Saturday, March 09, 2019

Kaptaan Marvel : Quickie Movie Review

No, I didn't watch it in Hindi, but in a way, I wish I had, because in it's essence this is a classic Hindi movie. But done the classic Marvel way, with style, special effects and healthy doses of sarcasm and humour.

Brie Larson has some gaps in her memory, ever since she washed up on planet Hala with no clue about who she was. She's a Kree super warrior (the Kree Kshatriya), being mentored by Jude Law to overcome her inhibitions, realise her potential and to fix her memory. She has dreams, usually of Anette Benning, and of flying fighter jets, but no recollection of anything else. The Supreme AI of the Kree is also trying to help, but all to no avail. And then there is a mission to fight against the Skrull, the shape-shifting enemies of the Kree, which goes wrong. And she lands up on planet C-53, Earth, with a younger Samuel Jackson & Clark Gregg of SHIELD for company. Cameos by Lashana Lynch, Ben Mendelssohn (he was great, especially with his distinctive voice) and Lee Pace (Ronan) help bring the movie to a predictable but rollicking conclusion.

Have always been a fan of Brie (pun intended), especially in Kong : Skull Island and she plays the role to perfection, at her best with the one-liners and deadpan humour

But, there are gigantic loopholes (won't discuss for fear of giving away too much), you can see even the 'twists' coming a mile away and the conclusion is too neat, too pat, just simply too easy.

If it weren't for the curiousity value of knowing where this big piece / superhero fits in the gigantic Marvel universe, Thanos fighting, Avengers series, I guess the rating would have been even lower.

It's not bad, as a one time watch. Nothing more.

Rating : 6/10

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Gully Boy Mini Movie Review

This isn't about the story - you've seen it, probably even heard a lot of the dialogues before. But not this way.

Ranveer is a frustrated slum (Dharavi) dweller. With an angry father (impeccably essayed by Vijay Raaz), who's just married for a second time, sidelining his Mom. All he has is college, friends (stand out role by Vijay Varma), dreams of a better life. Some poems. And Alia. The scene where they're shown together for the first time is beautifully executed. She assists her father in his clinic, under the watchful eye of her mom (Sheeba Chaddha). Is studying to become a surgeon. And has a fierce temper, not shy of 'dhoptaoing' others who eye her Ranveer. He watches a rapper, Siddhant Chaturvedi, perform at a college fest. Gets to meet him later, understands how to rap. Does a video. Enter Kalki Koechlin, a student studying music in Berkeley. Who wants to help. But how to explain this to those against him and his music, like his father (who believes you shouldn't dream big), his Mama, Vijay Maurya, (who wants him to work in his office), all the while trying to take care of his Mom ?

Sounds boring, cliched ? It isn't !

I remember it was the wavy haired Farhan Akhtar, as a singer / actor, who brought rock into the Hindi mainstream domain, with Rock On. That, after changing the way storytelling was done in Hindi cinema, with Dil Chahta Hai, and it's contemporary dialogue, elite houses and rich kids with their entitled lives. Zoya does the same here - change the style of storytelling, but only, this time it's for those who don't have much else but their dreams. And the mode of communication is rap music. Buzzy, edgy, thumping, angry, vibrant, from the heart. It's about those who most of India choose to not see, hear in their everyday lives, the kind Aravind Adiga spoke about in his brilliant book, The White Tiger. The opposite of India Shining. "They danced all night ? And drank ? The women too ?", Ranveer's dadi asks in a shocked voice, when he returns after an all night stint as a driver for some rich folks. The lyrics (you have to hand it to Javed Akhtar for some of the poems) are touching, poignant yet fiery, provocative, the movie putting into words what millions of Indians feel, hear, think, on an everyday basis. An India waiting to burst free from it's myriad shackles.

There are bits that jar too. Thought they could've kept religion out of it, for example. And I didn't like the ending. But liked where Zoya ended the film. Go figure.

