Archive for February, 2016

Aligarh

Aligarh-poster

Aligarh
Release date: February 26, 2016
Directed by: Hansal Mehta
Cast: Manoj Bajpayee, Rajkummar Rao, Ashish Vidyarthi, Dilnaz Irani

Two men walk toward a building in the dark of the night in the foggy town of Aligarh. They speak in muffled voices about the character of a particular woman. It’s difficult to make sense of it, and isn’t really a pleasant conversation to be a part of. The same men walk in from a distance to Professor Siras’s house, to bust his sexual relationship with another man. Two men with questionable integrity assume the position of authority over another man’s actions.

Their self-righteous vigilantism is intended at shaming the Professor throughout the university, and in the society as a whole. In the small-town Islamic community of the university and the city, indulging in acts of passion and lust with a person of the same sex is often shown to be called an “immoral activity”. Siras (Manoj Bajpayee) is relieved of his duties as the chairman of the linguistics department. His co-employee suggests that he write a small apology letter for his “mistake”, to which Siras questions what wrong has he done.

The supposedly minor incident’s repercussions don’t stop at the firing. As he’s just a few months away from his retirement, the after-effects of the entire fiasco begin to manifest in almost every aspect of his life. His sense of loneliness is only aggravated, his state of mind worsened at this great backlash from the university to which he’s devoted more than thirty years of his life. Amidst constant chaos, Siras tries to restore some sanity by, as they say in Hindi, Maahaul Banaanaa, or turning on some sweet Lata Mangeshkar with a little marketable whiskey in his hands.

The camera stays with him, as he rhythmically taps his feet, singing along Aapki Nazaron Ne Samjhaa in a trembling voice that collapses at times to give way to wistfulness. These fixed closeups divulge only as much as you can make yourself see, refusing to break into single person monologues just for the heck of establishing what’s going on in his mind. The pace of the film is deliberated, just like the general speed of time is, in a tier-2 city that strives to be a tier-1 metropolis during the day, and falls back to its cold and misty, thoroughly tamed, dull and uneventful darkness when the sun sets. Silences are powerfully emphasized, instead of resorting to mushy, background scores.

Deepu Sebastian (Rajkummar Rao) is a young intern at a newspaper publication who wants to follow Siras’s story. The professor doesn’t warm up immediately to him and their first meeting ends up in him almost breaking down. Siras’s struggle to get reinstated at the university gains national headlines as a lawyer, who got the Delhi High Court to decriminalize homosexuality, decides to take up his case. A greater conspiracy by university officials starts to unearth as the case is actually contested in the Allahabad High Court.

Manoj Bajpayee embodies his 64 year old’s character’s mannerisms beautifully. He sinks his shoulders in, clenches on to his objects tightly, blushes cutely when someone compliments him and inculcates an effeminate Marathi accent. The writing keeps Siras sane, composed, and even lets him retain a certain sense of humor. Though, with the dialogue, the film rarely scratches below the surface of the issues at hand. Cliched statements about love, poetry, and people’s need to label relationships and sexual orientations spring up, even in perfectly relevant situations.

Rao, as the young South Indian, drops only a single “Ayyo”, and a charming Hindi diction. The makers depict a camaraderie between Siras and Deepu which is engaging, but slightly contrived, so as to keep the dynamic as non-homoerotic as they can. Their conversations throw the most light on Siras’s traits and his ideologies. Props to the guys who did the post production VFX for keeping the breaking news section on a news channel contextual to the happenings of 2010.

Mr. Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras’s moving story makes for a very strong picturization for the level of isolation the minorities, of the sexual or any other kind, can be subjected to by our prudish “collective morality”. The film rises higher than just being a character-study or a biographical drama, yet the subtlety of it all stops short of making you want to let your eyes well up. Nevertheless, it’s an extremely important film for our times, when the Supreme Court has again criminalized homosexuality.

