Archive for December, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

tfa-poster-japan

The Japanese poster, because it has Kylo Ren at its center.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Release date: December 25 2015 (India)
Directed by: J. J. Abrams
Cast: Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Domhnall Gleeson, Andy Serkis, Harrison Ford, Peter Mayhew, Carrie Fisher, Lupita Nyong’o, Anthony Daniels

Back when the “original” Star Wars came out, i.e. A New Hope, in 1977,  I wasn’t even conceived yet. I got around to watching the initial trilogy and wound up watching the later prequels in just about 2012 and some time later, the announcement of a reboot was made by Disney after their acquisition of Star Wars creator George Lucas’ Lucasfilm. A New Hope, as compared to films that have been made in its succeeding four decades, appears to be very basic in its design and inception. It uses silly fade-ins and fade-outs to transition between scenes, often done between disconnected scenes. What it shows you is a strong groundwork for fairy tales set in space. (Lucas himself described it as a fairy tale with a cohesive reality)

It brought along with it, Jedi knights, Sith lords, stormtroopers, tribes of Ewoks, talking droids, a grizzly wookie, an extraterrestrial life guru who’s just a bazillion years old, some messed up familial relationships, and the biggest of them all, telekinesis being used in a non-horror film. It created a universe which demands of you to suspend your disbelief. Cementing its legacy, film by film, fictional creature by fictional creature. The similarities between being a pro-wrestling fan and an avid Star Wars follower are many, and I know them. And just like how the former don’t approve of conversations about the match results of a show they haven’t seen, the latter frown at the slightest mention of a film ‘spoiler’.

The characters of Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Princess/General Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) have aged well into their grey-hair and wrinkly-skin years, and have went down their own paths of satisfaction and fulfillment in life. A long time later, in a galaxy far, far away, The First Order has risen from the remains of the fallen Galactic Empire and is out to find Luke and establish its supremacy. Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) is a a Resistance fighter-pilot who crosses path with Finn (John Boyega) and makes a journey to the barren land of Jakku, where Rey (Daisy Ridley) is a scavenger who sells her finds for a living.

There’s an intersection of paths and an adventure ensues.

That’s the shortest plot description I’ve ever written. You can guess why.

As the title of the film goes, there’s an awakening of The Force and it is felt by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), your new age Darth Vader and Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) is the new Emperor Palpatine. Ren is the same amount of Vader as he his own person, he takes off his mask when he wants, and he’s as evil, and a little more unpredictable. Snoke is slightly more accommodating of his disciples, but vindictive in equal measure. Han Solo and Chewie are back and thankfully, their sense of humor and wisdom is still alive and kicking.

J. J. Abrams retains the best of A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back and spins his story with the right dash of nostalgia thrown around, here and there. He brings back the bar-bands playing sick tunes, gritty pawn shop owners, lightsaber duels, beautiful landscapes reminiscent of Episode V, the Millennium Falcon and John Williams’ epic background score! He knows that his audience wants instant gratification, and he uses that fact to give away a lot of layers of the film’s characters in a short time. The motivations for the characters’ actions are made clear by neat backstories for them.

The Force Awakens has a mouth-popping, jaw-dropping, flabbergasting moment which leaves you pretty much like this…

The face you make when Ren does the unthinkable

And the ridiculousness stays intact with the silly fade-in, fade-out transitions!

The film takes you on a journey you’ve taken before, probably even multiple times, but it makes it enjoyable all over again.

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

Bajirao Mastani

Bajirao-Mastani-poster

Bajirao Mastani
Release date: December 18, 2015
Directed by: Sanjay Leela Bhansali
Cast: Ranveer Singh, Milind Soman, Aditya Pancholi, Mahesh Manjrekar, Priyanka Chopra, Tanvi Azmi, Deepika Padukone, Vaibbhav Tatwawdi

Newspaper gossip columns and bytes from the “entertainment” industry have a way of finding ways into our lives, how much ever we may resist their passive charms. There have been colored headlines talking about Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s ambitions of making a magnum opus on the relationship between Bajirao Ballal Bhat and his wives Kashi Bai and Mastani. After publicly confessing of giving up on this project, Bhansali creates, right from his first scene of the film, a masterful universe from the eighteenth century.