The supporting cast is great - Kalki, Vijay Raaz (outstanding!), Sheeba, Siddhant, Vijay Varma - no one puts a foot wrong. But Ranveer and Alia simply slay it. No praise is too high for them. Ranveer's impassive face and expressive eyes meet Alia's assured confidence and spitfire temperament. She's the one who gives him strength, while battling her own parents and making sure their future remains together, bright. And Ranveer is determined to grab the opportunity coming his way. All done with a healthy dose of humour. Please marry her, his friend pleads with Ranveer, because I couldn't deal with her.

But even more than the performances, what remains in your head as you walk out of the hall, is the music. Loud, brash, pounding, booming, energizing. This is one soundtrack that is going to stay for a while. Get ready for the new anthem of India. Apna Time Aayega !

Rating : 8/10

Sunday, February 03, 2019

Trouble In Stud-Muffin Land

He’d asked her to get a coffee for him from the Nescafe shop, while he picked up a snack from the adjacent shop, during the 20 minute break between classes. He then began chatting with someone else, forgetful of the time, while she stood holding the two cups. She tried shouting his name, twice, but somehow couldn’t get through. Mindful of the clock ticking, she then raised her voice and shouted

“Oye, Stud-Muffin!’


He turned towards her immediately. But so did every other head, of the fifty odd other students milling around the cafĂ©. And that’s when the trouble began.

Chapter One

Anup stood admiring his scrawny, topless frame in the full length mirror he’d installed in his room, while Tanya, his girlfriend, snuggled under the covers and looked at him quizzically. Given that they’d been going around for a long time, a full month, she should’ve gotten used to this everyday ritual but it still amused, perplexed her.

Anup had recently, a week ago, begun gymming. And he felt he could spot the first signs of a bulge in his biceps already.

“Tanya, look !!”, he turned around, beaming, flexing his muscles, but she just dived under the covers. “Acchha, btw, you know what Astha called me today at the coffeeshop ? Stud-muffin !”, he said proudly. He hadn’t liked the moniker when it was uttered but was now beginning to warm to it.

“Who called you What !!”

Her tone should’ve made him stop but he hadn’t fully absorbed the recommended reading of “Corporate Lessons from the Five Warning Signs of Predators Before They Move In For the Kill” for last term’s Business Strategy Reinvented course.

“What? Astha called me Stuf-Dummin. Why?”, he stammered
“No, No, No, you don’t ask the questions now, Mr Anup Singhani, I’m asking them !”

“Arre, it was nothing, Tanya, let’s go and have ice-cream”, The use of his full name alerted him to the full extent of his problem but it was too late.

“Why are you spending so much time with Astha, by the waaayy ?”, she asked, stretching the ‘way’ a bit, “It’s always, Astha this, Astha that”
“But she’s in my study group ! I have to meet her, talk to her”
“There are 4 other people in your study group. I don’t ever hear you mentioning their names, Anup.”

Tanya wasn’t in his section and didn’t like this fact. They’d both met as members of the debating club, the difference being that he was only there because a senior had told him it was a way to get into the coveted Consult firm’s shortlists, while she had been born to debate (voted Best Delegate, All India Washington Post MUN, 5 years ago).
“In fact, do you even know their names ?”

She was now warming to her task and akin to Botticelli’s Venus arising out of the water, she began to sit up and emerge from under the covers.
“And what did YOU do to make her call you… that…” (she couldn’t bring herself to say it).
“Nothing. Nothing…”
“Aha, then you SAID something !! What did you say !? Tell me!”
“Babe – I never said or did anything”
“Don’t you ‘Babe’ me! You just admitted you said something. What did you say ?” (also winner, 3 years ago, Mock Courtroom Trial in Symbiosis Law School – the first time anyone from Symbi BBA won vs the lawyers)
“Why would anyone just, out of the blue, call you that anyways ? Do you think I’m a fool ? What’s going on, Anup ?”

