Category Archives: Review

queen lisa haydon kangana ranaut

Rani Should Have Ended Up with Vijayalakshmi (And other stray thoughts on the movie ‘Queen)


On January 1st, I vowed not to be a slacker, and to go about doing my work in a timely, hardworking manner.

On January 2nd, I was lying like an endangered polar bear on the couch, watching Queen on television.

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Most films that I enjoy in theatres do not stand up to the challenge of a second viewing, but I found Queen to be utterly watchable. In fact, I enjoyed the film even more on second viewing. Since I knew the general direction of the plot, I started noticing smaller things in the film. Like the bit where Rani removes her sweater and appears to throw it into the crowd, only to stuff it back into her bag. And how, a few seconds later, she takes the waitresses’ fire-helmet, and then promptly puts it back on her head!

Queen was easily the movie of the year. The makers of the film had to tread a very fine line, as there were a number of traps that the films could have fallen into.

Firstly, it ran the risk of resemblance with English Vinglish, which was also about a conservative Indian woman moving to the West for a few days and discovering herself. English Vinglish also had the female lead developing feelings for a white man. Also, both the films featured music by Amit Trivedi too.

Queen also ran the risk of becoming a fluffy, female-transformation films. The ones where two girls – – one modern, the other conservative – meet and become friends. The modern one takes the conservative one shopping, to a parlour. And the conservative girl walks out leaving behind her complexion, upbringing, culture, personality, and older clothes.

The film could have also gone the ‘road movie where character does drugs and discovers her inner self’ sort of a movie. But it steers clear of all those plotholes, charting a course of its own.

The dialogues of the film are spot-on too, thanks largely to some fantastic acting by the others – Rajkumar Rao – who’s a goddamn chameleon – and the rest. Also, Queen will forever be Kangana Ranaut’s finest film. It’s like one of those Sachin innings from the late 90s. Right from the first ball, you know the guy’s in fine form today! Right from the first shot, Kangana knocks it out of the park. It’s the kind of role that, if essayed by a male star, would have been called ‘revolutionary’, and ‘genre-bending’.

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Keeping pseudo-academic analyses aside, there was one lingering thought lurked in my head while I was watching the film.

Rani should have ended up with Vijayalakshmi.

I know it sounds like the rabid fantasy of a college-student, but if you dig deeper, you’ll find that there’s solid reasoning behind my argument.

The two share an oozing chemistry from the moment they set eyes on each other. In spite of being utter contrasts. Their clothes, the lives they lead, their moral compasses, even their acting skills – one actress is playing the role of her lifetime, the other is barely managing to walk across an ice-lake.

In fact, there’s even a moment where the filmmakers (probably) doff their hat to Before Sunrise. After the two get drunk, Rani is babbling about hiccups, when Vijayalakshmi stretches her hand out and touches her cheek.

I don’t mean an overt Haye rabba, Rani! Tune ladki se pyar kar liya sort of a moment. But even a subtle nod would have done. Like the glorious bit in Dedh Ishqiya where the two women express their love for each other using Vishal Bharadwaj’s beautiful brain.

But the modern world wouldn’t allow it. The idea would be bashed for fetishizing gender descriptions in popular culture, and a few debates would rage on the Internet for a few days, before we move on to Taimur Khan breaking the Internet in Papua New Guinea.

Rani and Vijayalakshmi should have ended up together, waving a gigantic Indo-French middle finger at the guy. The two of them would have been happy. Chintu would have been happy. The Universe would have been happy.

*****

Tiger Zinda Hai

This Tiger Needs to be Endangered.

We Indians have a knack for knock-offs.

The heroes of our start-up revolution are essentially knock-offs of international giants – Flipkart, Ola and Campa Cola. Our films aren’t too different either. We like our own knock-offs of international heroes.

Which is why projects such as Tiger Zinda Hai get bankrolled. In the film, Bhai is Indiana Jones cum James Bond zyada Jason Bourne. Tiger Zinda Hai is yet another film made with a process to target a specific audience – Bhai’s fans.

Whatever their quality, Salman Khan’s films possess a truly unique quality. They are a throwback to unabashed fandom. To a time when you hooted and whooped and whistled when your star came on screen. Salman Khan is able to bring out single-screen reactions from a multiplex audience. It is a strange sight, one that I realised I’d secretly missed.

Bhai’s films are essentially college plays. Where the most popular, most-loved dude of the college plays the lead. What he does, and the story – are secondary to their best friend mouthing his lines and playing the role.

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If this were an article on The New Yorker, the Editor would have rejected it without a second thought. Ethically, I’m not qualified to write a review, as I was asleep for about an hour of the film’s runtime.