The opening sequence is an open court where the appointment of a new Peshwa is in order. The Chhatrapati (Mahesh Manjrekar) indulges his political adviser (Aditya Pancholi) and his war-chief (Milind Soman) over their debate of who should be elected. Without song and dance, and armed with only a thumping and catchy background score and his sword, emerges Bajirao (Ranveer Singh) with a freshly buzzed head and a mouth full of memorable lines. His instant wit, will and skill seal the deal for him, and the decision is accepted with a warm ovation. Mr. Bhansali takes a detour from his usual ways and gets his film running at a good pace right from the start.

Bajirao leads his battalion to a smart victory in his first battle, proving his mettle to one and all. While he carried on with his conquers, his younger brother Chimaji Appa (Vaibbhav Tatwawadi) creates a new rambunctious home to complement Bajirao’s laurels. The home and the Aainaa Mahal are marvels of wonder, almost worth the price of the ticket just by themselves. Kashi (Priyanka Chopra) garnishes and adorns it with her conceding love and admiration for her husband. The two of them have a delicately playful and intimate relationship which is faced by the attractions of Mastani (Deepika Padukone), the love child of a Rajput King and his Muslim wife.

Mastani is the princess of Bundelkhand, out to seek the help of the brave Maratha warrior to fend off the claws of the Mughals. She can fight, and do Kathak, and elude swords with swords of her own. Her introduction to the dynamic brings the conflict along with it. A Muslim second wife cannot be accepted in a kingdom based on establishing a Hindu state. The Brahmins of Pune and Bajirao’s mother (Tanvi Azmi) along with Chimaji stand together in opposition of his union with Mastani. The entire drama between the wives, Kashi and Mastani, is handled with grace and tact.

Wars are shot in magnanimous scale, moments of passion between Bajirao and Kashi with warm diffusion, yet there’s an old school approach of keeping the second wife Mastani physically disconnected with her lover and just an amount of “obsessive” platonic love between them. Perhaps, to stay safe from more allegations and stupid “my sentiments are hurt” litigation suits against the film. If you’re denied of watching this film by the way of a protest against the film, then it’s just your bad luck.

Yes, there are cinematic liberties and a fair disclaimer before the film begins. There’s a Dil Dola like number where Kashi and Mastani dance to their heart’s content with the poetic undertone of being involved in a Rukmini-Krishna-Radha love triangle. Bajirao stomps and swirls in a shoddily-penned war celebration song. But then, Bhansali compensates for these excesses by giving us powerful exchanges between the protagonists and lines of dialogue that will be remembered for quite some time in the near future.

The beauty of it all is all-encompassing with the film’s cinematographer, Sudeep Chatterjee’s lens captures Bhansali’s vision immaculately. The color palette isn’t as diverse as that of Ram-Leela (2013), but the limited number of permutations and combinations are put to use smartly. Be it the rain in the times of war-cries, the golden glow on Mastani, or the earthy shades around Kashi, they all add to the mise en scene in more ways than one.

Ranveer Singh ascends to new heights of stardom with his all guns blazing display, with his impassionate Marathi diction and the swashbuckling flamboyance of a great mass-leader. His character is the center of the attraction for the two women, and the actor himself is the center of the movie. He holds the film strongly with good supporting actors subordinating the ranks beneath him. Priyanka Chopra and Deepika Padukone’s characters are treated with equal importance, the way Bhansali did back in 2002 in Devdas. Chopra infuses a strong energy with her spirited Kashi Bai, Padukone is the glum, poetry-quoting, wronged lover to the hilt.

Bajirao Mastani is dramatic, and it’s poised. It’s majestic and it’s cruel. It is, undoubtedly, the film to watch this weekend.