My rating: ***1/2 (3.5 out of 5)

Neerja

Neerja-poster

Neerja
Release date: February 19, 2016
Directed by: Ram Madhvani
Cast: Sonam Kapoor, Shabana Azmi, Yogendra Tiku, Jim Sarbh, Abrar Zahoor, Shekhar Ravjiani, Kavi Shastri

In a year where the word ‘nationalism’ has been quite the center of attention from various points of the political and societal spectrums, after Airlift, Neerja is another film that borrows from a brave rescue mission of a different kind. What’s greatly endearing about the two films is the fact that neither the former, nor the latter heavily rely on invoking jingoistic sentiments, which the currently ruling party is stacking the deck with to shush any and every dissenter’s voice.

Political commentary over.

The film starts rolling with a small recorded message from Neerja’s mother, Rama Bhanot, who passed away in December 2015. She’s apparently sat in an airplane seat, with a warm smile on her wrinkled face, blessing the viewers and the makers with a simple message. The film ends with her cinematic counterpart Shabana Azmi giving a tear-jerker of an eulogy of sorts.

Neerja Bhanot (Sonam Kapoor) is an ardent Rajesh Khanna fan who infuses life into her colony’s boring gala night. Kids dance choreographically to Kaka‘s “Bye bye miss, goodnight”, albeit slightly remixed. Shots from the party are juxataposed with those of the ‘bad guys’ gearing up for their mission. Balloons are burst, one by one, at the party, while the Palestinian militants pack their bullets and grenades carefully. Neerja has to steward a late night flight to Frankfurt, forcing her to cut short on her sleep to which her mother (Shabana Azmi) is greatly pained. She wants her to quit the air-hostess job, because Neerja is already doing well in her modelling assignments.

Neerja asserts that she likes her job on the Pan Am airline and she enjoys doing it. Her journey to the flight is assisted by Jaideep (Shekhar Ravjiani) who has a romantic interest in her. All of this detailing is given away within the first few minutes of the film, goading her into the fateful Pan Am Flight 73 on the early morning of September 5, 1986. She’s charming, caring of the passengers’ needs and considerate of her co-employees and subordinates. She brings the flight’s Pakistani radio engineer video cassettes from India and she shows a greater work ethic even in the face of a hijack by the aforementioned Palestinian militants.

Her troubled marriage is slowly divulged, in moments where she sees herself helpless on the hijacked flight. She’s reminded of how her father always asked her to stay courageous, come what may and never tolerate any wrong, even when she’s married off to an abusive husband in a different country. The news of Neerja’s flight’s hijack is handed in the same courageous fashion by her mother, when her sons start losing their composure over the lack of any action by the Pakistani armed forces as the hijacked flight had been stuck for over eight hours at the Karachi airport.

Shabana Azmi, as the progressive Punjabi mother of the ’80s pulls at your stony heart’s strings so much, it’s not even fair. At the crux of Neerja’s valor and commitment to her job of being the flight head-purser are the values instilled in her by her family. Sonam Kapoor is straddled with a character of a certain vanity and a class that are closer to home for her. She mellows down her singsong delivery and retains her glamorous, chirpy persona and meshes it with her part.

The sense of tension and fear is palpable throughout the course of the flight’s captivity. Yes, the attackers are written in stereotypes, but Jim Sarbh with one of his angry breakdowns, in a particular scene, renders his Khaleel as his own and makes you gasp, wondering what he would do next in his fit of rage. Some of the passengers on the flight are established distinctively, thus making the viewer empathize with the potential tragedy that can fall upon them. Pieces from Neerja’s life are carefully strewn over the duration of the film, and only one amongst them, and a song, feels misplaced.

