Archive for December, 2016

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)

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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)

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