Archive for August, 2015

Phantom

Phantom_Hindi_Poster

Phantom
Release date: August 28, 2015
Directed by: Kabir Khan
Cast: Saif Ali Khan, Sabyasachi Chakrabarty, Mohammad Zeeshan Ayyub, Katrina Kaif

Phantom, as a film, could have been categorized as a political thriller, instead it has tricks rolled up its sleeve to make it look more like a con film. Right from the start, it shows us a drawn-out action sequence with two cars and their respective drivers accelerating and ramming their cars into each others’. The sequence, filled with fast action and a cool slow-motion fall off a bridge in Chicago, is just that. The audience isn’t even involved in the film yet, but it’s a cool hook.

The cool hook then propels the story in a flashback to the origins of Daniyal Khan (Saif Ali Khan), a former member of the Indian armed forces. A young rookie, at the Indian intelligence agency RAW, proposes the idea of sending a suicide mission man to Pakistan to wipe out Hafiz Saeed, David Coleman Headley and a few more perpetrators of Mumbai’s 26/11, just how the mighty Americans did in 2011. Except, this isn’t a SEAL team dropping in from a chopper.

Optimism is not a bad concept, unless you force a hundred contrivances and co-incidences. Then it’s just a manufactured copy of how a child’s perception of optimism is; naive and too idealistic. Since the film belongs to the pseudo-thriller genre, it indulges in numerous cheap thrill scenes. Picture this, guy ‘A’ is taking a swig of a drink he’s not supposed to. There’s no one at home and no one in a mile near him because he’s in vacuum hole. And even then, you’ll get to see a person who can stop him, out of nowhere, appearing in the close proximity of ‘A’. Now take this approach, and visualize it at least 7 times. This is what Phantom does to desensitize you. It induces an overdose of too many cringeworthy coincidences.

What’s appreciable is that the film doesn’t always stop to explain things and slow everything down. This trend goes to the extent of focusing too less on the reasons for the characters’s actions. It deprives you of empathizing with the people on the screen, which again makes you just an outside spectator. The makers try to counter these flaws by invoking jingoistic moments, and some of them, to their credit, are subtly entertaining.

Phantom oscillates between being good and “Um, okay.” It’s an ambitious effort all round, only it falters too often.

My rating: **1/2 (2.5 out of 5)

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Manjhi – The Mountain Man

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Manjhi – The Mountain Man
Release date: August 21, 2015
Directed by: Ketan Mehta
Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Radhika Apte, Ashraf-Ul-Haque, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Pankaj Tripathi, Gaurav Dwivedi, Prashant Narayanan

If you belong to the internet generation, which came across Dashrath Manjhi through a shared ‘viral’ post, you’ve seen him through the one dimensional spectrum of greatness that is alluded to him. And if you’ve managed to stay unaware of him, he, almost singlehandedly, broke a mountain in Bihar. The why, and the how of this fact makes up the entire film.

Again, it was a ‘viral’ post that put this man back into popular discourse, and each of these posts are manufactured for certain motives, and Manjhi – The Mountain Man reeks of a similar vibe as well. Right from the initial few minutes, where a voiceover explains things to you, and until the introduction of the adult Dashrath Manjhi (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) and he’s made to look like a complete jock. Sure, it was done to make him appear “entertaining”, but it doesn’t feel organic. It’s almost uncomfortable to look at.

On his first day back in his village, he chances upon Phaguniya (Radhika Apte) selling handmade toys by the bus stand. Here starts the shaky romantic angle and more hokey attempts at meshing shallow humor. The love story is quite believable and has some flesh in it, but the gag-like moments in the first half appear to be mere tools for making the film just commercially viable.

The film starts earning its ticket money when it gets serious. The serious “parts” keep showing up in between as the film paces in non-linear fashion. The parallel tracks make things confusing as at one point the film seems to be telling you three separate stories about the same person, simultaneously. Sandesh Shandilya’s background score and music is cussword-ing awful. Instead of adding to the moments on screen, it subtracts legitimacy with its unimaginatively titled Phaguniya sounding off every time Dashrath thinks of her. The generic sounds would have passed off in a student short film, not here.