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

Dilwale

Dilwale-Poster
Dilwale
Release date: December 18, 2015
Directed by: Rohit Shetty
Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Varun Dhawan, Kriti Sanon, Kajol, Varun Sharma, Johnny Lever, Sanjay Mishra, Pankaj Trupathi, Mukesh Tiwari, Kabir Bedi, Vinod Khanna, Nawab Shah, Boman Irani

From the year 2006, Rohit Shetty strapped a jet-pack on and ascended to the heights of film success. Let’s not mention his debut film, Zameen, from 2003 which wasn’t quite of a party-starter for his arrival. Since Golmaal (2006)there hasn’t been a Shetty caper where there hasn’t been a butt-gag involved. There was one in each of the Golmaal films, he even sneaked in one in Chennai Express (2013). Off late, he seems to be moving away from hurling sharp objects into his character’s asses. If these trends were the biggest takeaway from films, then we’d all live happily ever after, in Bulgaria or Shetty’s outrageously vivid Goa.

Film reviewers, including me, sit on the sidelines and jeer at his films and the audiences get a film of little to no consequence to look down upon and have a few laughs. Some of these laughs are at the jokes and gags, some at the sheer idiocy of it all. Yes, people do like to feel smarter than/superior to what they consume, just like how a lot of us prefer to get smarter by what we consume. Film isn’t exactly a medium to convey for all, and it’s okay.

Dilwale brings along with it the colorful houses, cars and landscapes which Shetty used in All The Best (2009) and a similar setting as well. There are small-time thieves, bigwig “mafias”, reformed criminals and, the young and chirpy. Veer (Varun Dhawan) and Ishita (Kriti Sanon) make up the last part along with Sidhu (Varun Sharma). Raj/Kaali (Shah Rukh Khan), Meera (Kajol), Shakti (Mukesh Tiwari) and a token Muslim Shaikh Bhai (Pankaj Tripathi) are the reformed criminals. Mani (Johnny Lever) and Oscar (Sanjay Mishra) are the mid-level thugs and King (Boman Irani), Raj and Meera’s fathers are the “mafias”.

Everyone has a set brief given to them.
Dhawan is expected to pull off shenanigans from his earlier films, Main Tera Hero (2014) and Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhaniya (2014).
Kriti Sanon is doing her thing from Heropanti (2014).
Sharma is doing what he’s done ever since his debut in Fukrey (2013).
Tiwari and Tripathi are reprising their performances from innumerable films where they’ve been the excessively loud and mellowed good guy at heart respectively.
Kabir Bedi and Vinod Khanna don’t have a brief. Just be a daddy!
Boman Irani is asked to be hip in don costumes from 1920s.
Sanjay Mishra’s Oscar talks in rhymes.
Johnny Lever does his average South Indian guy voice with his constant spirited vigor.

Shah Rukh Khan’s Raj fights like how a person who doesn’t know the controls on a videogame would play. He keeps hitting the same punch. A good chunk of the film is concentrated on Meera and his angle from a flashback. This part passes off breezily, and so does the most of the film. The supposed protagonists have a misunderstanding 15 years back in Bulgaria, which could have been easily resolved by a simple conversation in that same time, comes to a head when Veer and Ishita fall in love and want to be together. Their respective siblings, Raj and Meera disapprove of the union because they have trust issues over what happened in the past. Apparently, what happens in Bulgaria, doesn’t stay in Bulgaria.

The film’s premise is flimsy, but it doesn’t steer into the territory where it becomes downright insufferable. The usual imbecile puns by Sajid-Farhad are very much present, yes sir, but only in moderation. A few gags connect well and make you giggle in good measures. The last act of the film has a strong moment between the two brothers, no matter how forced it is. The film isn’t being carried by just Khan and Kajol, which is a minor respite but a dampener for the viewers heading in to watch a rehash of their earlier films. The sideshow acts get a lot of prominence and they miss, and they hit. The music is hummable, but Yash Chopra must be rolling in his grave by looking at the visuals from Gerua. Seriously, how bad is the CGI on it?

It’s not a spoiler, but there’s no actual conflict in the film. And that is how this film becomes painless. Lesson for the day in the Rohit Shetty School of Filmmaking. The lack of a conflict could have been used to keep the film shorter, and tauter (?!) and slightly more enjoyable. I’d take a painless mildly entertaining Dilwale over a painfully mediocre Katti Batti any day.

My rating: ** (2 out of 5)

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