Saturday, February 28, 2015

Kingsman : The Secret Service



Rating : 8/10
Release Date : 27th February, 2015
Time : 129 minutes
Director, Writer : Matthew Vaughn; Co-Writer: Jane Goldman, based on the comic “The Secret Service” by Mark Millar, Dave Gibbons; Music : Henry Jackman, Matthew Margeson
Starring : Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, Mark Strong, Samuel L Jackson, Sofia Boutella, Michael Caine, Sophie Cookson




“Manners maketh man”

What an unexpected delight !

Over the top. Cliched. An evil villain with a plan for world domination. Men in suits tying to stop them. Great action. And some deadly British humour…


Colin Firth is an agent with the Kingsman secret service, which isn’t linked to any government anywhere in the world. He owes his life to a young agent who gave his own to protect everyone else. Colin now feels responsible for the wife, young orphan (Taron, when he grows up) the agent has left behind. And so, even when the family falls on bad times, the wife has hooked up with an abusive deadbeat and Taron is a vagrant, having left the Marines, Colin steps in to help out.


“Oxfords Not Brogues”


Of course, in the midst of all this, Samuel L Jackson, a billionaire with a lisp, wants to take over the world. Or something like that. Aided by his deadly assistant, Sofia Boutella, a killing machine with razor sharp prosthetic blade-runner legs, they are planning something but no one knows what…

"If you save the world, We can do it in the asshole"


Some stunning action sequences (surprisingly most starring Colin Firth), cool gadgets great locales and a stunning soundtrack makes sure you enjoy the roller-coaster ride – with several thumbs up the noses of its more famous British brethren, James Bond… taking a dig for being too posh, their fancy cuisines etc


“The suit is the modern gentleman’s armour”


Its over the top, improbable, but somehow the cast, script, director and the jokes just come together to give you a thrill a minute entertainer. Great supporting roles from Mark Strong, Michael Caine, Sophie Cookson and three outstanding action scenes – a surreal one in a church, a rescue in Argentina that ends in an unexpected manner and one in a pub that shows off the various fancy gadgets – work brilliantly, blending classy humour and slick action like a smooth cocktail…Martini, anyone ?


"I always felt that the old Bond films were as good as the villain. As a child, I rather fancied a futuristic colorful megalomaniac"

Dum Laga Ke Haisha



Rating : 7/10
Release Date : 27th February, 2015
Time : 111 minutes
Director, Writer : Sharat Katariya; Music : Anu Malik
Starring : Ayushmann Khurrana, Bhumi Pednekar, Sanjay Misra, Alka Amin, Sheeba Chaddha, Seema Pahwa




Ayushmann doesn’t get along with his father (Sanjay Misra) – he feels his life has been ruined because of him, being forced to give up studies early, sitting in their small shop in Haridwar, and now being forced to marry early. To a girl not of his choice.


Bhumi is sweet, vivacious but is plump, with a round face. She met Ayushman in an arranged marriage scenario and even though she is more highly educated, she felt he was nice and so said yes – to a family that is a little less well off vs theirs.

Sanjay Misra, with things not going well with the shop – the era of cassettes slowly giving way to CDs – is keen that his son marry her because it seems like she has a nice demeanour. And because she is a B. Ed, which means she will teach, earn money and be able to help with the household expenses.


After their marriage, she cant understand why he wont talk to her. Snide remarks are made by the family about her education. And Ayushman is a bit of a loser, a sulky one, directionless, resenting everyone around him, jealous of his friends success – when a friend comes and shows a pic of his to-be, svelte bride he feels its only to rub it in as his wife is overweight.


She’s trying her best – including buying new nighties, putting on English pictures on a friends TV / VCR to seduce him but despite her best attempts, he remains sullen, withdrawn. And then one day things get out of hand.


The first half is fantastic. The language. The houses. The by-lanes. The songs. The way they talk to each other – more the insults – Sanjay Misra always ready to use his chappal on his son, Bhumi’s younger brother calling her a chudail when she asks him how she is looking…

The second half completely loses its way – as usual, the director and script-writer don’t seem to know what to do with the lovely characters they’ve created, leading them to an unlikely, filmy climax. Ayushman is good, but his character isn’t someone you really want to be friends with plus you don’t really get what he is upto, why his thought process is the way it is or changes. Sanjay Misra and the rest of the ensemble cast really shine in their roles. But the film truly belongs to Bhumi Pednekar – she lights up the movie with her expressions, dresses, dancing, dialogue delivery…


If cassette shops, Kumar Sanu, arranged marriages at a temple / introductions by a priest, RSS shakha type meetings with men in shorts and a small house where the family sleeps outside on charpai’s mean anything to you, Dum Laga Ke Haisha is definitely going to be fun and will take you down the sweet bylanes of nostalgia.

