (?) batting display. Without rhyme or reason, Dhoni (Sushant Singh Rajput) is soon, the best batsman that pre-Jharkhand Bihar has to offer. What’s missing in the technicalities, is made up for by in the way of shifting the focus to the people around him. Be it his hesitatingly supportive parents, the local sport merchandise seller’s belief in getting him sponsorship for a kit, or his friends who pool their savings and take turns to drive all night to help him reach a particular destination.

Dhoni finds supporters in his employers too, reminding one of an era gone by, where people actually cared for others’ aspirations, or even acting as just a gentle source of inspiration. The origins of the Captain Cool monicker attached to the man aren’t established, it’s just the way he is. Sushant Singh Rajput, though, pulls it off excellently, only as he can. His struggles are easy to empathize with, earnest in will, and purely inspiring. Much like Dhoni himself, the state and national hero.

The post intermission half depicts the ascension of the man, and changes in haircut and him filming endorsements at usual intervals. Then, the part of the “The Untold Story” comes in to play, where Priyanka (Disha Patni) comes across a fairly new, yet popular, to the scene MS Dhoni on a certain flight and asks him to get her an autograph from another player. He falls for the whole, “Oh, she doesn’t know me. This is so fresh.” profile, and then there is another romance in quick succession, when he again, to no one’s surprise, falls for another girl who doesn’t recognize him. Women come in only as romantic interests, and their relationships aren’t even different from each other. The other women besides them, Dhoni’s sister (Bhumika Chawla) and a coach’s wife exist only to serve tea, and act as cheer leaders respectively.

With only a single mention of the IPL, and the names of senior players muted in a team meeting, the film hardly scratches below the surface of the news reports that we may have come to read in the past. Some of the real Dhoni’s personal traits, like his wit, his curt replies to media queries, are very well reflected in the reel Dhoni. The film humanizes the most successful Indian cricket captain to a fair extent, when he introspects the state of his life and his railway job, disappointment at missing out a crucial flight, and the loss of a loved one. What the film fails to shed light on, and disappointingly, are his leadership qualities, his instinctive decisions that he has gone to make on the field, and even his dynamics with any of the other cricket team members.

Every time he is in the dressing room, or the hotel, he is always alone. It’s difficult to comprehend if it’s a deliberate attempt to show him as a lone wolf, or just plain cinematic liberties being exercised.

A heavily talented ensemble cast lends much credence to even small parts, right from a school coach, to his co-employees in the railways. Dhoni, the man, epitomizes a lower to middle class family’s character, a small town youth’s growth to a national hero, and a temperament that perfectly spells out a vanilla good boy, with an undying resolve; and these are the only parts Neeraj Pandey seems to concern himself with.

Hardly bold or risque, unlike M.S. Dhoni’s cricketing persona, the film is a good compilation of the greatest hits of the man’s life, until it comes undone towards the end of the second act of the film. Sushant Singh Rajput and the rest of the cast, rise above the decisions of the makers, quite similar to how Mahi, and his teams did, over the years, in spite of the political mess the cricket control boards found themselves in.

My rating: *** (3 out of 5)

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