Anup had the same ‘frozen deer in headlights’ expression that was usually reserved for the Accounting classes (despite having done a B.Com).
“Are you serious about us or not ? You need to tell me right now”
Tanya was sitting up straight now and had fully emerged from the blankets, wearing nothing but her bra. Anup’s eyes, almost involuntarily, strayed towards her cleavage. And she noticed.
“You’re sick, y’know”
“What – what did I do?”
“You’ve done enough, Anup, enough !! You need help ! You’re disguuustiiingg”. She stretched the disgusting, making it last a full three seconds. And in less than that time, she’d donned her top and was out of the room. Even lesser time, as an aside, than when she’d been late for Prof Arvind Sahay’s class.
The door slammed shut behind her and Anup winced at the sound. He didn’t know what had hit him.

Chapter Two

“Muffin ?”
“Ooh, thanks !”, Astha said happily until she turned around and realized Tara was just pulling her leg. She offered her a candy instead as they both sat down, facing each other.
“So what was that about ?”
“What ?”
“Calling Anup stud-muffin ?”
“I don’t know, ya… just happened”, she shrugged.

Her door flung open that instant and Tanya barged in.
“Why are you trying to steal my Anup ?” she questioned aggressively.
“What ? Steal who ?”
“But she already has a boyfriend ?!” Tara chipped in
“I’m not talking to you, thank you”, Tanya said abruptly.
“But I already have a boyfriend !” repeated Astha
“Yes, but he’s not on campus and we all know long distance relationships don’t work. You’ve had your eyes on Anup ever since Summer Placement, admit it !”
“But she’s got a better summer placement than him ?” Tara stated the obvious

“I told you, Tara, stay out of it”, Tanya wasn’t happy about her continued interference.
"I'm not interested in Anup, Tanya"
“I’ve heard you’re breaking up with your boyfriend ?”
“Oh !”, Astha looked at Tanya evenly, “he’s coming over next week, you can ask him yourself” and she left her room, leaving the other two staring at each other.
“And, as if you didn’t know, her boyfriend works in Matrix Partners”. Tara left the room too, leaving Tanya alone in Astha’s room.

Chapter Three

“She called you what ?”
Anup was seeking advice from his two dorm sideys. One, an MTech from IIT, took things quite literally and was having trouble understanding the nickname. His social skills were also amongst the worst on campus and his probability of getting a girl-friend on campus was unanimously voted to be in the low first decimals. The other, from DU, could’ve had better luck with the ladies except he spent all his time smoking up a storm and watching movies on Netflix. He hadn’t stopped giggling ever since he’d heard the name.

“What does stud-muffin even mean ?” MTech couldn’t get his head around it, setting DU off in a fresh round of giggles.
“That’s what I’m asking you ?!!”, Anup said exasperatedly. “And you’re not helping”, he said pointedly to DU.
“I think she’s friend-zoning you!”, said DU, pausing between chuckles.
“Well, it is kind of cute”, MTech grudgingly admitted.
“No, no – I think I didn’t say it like she said it. ‘STUDDD – muffin’”, Anup said, this time with feeling.

“But – tell me something – why does it matter ? Why would she even look at you – isn't her summer placement better than yours ?”, said MTech, injecting a touch of practicality in Anup’s emotions.
“That’s true ! And isn’t her boyfriend in a VC firm, the kind even McKinsey types aspire to?”
“Yaar, my summer placement isn’t bad…”
“Yes – but Tanya's is worse – maybe it’s for the best you broke up !”, DU tried to console him
“Bollocks !! She’s a girl, be happy you have one ! You guys are killing the romance, placement - shlacement, doesn’t matter, you idiots don't know how lucky you are !!” said MTech, this time with true feeling
“Guys – I’m asking about Astha and you’re still talking about Tanya !”, Anup protested. “I want to know one simple test, one question, something which will tell me for sure, if she has feelings for me or not”
“Ok”, MTech said, with the air of someone about to apply his mind on the weighty problem at hand
“Ohhhkkk” said DU, with the air of someone who’d finally understood

“Ask her if she plays Fortnite”, said MTech, making a gesture with his hands, as if this was the final-best test possible
“Oh, yes”, chimed in DU, “We’re a player short in our team anyways”
Anup rolled his eyes
“You can make her watch that YouTube channel about goats that you’re watching all the time – if she likes it too, it’s true love !”

