Archive for October, 2016

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)

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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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