PS : One of my pet peeves - if you go on the YRF website, you would imagine you should get the entire cast listed, especially if your film is reliant on excellent character actors...shouldn't you ?

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Whiplash



Rating : 8/10
Release Date : 20th February, 2015
Time : 107 minutes
Director, Writer : Damien Chazelle; Music : Justin Hurwitz
Starring : JK Simmons, Miles Teller, Paul Reiser, Melissa Benoist, Nate Lang, Austin Stowell




Has the world become too soft ?
Do we recognize anymore the effort, the hours, the passion that it takes to truly master a discipline, much less produce works of unbridled genius ?
Are we really prepared for the blood, sweat, tears that usually accompany such a journey ? Especially in the world of social media, political correctness, education becoming more a business, over-anxious parents and molly-coddled children, are we really even trying to produce geniuses ?


JK Simmons doesn’t have any of these doubts. He’s the renowned head of the famous Schaeffer Music School, New York. And he’s only in it to produce top musicians, using any and all means at his disposal –including the most awful physical and mental abuse you’re likely to see from a guru



Miles Teller is a drummer, enrolled in the music conservatory. Is from a middling background, product of a broken marriage, has a caring father, not many friends. He fancies himself as a musician. And is spotted, picked up by JK to be a part of the main ensemble.



Nothing prepares you for what follows. Simmons is the kind who preys on his students weaknesses. He pretends to be interested in a student, only to be able to use personal information to abuse you violently. And he relentlessly pushes, drives you to perform, excel…


Nothing has prepared Miles for this. He’s changing as a person. Redefining his relationships – including his loving dad (Paul Reiser) and a recent girlfriend (Melissa). He fancies his chances, even though the competition is intense and he is, at least in the beginning, only the understudy to the main drummer…


So begins almost a game of cat and mouse between the student and teacher. Its gripping. Miles evolves in ways we wouldn’t expect. The story takes a course we definitely don’t anticipate. And we are hooked, right all the way to the astonishing climax. Simmons and Teller are excellent in their roles, believable, epitomizing their parts to the point you can scarcely believe them to be anyone else. And the music, mostly jazz, is great too…


Like the luscious swirls of a bitter-sweet dark chocolate with a mysterious twist… you’re going to need to taste it to figure out if it works for you.. and, as most creative artists would prefer with their work, you’re going to either love it or hate it…

Friday, February 20, 2015

Badlapur



Rating : 6/10
Release Date : 20th February, 2015
Time : 134 minutes
Director, Writer : Sriram Raghavan; Co-Writer: Arijit Biswas, Pooja Surti; Music : Sachin-Jigar
Starring : Varun Dhawan, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Huma Quereshi, Vinay Pathak, Divya Dutta, Radhika Apte




A chance encounter during a bank robbery leads to unwanted, unnecessary death and a vicious cycle of revenge that lasts over fifteen years. Its not pretty, its not pacy and it most definitely doesn’t follow a path treaded by most Hindi films. However, not everything makes sense and it doesn’t really hold our attention all the way through, though the climax is interesting.



Nawazuddin and Vinay’s getaway after a bank job goes horribly wrong and results in the death of Yami Gautam and her young child. Nawaz is caught, jailed but not before he is able to let his partner escape with the loot. Varun Dhawan is the sadly bereaved husband, father, who’s world comes crashing around him. And the twenty year sentence given to Nawaz for his part in the robbery (he claims his partner did the killing, he was merely the driver), is not enough for Varun…



Kumud Mishra is the police inspector who hates an unsolved case on his record – especially as the cops are never able to track down the partner or the loot. Pratima Kannan is Nawaz’s mother, who can’t believe her son is a killer. Huma is Nawaz’s favourite call-girl, who also doesn’t believe he is a killer. And later in the movie, Vinay Pathak and his wife, Radhika Apte play a critical part, as does Divya Dutta as an NGO worker who works with prisoners.