Both DU and MTech guffawed while Anup grimaced !
“Why don’t you ask her to rank Emma Stone, Emily Blunt, Angelina Jolie and Monica Bellucci in order of hotness ?”
Both DU and Anup looked askance at MTech who’d made the suggestion
“If her ranking matches yours, it’s a match made in heaven!”
“Guys – you’re not helping !!”

DU finally spoke after two minutes of silence – “You know, you could do what they did in Dil Chahta Hai ?”.
Anup, who liked the movie, was all ears.

Chapter Four

“Muffin ?”
“Shut up !! Enough is enough”, Astha snapped, until she turned around and saw someone was actually offering her one, while now looking bewildered.
“Sorry, sorry – I thought I heard something else”, she placated her as they sat down and devoured two warm, raspberry muffins.

Chapter Five

Anup waited at LKP, his heartbeat playing conga rhythms inside, increasing in tempo as he observed Astha walk towards him. Funny how, despite the years and the advancements in technology, some things like location (Louis Kahn Plaza, the central square of IIM-A) or the invitation (I have something serious to discuss with you) just don’t change.

“Astha, I wanted to ask you a question”, Anup began without any preamble, as Astha looked at him with quizzical, big, round eyes which made him more even more nervous.
“I want you to close your eyes and think of the answer to this question. Ummm, can you please close your eyes ?”.
Astha looked at him warily but complied.
“If… If you had a muffin”
Astha opened her eyes in alarm

“No no – eyes closed, eyes closed” and it was only after she’d closed them again, he continued.
“If you had a muffin - then who is the first person in the world you would want to share it with ?”
“But I just had one. I don’t want another”, Astha protested.
“Oho, imagine na !! It’s a hypothetical question ! C’mon, Astha !”, Anup insisted.

Astha closed her eyes for a few minutes and then opened them, ready with her answer.
“No one!”, she said sweetly but with finality, “I don’t like sharing food”.

Final Chapter

Anup narrated the entire episode to his two sideys, who absorbed every word with the gravity they deserved.
“That’s it, then” MTech said, “That’s pretty final”
“Almost brutal”, DU added, before looking at Anup suspiciously, “why are you still smiling”, he asked ?
“Guys – I think it’s a big hint !”, Anup said excitedly. “Don’t you get it ?”.
“She completely gets me”, he continued, as both looked at him puzzled, “I don’t share my food too. Don’t you see ?? She knows that. Can’t you see – it’s a big hint !! She’s completely into me !!!”
Both DU and MTech looked at him, with unalloyed contempt.

“Tera kuch nahim ho sakta”, they exclaimed in unison before shutting their respective doors, as it was Anup’s turn to look puzzled.

Friday, February 01, 2019

Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga Mini Movie Review

In the opening credits, all the women's names are introduced with a pink font.
Men are given a yellow colour, but then (wait for it), with a pink underline akin to the title
However, in a surprise twist, all the names burst into a glorious explosion of CGI generated yellow and pink petals

If the above appeals to you, please stop reading this review now and go watch the film - there's a high probability you might enjoy it. Others can carry on reading.

Sonam, who hails from Moga (Punjab), accidentally meets Rajkummar Rao, a drama writer (and son of a famous producer) while trying to escape from her brother. "Your drama, a modern love story, has a flaw", she sweetly tells him. "It contains no syaapa" - and how can there be true love without any angst (wasn't a similar line used in Rockstar?)? That's all it takes for Mr Rao to pack up bags and move to Moga, to develop his next play there, with Juhi Chawla (the drama's caterer and aspiring actress) in tow. Over there he encounters the weakly enacted brother, Abhishek Duhan, the father (Anil Kapoor), the Biji (Madhumalti Kapoor) and the long time domestic help (Brijendra Kala and Seema Pahwa). You see, Sonam Kapoor has a secret, which she confides only in her diary and it keeps her lonely (PS : the title contains a clue) (NB : If you still don't get it, there's a sledgehammer-esque hint in the trailer). If you haven't got it yet, after the above 2 clues, please go for the movie, you're definitely going to enjoy it !