The drama is powerful and even smart in spurts, one such scene is when the country’s then prime minister comes visiting to Manjhi’s hamlet. The whole sequence doesn’t overstay its welcome and is satirical in a subtle way. His struggle to survive, after facing abandonment on multiple fronts, in the mountains in extreme conditions is very well depicted. The earlier back and forth between the parallel tracks makes the film’s tone difficult to grasp. Once it leaves that approach and simply focuses on Dashrath’s journey, it starts to become compelling to watch.

Siddiqui is wasted in pulling off antics similar to the ones that he’s excelled in Gangs of Wasseypur and The Lunchbox. I’ll say the same thing again, he finds new strengths when he does things that he hasn’t done before; when he shreds the persona of being a goof. That, precisely, is the issue with the entire film. It tries to be many things that it shouldn’t have bothered to be. It casts Tigmanshu Dhulia, Pankaj Tripathi as the classic antagonists, to add more subtext to the plot, and to perhaps offer opportunities to build character actions and choices.

Manjhi – The Mountain Man isn’t as daunting and taxing to watch as breaking a hill, but it’s surely less effective as a film than what it could have been.

My rating: **1/2 (2.5 out of 5)

Brothers

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Brothers
Release date: August 14, 2015
Directed by: Karan Malhotra
Cast: Akshay Kumar, Jackie Shroff, Sidharth Malhotra, Jacqueline Fernandez, Shefali Shah, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Ashutosh Rana, Kiran Kumar

Amongst the innumerable remakes that spring up in Hindi cinema every year, I can’t hold the remake against the original as a huge chunk of these films are unknown entities for me. I happen to be acquainted well with the film that Brothers is adapted from, i.e. Warriors. The 2011 original was supremely grim, slightly contrived and largely dramatic and ruthless in its handling of  severed bonds and their consequences.

Karan Malhotra willingly waters down every ingredient of the film, to accommodate two excruciatingly grating and intolerably long flashbacks and one of them is, to put it politely, quite useless. David (Akshay Kumar) and Monty (Sidharth Malhotra) are, you guessed it right, brothers. According to the film’s technicalities, foster-brothers, but yeah. The wedge driven between them is drawn by their alcoholic father Gary (Jackie Shroff) who is a former “underground fighter”.

The sons take off individually in their father’s flight and grow up to be… “underground fighters”! David has a family and is therefore forced to lead a more secure lifestyle. His daughter has an ailment which is mentioned verbally thrice in the span of thirty minutes and is almost forgotten thereafter. The film overloads itself with stereotypes and works up a formula for the order of proceedings, and that is how it plays out; emotions before the interval, and all the fighting humdrum after.

To be fair, the original film didn’t boast of being very innovative in the first place, but Brothers just goes on to kill any blemish of innovation or experimentation which could have possibly existed. It bludgeons your intelligence with mediocre storytelling, awful commentating and it thrashes your ears with its jarring background score and the painfully unimaginative soundtrack. The extensive length of the flashbacks rule out adequate screen-time and thus any scope for showing any range for the actors.

Jackie Shroff gets to be around as the bumbling, incoherent drunk and he’s a perfect 8 (8 because the film has obviously lowered its own set of expectations). Jacqueline looks good and talks her own limited Hindi. Who could have thought this would have been an achievement for an actor in a Hindi film! Kumar and Malhotra look their parts and immerse themselves in the often technically unsound action sequences. Kareena Kapoor does a faux striptease.

The film’s climax, which was very emotionally touching to see in Warrior, stands overwrought here as there is no empathy for the two pieces of beef grappling on the screen. You’re asked to feel an ocean of grief and a few more things when they fail to earn any of it.

My rating: *1/2 (1.5 out of 5)

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