I really liked Varun in this vengeful avatar – he hit the right buttons in a role outside his comfort zone. Nawazuddin does full justice to a role right up his street, especially in the closing stages. The ensemble cast is excellent. The music really good. But the fatal flaw is you don’t quite understand why some of the characters chose the paths they do – even if the end objective does make sense. And that can really make you wonder, even disconnect with what is shown happening on the screen…

Life can be cruel. Revenge can be salvation. And where better to find it than in Badlapur…

Monday, February 02, 2015

Visiting Faculty, IIM-Ahmedabad



Apologies for posting this so late

I'm currently teaching a course in IIM-Ahmedabad. The course is on innovation, is designed / conceptualized by me over the last year (has a unique twist to it) and am happy to have the renowned Prof Arvind Sahay (Permanent Faculty, Dean External and Alumni Relations, IIM-A) join me for a couple of sessions as well.

My first time teaching, have given several talks before on campuses but never a full course. Am quite enjoying immersing myself in this experience, talking to students, other prof's, attending some lectures, some pre-placement talks, joining in the various events happening around etc. And in the few breaks, am traveling across Gujarat, a state I haven't explored almost at all...

IIM-A also happens to be my alma mater so this makes the whole experience truly special

I will be back in my home, Pune, mid-Feb and will begin my reviews only after that

Many thanks to Reckitt Benckiser (and their brand, Durex), a company I've enjoyed working for, in joining / helping me on this journey

Apologies to my regular readers, hope you understand ! Regards, Love

Friday, December 19, 2014

PK



Rating : 9/10
Release Date : 19th December, 2014
Time : 153 minutes
Director, Writer : Rajkumar Hirani; Co-Writer: Abhijat Joshi; Music : Shantanu Moitra
Starring : Aamir Khan, Anushka Sharma, Sanjay Dutt, Parikshit Sahni, Boman Irani, Saurabh Shukla, Sushant Singh Rajput




Ten Things About PK (and I’m trying hard to give nothing of the story away)

1. Aamir displays a child-like curiosity in the film, questions many things we take for granted. Imagine, if we were brought up in isolation, without parents / elders to make us conform, how many of our customs would we find odd ? For example, the concept of money ? Or Dancing Cars ? Or even clothes ? Its inevitable then, that he gets the name he does…


2. One custom, that for sure Aamir finds very intriguing, is that of our religions. Or different companies, run by different managers, as he puts it. Just for starters, ever wondered how the colour of mourning in one is the bridal colour in another ?


3. He, for reasons that will only be clear as you watch the film, does all this questioning in fluent Bhojpuri… which definitely enhances the humour quotient


4. He only trusts two people. One is Sanjay Dutt, a band master in Mandva, Rajasthan. Who, to assuage his own guilt, takes Aamir in, gives him shelter, helps him in many ways


5. The other is the pretty, petite, Anushka (looking quite different, not all naturally I’m assured by women who claim they can make out such stuff), who helps him out of a bit of a jam. Freshly jilted by her lover, Sushant Singh Rajput and back from videsh (picturesque Bruges), she is now a TV reporter in Delhi, and her Dad (Parikshit Sahni) is a great believer in a God-man, Saurabh Shukla


6. Saurabh Shukla, as many others of his ilk, claim to have a direct line to God. And his routine, extremely well enacted, actually involves him doing a mock conversation with our Maker, whenever a question is posed to him. He ends up having a key role to play in the film


7. Aamir’s acting and dialogue delivery is close to perfect. He is brilliant and with this one cements his reputation as one of the best actors we have on screen, definitely the best amongst the superstars.


8. Rajkumar Hirani and Abhijat Joshi deserve many kudos for delivering a great script (this time hopefully no controversy from a disgruntled author) as does Vidhu Vinod Chopra for producing it. Credit also due to Raju Hirani for extracting super performances from all actors (Sanjay Dutt was very good in his brief role) and also for great locales. The music, songs by Shantanu Moitra, lyrics by Swanand Kirkire is great – enhances the film, doesn’t disturb the story / pace of the film and isn’t the type that makes you reach for the phone to check your messages (the case with most film songs these days)


9. The film is a light-hearted yet hard hitting look at life and an aspect that divides us quite deeply. Probably something that should be kept personal but is instead used more for outwardly show, to create schisms among us. Something that in recent times has led to too much ‘touchiness’, unnecessary ‘sensitivity’ and even senseless violence.