Neerja isn’t just a tale of a selfless employee putting her life in jeopardy to save the lives of others. It’s a well-told, emotionally resonating story of a family that was invested in creating a fair world for their children and helping them to make the right decision throughout their lives. Azmi’s speech at the end of the film may seem slightly long, but it’s one of the most sniffle-inducing ten minute film sequence of your life. A life snatched away too soon, yet commemorated forever. Just like her favorite line from Anand, “बाबूमोशाय, ज़िन्दगी बड़ी होनी चाहिए, लम्बी नहीं|” [Translation: Life is measured by what we do, and not how long we live.]

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

Deadpool

Deadpool-poster

Deadpool
Release date: February 12, 2016
Directed by: Tim Miller
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, Ed Skrein, T. J. Miller, Gina Carano, Brianna Hildebrand, Stefan Kapicic, Leslie Uggams, Karan Soni

While piercing swords through the bad guys, proposing marriage to his girlfriend, and dodging the bullets from all corners, Deadpool/Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) manages to break the fourth wall and talks to the viewer directly. I plan on doing the same with this review which will be read by a consistently vast audience of fifteen people, and my dad who’ll like my post on Facebook when I’ll share this review there.

There are a lot of words that the erratic censor authorities mute out. But maybe, they don’t know what tea-bagging and face-sitting are and they let a few fucks slip in, perhaps just for “emphasis”. They mute ‘blowjob’, ‘tits’, ‘dick’, and probably a few motherfucks as well. Also, as a confession, I haven’t been clued in on the developments in the mutant universe of X-Men and I didn’t know much about Deadpool, the comic-book character. But, I did know about Wolverine and there are a lot of references to him and they’re all snooty and hilarious.

Deadpool, is sat in a taxi’s passenger seat as Dopinder (Karan Soni) drives him to a bridge where he needs to get so he can wait for his target to pass by. He gets there early so he can chill for a bit and begin to immerse you into his world. Bang, starts the action and ‘Pool is cornered. Right in the middle of the scuffle, he narrates to you how it all began. He bumps into Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) at his local bar and no matter how censored their relationship is, it booms magnificently. Wade is still a perfectly humane human being and yet there’s something off about him. Vanessa has something off about her as well, and they blend together so good.

Wade’s transformation into Deadpool is shown in parallel with his ongoing struggle to get even with Ajax (Ed Skrein) who has a strange obsession with hearing Wade say his name, he’d even put Rihanna to shame with the number of times he says “Say my name”. Or was it “What’s my name”? The studio doesn’t drop all of the extensive mutant family on us and only shows Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapicic) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) which the makers turn into a great positive for the film. They are Deadpool’s little protective family who are there to help him out or force him to inflict self-harm. That’s what real families do.

‘Pool’s cocky spunk and sense of humor is rambunctious, which is enjoyable, but has the potential to be overbearing and yet therefore, they pack it all concisely, while giving you an empathetic backstory for Wade Wilson. When he turns into the superhero that he does, he’s lonely and perhaps even broke. The superhero turns routinely real and ends up in the best fifteen minutes of the film, showing you how ordinary a genetically modified mutant’s life can get. He berates his flatmate, leaves her a gift buried in the ground, and rests his head on her while they talk about how love is not exactly blind. Hashtag just lovelorn people things.

Not for a moment, does any of it get dull or boring or remains critically serious in its treatment of the inherently frivolous natured comic book story. The Dark Knight displayed how realistically dramatic a masked-crusader’s escapades can get, and Deadpool treats the whole genre in the polar opposite fashion and ends in, again, the most apt way a film of this kind should end in. Hint: It starts with a ‘b’ and ends in a ‘g’, or starts with an ‘f’ and ends in a ‘g’, or ‘s’ and ends in ‘e’.

Remember, that I did not let out any spoilers here, because there is nothing much that can spoil your experience of watching this film. Deadpool is refreshingly brash, suprisingly relatable and outrageously entertaining; a life infusing shot in the arm of the long vegetative brand of superhero films that we get to see in dozens every year.

(Why don’t I get to see more of the ever-so-glorious Morena Baccarin in the Holly-land of cinema?)