Let me try and think of the good things I can say about the movie.

There are great performances by everyone except the lead actress and Abhishek.

I liked the diary that the younger Sonam maintained - though arguably it wasn't really something someone of her age would've / could've done (the writing and drawing).

Now for the bad (and the ugly)

It's cliched, predictable and has an irritating soundtrack that has all the subtlety of a bazooka

And the biggest mistake the director, producers made is casting Sonam Kapoor in the lead role. Right from the opening few scenes, opposite Rajkummar Rao, it's painfully obvious she can't hold a candle to his acting skills. Then her father (despite his pathetic, mysteriously appearing -disappearing accent), the effervescent Juhi Chawla (was it necessary to make her say 'mind-shattering' 21 times ?) Seema Pahwa and Brijendra Kala continue to show her up. And finally, even the talented Regina Cassandra, who barely has a few scenes, completely shades her, with her expressive eyes speaking a thousand words in every scene.

The end is the very definition of hackneyed, stereotypical balderdash (the fact that they used a plot device first used in Karz, which was made all the way back in 1980, reveals the paucity of original thought).

You can also make out the shallowness, pretentiousness of the film by one simple fact. Apart from her orientation, you don't know a single fact about Sonam's character. In her diary, which has been written over years, there is nothing else mentioned - no hobbies, happy days - apart from her loneliness and desires. We know she (perhaps) wants to do an MBA - but even that is just a plot device to give her an excuse to go to Delhi. There's no clue about what she wants to do in life, her ambitions, what she has studied, her other interests - nothing ! It's as if there is nothing else to her persona apart from her 'secret'!

Also, the makers attempts to talk about the 'secret' in the movie during the promotions were as laughable as anything in the movie - they probably realized the film had no hope for success unless they gave it all away. However, out of the 10 or so people in the hall, 5 had walked out shortly after the interval.

I think the real 'secret' is that Sonam can't act.

Rating 3 / 10

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Uri (The Surgical Strike) Mini Movie Review

I don't believe in jingoism. Which is why I wasn't sure whether I wanted to watch 'Uri : The Surgical Strike'. The thought of watching yet another variant of 'Let's go kill some Pakistanis', a film which could possibly be politically motivated, manipulative, didn't excite me. I expected the movie to have all the subtlety of Mjolnir (Thor's hammer).

I'm so glad I was wrong.

Rating 7/10.

Vicky Kaushal is a leader in the Special Forces, comes from a fauji family, and even his brother-in-law (sister's husband), Mohit Raina, (remember him from the serial Mahadev?) serves with him. Vicky's forte is planning (and executing) counterstrikes. We get a glimpse of his skillset when he carries out a mission in Manipur, in response to a terrorist attack on an army convoy. Family circumstances compel him to move to a desk job, as his mother, Swaroop Sampat, has Alzheimer's and he wants to spend some time with her before her memory fades away completely. The top brass is supportive and a nurse, Yami Gautam, is provided to help care for her. Then the attack on Uri happens. And a decision is taken to execute a surgical strike.

I loved the way they didn't make the film all about chest-thumping, Indian flag waving, anti-Pakistan rhetoric. I liked the way humour was brought in, on several instances (esp a junior official in Indian intelligence, who develops Garuda). I loved the variety of emotions displayed through the movie - a young girl, yelling even through her tears, her father's battalion's war cry. An officer worried about his mother. A quiet Air Force officer, Kirti Kulhari, biding her time on another desk job.

But, most of all, I loved Vicky Kaushal. You simply can't take your eyes off him (is it too much to hope that our fake film awards recognize this performance?). In a fabulous understated performance, his usually impassive face shows only the barest change, emotion required, but it's enough. And he's very believable in his role, fantastic in the action sequences. I loved him in Raazi, even enjoyed his acting in Manmarziyaan and loved him here too !