10. There is a fable like feel to the movie (was reminded for some reason of Chocolat) and it deserves a lot of credit for managing to keep the tone light, despite the seriousness of the points it makes. The choice of Bhojpuri really does prove a master-stroke in this regard. There was, I felt, one redundant love angle in the film, and the sole point deducted for its final rating is probably towards that. I recommend making time for the film this week. And taking the kids with you is highly advisable.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Action Jackson



Rating : 6/10
Release Date : 5th December, 2014
Time : 144 minutes
Director, Writer : Prabhu Deva; Co-Writer: Shiraz Ahmed; Music : Himesh Reshammiya
Starring : Ajay Devgn, Sonakshi Sinha, Manasvi Mamgai, Yami Gautam, Kunaal Roy Kapur, Anand Raj, Ketan Karande, Puru Raaj Kumar




Much to my surprise, and despite its senseless story, over-burdened script, I enjoyed this one. Its one of the rare Hindi film’s where the second half is actually better than the first (quite ordinary, standard tapori stuff with the romance thrown in). The film suddenly shifts gears in the second, almost as if, directed and styled by a different director, becoming a homage to Kill Bill / Shoot ‘Em Up – way over the top but then reveling in it being so. And no one relished their roles more than Ajay Devgn and Manasvi Mamgai (Ooh, La La !), who both stood out with their performances, physiques…



The story, if one can call it that, is all over the place. The first half is about a small-time Mumbai villain, Ajay Devgn, with his side-kick, Kunaal, earning their money by bashing up people. There is also a long romance with Sonakshi, with her trying to reform him. And then, suddenly, in the second half, the film becomes a story of an international crime-lord, Anand Raj, his lustful, psychotic sister, Manasvi and our ball-busting, ass-kicking hero, Ajay Devgn, in his Action Jackson avatar, protecting Yami Gautam from them.



There are plenty of silly moments, cheap laughs – none more so than the motorcycle ride in the beginning with pani puri playing a key role or even Sonakshi’s belief that her luck will change if she see’s Ajay naked. Almost inevitably, this is mixed up with moments of cringe-worthy sentimentality – the school admission / the neighbour’s glowing recommendation – as our hero has to have a heart of gold. The second half, despite again having distracting songs which slow down the pace and some moments of redundant comedy, works better simply because its better styled, slicker and has stuff which you haven’t seen before in Hindi films – the action sequences go a bit beyond just people flying in different directions / slow mo shots of bones breaking. And Manasvi, till her role makes her half-crazed, is simply wow ! (Did I mention that before ?).



Prabhu Deva’s mind popping moves with the end credits are not to be missed. And its important in an over the top film that the actors perform their roles with a knowing smirk, helping the audience realize not to take them too seriously. Which Ajay pulls off with elan.

Exodus : Gods And Kings



Rating : 5/10
Release Date : 5th December, 2014
Time : 114 minutes
Director : Ridley Scott; Writers : Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, Jeffrey Caine, Steven Zaillian; Music : Alberto Iglesias
Starring : Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Maria Valverde, Ben Kingsley, John Turturro, Ben Mendelsohn, Dar Salim, Sigourney Weaver, Indira Varma, Aaron Paul




It’s the story of Moses. Grim. Sombre. Slow. Tragic for the most part. And apart from some snazzy sets, special effects and a fondness for Christian Bale derived from his past work, doesn’t work at all as a feature film…



It’s the story of how two step-brothers, Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton, turn against each other, once their father, the Pharoah, John Turturro, passes away. How Bale discovers the secret of his birth, communicates with God through visions / hallucinations and then leads his people away from Egypt, away from their life of slavery, fighting the land and the army he once inhabited and led.



The only interesting part was watching the classic human failings – jealousy, greed, doubt, betrayal, self-preservation (vs greater good). And, the most fascinating part, whether the prophecy, like most astrological predictions, turns out to be a self-fulfilling one just because the ruler is wracked by insecurity, determined not to let it happen. In this case, if Joel hadn’t gone against his brother – would events have unfolded differently ? Or is his insecurity a key factor, nay, the reason, behind the prophecy itself ?



Have realized religious epics don’t work for me - Noah was another recent example. They soon deteriorate into who’s God is stronger, more powerful than the other. And if the seven plagues that afflicted Egypt, were the ‘right’ answer for 400 years of oppression – doesn’t that sanctify the idea of revenge ? Here I can only quote the Mahatma – “An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind”