Friday, October 02, 2015


Rating : 8/10
Release Date : 2nd October, 2015
Time : 132 minutes
Director : Meghna Gulzar; Writer, Music (& Producer) : Vishal Bhardwaj;
Starring : Irrfan Khan, Neeraj Kabi, Konkona Sen Sharma, Sohum Shah, Gajraj Rao, Sumit Gulati, Prakash Belwadi, Atul Kumar, Ayesha Parveen, Divya Bhatia, Shishir Sharma

As you watch this gripping, tense film you’re either thinking ‘this could happen to you’ or ‘is this what really happened’ ? What else do you say when you have cops as incompetent as ours, news media whipping up a bloodthirsty frenzy, an insatiable public only too ready with moral, hypocritical judgements, bureaucrats trying to save their own skin and that of their friends, back-stabbing for a promotion and finally, a judiciary that possibly (probably) over-steps it’s bounds.

This is a film about the infamous Arushi Talwar killing - the double murder of a fourteen year old girl and the manservant of a household in Noida (UP), where the parents of the unfortunate girl are currently languishing in jail. Make no mistake, the film-makers do take sides here – they are not just trying to bring you the facts (didn’t really follow the case so cannot vouch for their veracity) but also to give you their perspective, and also entertain you… Through clever casting and a crisp screenplay, the film does manage to cast more than a doubt on what has transpired in this shocking case.

The acting is excellent – whether it’s the paan-chewing Gajraj Rao as the investigating inspector, or Sumit Gulati as the overly helpful compounder, Sohum Shah as a diligent CDI (CBI equivalent) officer and Prakash Belwadi and Shishir Sharma as the outgoing and incoming heads of the CDI. The main leads excel too, as expected, with Neeraj and Konkona as the anguished, uncommunicative parents and Irrfan as the main investigating officer of the CDI, in the centre of this storm. And in all of this, Tabu, in a guest appearance, still manages to make an impact.

The film is handled extremely well. Meghna, in her second film, shows a deft touch, getting great performances from her cast (she succeeds particularly with the parents) and also, thanks to the story by her mentor, Vishal Bhardwaj, the titillation and the more sleazy aspects of the case are minimized, with the human aspects played out skillfully. This film isn’t an easy watch, especially if you’re parents and even more so if you have a young daughter, but it does make an impact – a very strong one at that.

Singh is Bliing

Rating : 2/10
Release Date : 2nd October, 2015
Time : 139 minutes
Director, Writer : Prabhudheva; Co-writer : Shiraz Ahmad; Music : Various
Starring : Akshay Kumar, Amy Jackson, Kay Kay Menon, Lara Dutta, Pradeep Rawat, Anil Mange, Arfi Lamba, Rati Agnihotri, Yograj Singh

The rating has three points for Amy Jackson, looking surprisingly good (almost unrecognizable after her last Hindi film outing, Ekk Deewana Tha) and amazingly slick in her action scenes…the rest is for everything else in the film, including Akshay, the story, jokes, songs etc.

In particular I would like to point out

Silly animal humour – this time a lion, horse, buffaloes, a camel etc are used to display bravery or other characteristics. Juvenile doesn’t even begin to describe it

Crass bathroom humour – a scene involving Prabhudheva and a kid is so crass and tasteless that it beggars belief

The songs are ill-timed, too many and tuneless besides also being desperately wannabe

Special mentions of Lara Dutta and Kay Kay Menon – whatever they got for playing their ridiculous roles, it wasn’t worth whatever they bought with it

The story – there is none, nothing that makes sense at least

Shamelessly manipulative – no opportunity is spared to showcase how Singh / Punjabi our hero, his family and his village is – the kada, the lassi, Golden Temple, the Khalsa symbol. Every stereotype is milked dry – the eating, the loud, garish colours, the love for sweet, the loud. They know their target audience and leave no stone unturned to appeal to them

Even Akshay is extremely unconvincing in this turkey – looking flat and out of sorts, without his trademark comic timing

I found Singh is Kinng barely tolerable but this one plumbs new depths. Is a groan fest from the start, with no redeeming aspects apart from it’s heroine !