I wish there was more shown of the strategy / planning, yes, all of it can't be true / so simple, yes, filmy drama has been infused in adequate doses - but it still works, despite it's flaws. And special mention for the soundtrack (Shashwat Sachdev) !

Kudos to the supporting cast - Mohit, Yami, Kirti, Manasi Parikh Gohil (Vicky's sister), Dhairya Karwa, Paresh Rawal, Rajit Kapoor - and most of all to debutant Aditya Dhar, who has written and directed this film.

I don't believe in jingoism. But stand proudly and sing the national anthem everytime it's played in cinemas. Not for the mess our country is in or the grubby, greedy politicians and bureaucrats (previously or currently in charge), mostly hell bent on robbing, dividing us. But I do it out of respect for our freedom fighters and armed forces, and their dream of what India could be. Uri, for all it's flaws, reminded me of that dream once again. To all my friends who've served, this one's for you !

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Bumblebee Mini Movie Review

Bumblebee, the prequel to the Transformers series (an entire collection based on toys created by Hasbro btw), tells the story of how / why the robots that convert into machines got on Earth. It all began with a cute, yellow VW Beetle. And cute, I guess, is the best one word description of the first 90 or so minutes of it's 154 minute running length. The other words could be cliched, predictable. But it somehow, possibly with the aid of a great 80's soundtrack, finds a way to keep you hooked.

Hailee Steinfeld, the other key protagonist, has her own story. A father who died, a family (a permanently irritated mom, irritatingly sweet / dumb stepfather and younger brother) that doesn't really seem to care. She's stuck in a fairground job that's going nowhere and is miles away from the swish set she'd love to be a part of. And that's when the Beetle and Hailee Steinfeld discover each other, forming a bond that is strong, engaging and, at times, even funny. Jorge Lendeborg Jr is her neighbour, trying quite hard to be her friend. And John Cena is the big, tough, distrustful military guy who wants to blow all robots to smithereens.

Towards the end, though, it becomes, for want of a better word, a Hindi film. Impossible stuff happens. Repeatedly. Kids transform into superheroes (pun intended). And the US Military is shown in a very unflattering light, still obsessed with the Cold War, amongst other gaffes (in a rather mean, unnecessary side dialogue, one of the Decepticons - the evil robots - addresses another one as 'Comrade').

So, cute, predictable, perfectly suited for young teens (especially those who adore Hailee) and perhaps a one time watch for adult audiences.

Rating : 6/10

Monday, January 07, 2019

The Mule Mini Movie Review

One of the best things about this movie is the new light you see Clint Eastwood in. You've become so used to see him be a cussed, grouchy senior, it's actually fun, especially in the opening few minutes, to see him laughing, chatting, joking, dancing with his peers. However, when faced with a downturn in the business, faced with the prospect of letting down his beloved grand-daughter (Taissa Farmiga, I'd liked her in At Middleton, along with big sis Vera, who's, of course, brilliant in Up In The Air) he turns into a drug mule. Someone who carries drugs for the cartel from one place to another. And becomes hugely successful. So successful that he gets to meet cartel head honcho Andy Garcia but also comes under the radar of DEA agents Bradley Cooper and Michael Pena, along with their boss Laurence Fishburne.

How all this, along with solving the problems of his family including a wife, Dianne Wiest (remember her spunky turn in The Birdcage?), who hates him and daughter, Alison Eastwood (his feisty real life daughter), who won't speak with him or attend a party if he's there, is the story of the second half.

I liked the way the film showed how easy it is to get sucked into becoming a drug mule. The works easy, the money's great and if you don't get caught (or until you do), it seems perfect. We see a number of young kids get entrapped this way, especially when they go for holidays to countries known for drug production. And while loving the slow, languorous pace and the fine performances of all concerned, I found the final act, the last third, so to speak, a bit too tame, too easy. Can't imagine that happening in real life (and this movie is inspired by a true story). That brought the overall rating down a bit, else it's good for a chuckle or two, or a relaxed evening watch.

Rating : 6/10