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

Fitoor

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Fitoor
Release date: February 12, 2016
Directed by: Abhishek Kapoor
Cast: Aditya Roy Kapur, Katrina Kaif, Tabu, Mohammed Abrar, RayesMohi Ud Din, Khalida Jaan, Tunisha Sharma, Kunal Khyaan, Lara Dutta, Talat Aziz, Rahul Bhat, Ajaz Rah, Aditi Rao Hyderi, Akshay Oberoi

Charles Dickens’s novel, Great Expectations, has been billed as a coming of age story where young adults were made to respect pacts and trained in “gentlemanly arts”; the protagonist is taught to overcome the class differences of being a lower class citizen and eventually acquire the love of a wealthy eccentric spinster’s daughter. Not a lot of it would make sense in the year 2016, and Abhishek Kapoor and Supratik Sen adapt their screenplay from the book so as to suit our times.

A young Noor (Mohammed Abrar) is good at fine arts and never seems to go to school. His older sister (Khalida Jaan) urges him to work along with her husband. Begum Hazrat (Tabu) stays in her affluent, but doomed mansion, with her young daughter Firdaus (Tunisha Sharma); Noor becomes besotted with the girl, but is warmed of the probable consequences of ‘losing his heart’ to her by none other than Firdaus’s mother. Hazrat shows bipolar tendencies wherein she encourages Noor to pursue his interests and even enjoy the company of her daughter, and at the same time she continuously cautions him against getting too close to her.

The film follows Noor’s boyhood with patience and some detail. The wide-eyed boy soon turns into a hulked-up, disturbingly chiseled artist who still works with his brother in law in Kashmir. Noor (Aditya Roy Kapur) is still infatuated with Firdaus and learns that she’s been in England for years and that she’ll be returning to Delhi in a few days. An anonymous benefactor finds Noor to be worthy of an all expense paid residency program in Delhi. Firdaus (Katrina Kaif) has grown to have dazzling red hair, just like her mother, and is engaged to a Pakistani politician, Bilal (Rahul Bhat). She says that things have changed and they’ve grown up, Noor is just a friend for her now.

We all know it isn’t that simple, because, hey, it’s a film for heaven’s sake. Noor relentlessly pursues her and there are complications and Firdaus is confused, and also manipulated by her mother. The plot gets muddier and many more popular faces start dropping in into the film. The story steers away from the boy-girl drama, and steers toward the India-Pakistan tensions, Hazrat’s extensive backstory and the unraveling of her psyche. Kapur and Kaif’s ‘chemistry’ is more of a sum of individual parts than a collective output. They have limited screen time together, and they both manage to look ‘different’ for their parts, hence bringing a certain element of sizzle naturally. Also, Noor never struggles with the stylized city life of Delhi, not even with his English, given that he never seems to have gone to an actual school, ever.

Amit Trivedi’s wondrous soundtrack is almost exhausted in the first half of the film, so they can get to the heavier end of the screenplay. Right until the halfway mark, things are pretty dry and straight, even the point of intermission lacked to create any real sense of anxiety in me. The proceedings remain promising and extremely enchanting with Anay Goswamy’s cinematography though, as you hope on for something to break the simmering stagnation.

Fitoor plays around well with its drama when it goes the whole nine yards, i.e. going back to showing the origins of Hazrat’s bipolar personality and immersing the viewer into the deep dark secrets of the Dickensian universe. It feels a little late at times, as the universe isn’t quite Dickensian, and love affair between Noor and Firdaus never quite reaches the titular emotion of the film, obsession. Tabu throws her usual masterclass of a performance to support the lead pair, so much so that they could have had her in the poster for the film just by herself.

tabu-fitoor-poster

Wait, there is one poster of just her.

With all the ingredients for a surefire technically sound magnum opus, Fitoor doesn’t quite run its engines on all cylinders. The film’s storytelling is patient and paced at a haunting speed, only for the payoff to be a sudden momentary stroke of self-realization in one of the protagonists.

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

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