The Martian

Rating : 6/10
Release Date : 2nd October, 2015
Time : 141 minutes
Director : Ridley Scott; Writer : Drew Goddard based on the book by Andy Weir; Music : Harry Gregson-Williams
Starring : Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Kate Mara, Michael Pena, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie, Mackenzie Davis, Donald Glover, Benedict Wong

You’d probably never want to be stranded 140 million miles away from the nearest help. But Matt Damon finds himself in this particularly unique quandary, left behind for dead on Mars, the rest of the crew (Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara, Michael Pena among others) leaving him for dead during a Martian storm and heading back for Earth

The movie then focuses on Matt’s efforts to keep himself alive (without being in touch with Earth or his crew) and NASA’s attempts to bring him back. Jeff Daniels is the NASA Director who is trying to balance secrecy, need for funding, PR and the desire to get him back while Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristen Wiig, Sean Bean (ground leader of the mission’s return home), Benedict Wong and Donald Glover try to come up with ways to get him back.

Am not a scientist but a lot of what happens seems to be very far-fetched, and you have to remember it’s a Hollywood film after (lots of poetic license probably) but still manages to hold your attention throughout by building engaging characters and making them do interesting things. I also liked the fact that Chiwetel has a Hindu father and a Indian surname and that NASA had to seek another nation’s help…

There are a couple of particularly interesting pieces of dialogue in the film – one which talks about colonization (how the act of growing crops can help you lay claim to land) and the other about how everything that Matt does is a first in Martian history ie if he climbs a hill, or goes for a short stroll, he’s the first person to have done so in the 4 billion year history of that planet

Matt is excellent and very believable in the central role. The supporting cast is super, the visuals are great, as with most space movies these days. The background score what you would expect. The dialogue is good, crisp, thankfully doesn’t get too maudlin or jingoistic. However, there is a touch of predictability about certain aspects which probably prevents the film from becoming a true classic…

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Intern

Rating : 7/10
Release Date : 25th September, 2015
Time : 121 minutes
Director, Writer : Nancy Meyers; Music : Theodore Shapiro
Starring : Robert De Niro, Anne Hathaway, Rene Russo, Anders Holm, JoJo Kushner, Andrew Rannellls, Adam DeVine, Zack Pearlman, Jason Orley, Christina Scherer

Do we tend to write people off when they are retired ? Are women, who’re heading major companies, treated differently by society versus men ?

This is about a senior citizen, Robert De Niro, at the spry age of 70, taking up a job as an intern in an ecommerce clothing company, and getting assigned to work with Anne Hathaway, who founded and runs the company.

The reason why this is happening, the company is hiring senior citizens (they hire 2 other senior interns) aren’t totally clear but the video that Robert makes, outlining his reasons for wanting to join, makes for compelling viewing.

Anne is also a bit over her head, trying to manage the rapid growth over the past two years, making sure the company stays on track especially with the VCs pushing for more experienced management. She has a notoriously short attention span (her meetings are slotted by her assistant, Christina, for 3 minutes or 5 and the really long ones last 15) and is also trying to manage her work-life balance with her very cute daughter, JoJo, and stay-at-home husband, Anders.

The office has an interesting mix of people – Andrew, Adam, Jason among others – and Zack is the normal intern ie of normal age. Rene Russo is the office masseuse (something like that could get me back to corporate life) and definitely gets Robert’s attention in more ways than one.

In such a scenario, Robert, who’s worked over 40 years before retiring, with his suit / tie / calculator / vintage briefcase, has to figure out ways to be useful and get the attention of his harum-scarum boss…

What I found fascinating is that despite a) Nothing major happening over the course of the film b) Or him He doing anything extraordinary (doesn’t turn into an all kowing superman, yet via conversations, normal day-to-day situations (a driver who plays hooky, a father who falls sick) we experience what it’s like to interact with seniors – their values, thoughts (some old-fashioned), way of working.

It makes us question whether we as a society really do tap into the vast knowledge bank of our retirees, whether we could use them more fruitfully rather than writing them off, being dismissive. Also, looking at Anne’s rise and her family situation, it raises questions re the glass ceiling, how supportive we are of full-time working moms. And as the snide remarks of the school moms, illustrate, whether we’re really ready for the stay-at-home dad scenario ?

I’m not sure I agree with all that was shown – Anne’s need for a father figure was perhaps a bit too convenient, Robert’s rise in her eyes a bit too rapid and by giving her certain frailities (tears, needing company on a business trip to San Francisco) we perhaps are only reinforcing some stereotypes about women at work. But overall, aided by a peppy soundtrack and snappy dialogue, it’s a hugely enjoyable watch.

Bhaag Johnny

Rating : 5/10
Release Date : 25th September, 2015
Time : 117 minutes
Director, Co-Writer : Shivam Nair; Writer: Vikram Bhatt; Music : Various
Starring : Kunal Khemu, Zoa Morani, Manasi Scott, Mandana Karimi

Imagine the Sliding Doors principle being offered to you just when you had your balls in a vice and were being forced to do something nasty, against your will ? Kunal Khemu’s boss, Manasi, has evidence of him doing insider training and will go to the cops, unless he first befriends, and then kills Zoa. He, luckily (thanks to his mom) is given an option – lead one life assuming you did kill her and another assuming you didn’t (*T&C apply)…

Moans and Groans
The first groan escaped my lips when I realized it was ‘Tantrik’ knowledge that led to the offer being made, complete with a wooden yet creepy Vikram Bhatt as a genie (Why?)

Also, deviating fundamentally from the principle, the scenarios do not play out identically – for example, there are guards waiting outside in one and not in another

Fundamentally, the makers had two options – either make the film realistic or to go down the logic be damned route. Unfortunately, they chose the latter but that only works when you have major star power in the film (Salman Khan, James Bond). So we see a wanted, hunted man spending time in fancy resorts, ordering pizzas, romancing women, suddenly becoming an action hero, facing cops who dont shoot and never shoot straight in any case etc.

The dialogues, especially the pick up lines (what was the door thing about ?) go from very ordinary to really bad – can’t believe any woman would find those schmaltzy lines interesting

Songs. Too many, too tuneless and very ill-timed. This is one of those films where the hero has to be introduced with an item number to show how cool he is and then will have one of those soft, romantic, Atif Aslam type numbers to show he is in love…

Likes and Spikes
Kunal, Manasi and Zoa turn in good performances. Kunal has moments where he displays good timing, facial expressions etc, Zoa is quite assured for most parts and Manasi is extremely believable as super-bitch.

In films like this it’s important to be able to put yourself in the shoes of the protagonist. Which is why, by choosing to be filmy and give rationality a miss, the makers have done this genre and their premise a disservice. I’m probably being generous by going with 5/10 – but it’s better than Katti Batti (which was a 4) and at least someone is trying something different – even if I don’t agree with the way it was executed…

Friday, September 18, 2015

Katti Batti

Rating : 4/10
Release Date : 18th September, 2015
Time : 138 minutes
Director, Co-Writer : Nikhil Advani; Co-Writer: Anshul Singhal; Music : Shankar Ehsaan Loy
Starring : Imran Khan, Kangana Ranaut, Abhishek Saha, Vivan Bhatena

You know he’s nerdy because he wears specs. You know she’s cool and hip because she paints, has tattoos, wears really short shorts and carries Rs 20 notes in her bag with her phone number written on them… He takes but an instant to fall in love and wants a deep, committed relationship while she wants something time pass, as she hasn’t checked out the ‘merchandise’ in their college yet. And with a start like that, isn’t heartbreak inevitable ? Booze (lots of it), a suicide attempt (featuring a bottle of phenyl that looks like a beer bottle), fights and a rebound one night stand follows, but will they lead to true love finding a way ?

And then, just when you thought it was going to end, is a big twist – something so incomprehensible, so ludicrous, it made the movie fall and fail…

What works are the moments of zaniness (only a few, like when he’s examining toilets, the parents visit to the campus or the opening credits), a decent soundtrack (despite being over-populated with songs), a good supporting cast (especially Abhishek and Vivan) and superb sets / visuals. What falls flat are the repeated, almost desperate attempts to be really cool, quirky (the impossibly overwrought boss, the band at the end), the irritating sister, the stretched heartbreak with the ‘I will forget her’ alternating with ‘I will get her back’ portions and the overall silliness of the plot.

What also doesn’t work is the lead pair – neither is able to truly bring credibility to their characters. Imran is completely unconvincing as the love-sick lover – he doesn’t look like the type who would go to pieces if his girl left him – and he tries too hard to emote. Kangana’s struggle is more with her character, which being flawed doesn’t leave her much scope. And she’s also done the wild chick a bit too often, so the novelty has worn off.

What we get is a terrible, confused, mess of a story, almost as if the makers didn’t know whether to make us laugh or to cry and then fall flat trying to make us do both. The characters are stereotypical, make us feel nothing for them and the ending is a desperate attempt to wring some emotions from us. Though it only made me cringe and hold my head in my hands, while laughing hollowly…