I’m not saying the film was solely responsible. I had spent the entire day chilling, and as Chunkey Pandey will tell you, chilling can get tiring too. I walked from Gachibowli to Indiranagar to eat keema pav. And then a friend graciously agreed to share some herb, and I walked into the hall happy and stuffed.

But the film played a substantial role in me falling asleep. Salman Khan’s movies might be a lot of things, but surprising is not one of them. You know that Salman Khan will charm his way into the heroine’s heart. You know that Bhai will win in the end, no matter how complicated or powerful the enemy is. Bhai will defeat entire armies with Katrina Kaif on his side. He can solve corruption by introducing some sort of 3-member Amway membership. Solve global warming while having sex with a polar bear.

I find that kind of predictability boring. But like all pieces of art, Bhai’s films are subjective and dopey.

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Having dealt with the problem of Pakistani terrorism in the earlier episode of Strangest Things, Bhai is now happily married in a secluded European country and has a son. Like all Bollywood children, this kid is so sweet that you want to strangle him. Kids in Bollywood are wise beyond Yoda’s ears, dish out life-advice on love and belonging to their parents, and exist in a permanent limbo of cuteness. Their primary reason for living is to invoke giggles from the audience in their attempt to make the hero appear wholesome.

Bhai is going about his daily life fighting wolves and chopping wood outside his house, when he gets a call from RAW – Bhai needs to save the day. The only problem? Bhai doesn’t look like a top military agent anymore. He looks like the marwari businessman who owns the sweet-shop down the lane.

Bhai used to be fit at one point.

Salman Khan’s contribution to Indian cinema might not be of the cinematic nature. But if there’s one thing he has contributed to, it is in drawing attention to the fact that our heroes need to look fit. Before Bhai came on to the scene, it was okay to be frail and limp. Like Dev Anand, who like the answer, was always blowing in the wind.

Bhai in a still from the 1998 superhit - 'Body banaaya toh Acting Karna Kya?'

Bhai in a still from the 1998 superhit – ‘Body banaaya toh Acting Kya?’

At one point, the whole purpose of Bhai’s films was to show off his body. It was one of the primary tasks of filmmaking – Director, Producer, Cinematographer, Salmanbodyshower. But abhi Bhai ka paet nikal gaya hai. Also, he hasn’t wielded a gun for eight years, and has computers at home that track every single development taking place in RAW. Instead of being tried for espionage, his senior dismisses it with a pat on the back. Bhai smiles. RAW ne mujhe bhula diya, par main unhein bhoola nahi. The director comes in his pants.

This is a secret agent who is called ‘Tiger’ by everybody around him. His boss, his wife, his son. Even the friendly neighbourhood tigers call him tiger. He eats Tiger biscuits and applies Tiger Balm.

His team consists of Angad Bedi, who when he delivers a dialogue – is scarier than ISIS terrorists. There’s a hacker who uploads a virus using a program that says ‘Uploading Virus’ in big, green letters. After uploading the virus, he says ‘Yayyyy! Ho gaya!’ and pumps his fists. The secret code used by RAW is – hold your breath – ‘Tu tu tu…tu tu taara. Aa gaya dost humaara’. Right below ‘Dulhan ki bidaai ka waqt ho gaya’.  The villain of the film looks like the illegitimate child of Osama and Gaddafi. He speaks Hindi in a manner that could bring about Javed Akhtar’s early demise.

Be that as it may, the RAW likes its agents raw, and hire him to get back into action. The enemy is bigger this time. How big? Well, think of the biggest terrorist organisation in the world. ISIS, you say? Done!

Bhai enters the most dreaded terror organisation with a few friends and agents. His plan is to blow up the place, kill the leader of the organisation, bring a group of Indian and Pakistani nurses to safety. And show body.

What follows is truly mind-blowing. Bhai smiles and simpers his way to the desert to take on the most dreaded terror organisation. With tactical missiles and weaponry, through intricate search and rescue operations? Nope.

By using neend ki dawayi and paet kharaab hone ka dawa.

Yes, dear brothers and sisters. Film is stranger than truth is stranger than fiction.

Mind you, this is the most dreaded terror organisation in the world. These are the dudes who assembled a team of fearless fighters from across the globe,set up a state-nation of their own, and even produced nuclear missiles. But in their quest for perfection, the insipid fools had overlooked the disastrous effects of paet ka dard.

Many years ago, Gandhi countered the might of the largest army in the world using non-violence. Much like Bapu, the Brother of the Nation goes about his mission armed with Angad Bedi and Dabur Hajmola.

He also rides a horse and fires a rocket. While riding the horse. He shuts down a rabid wolf by saying ‘Sshhh. Bas. Bahut ho gaya’. And the wolf falls asleep.

You know a film well and truly sucks donkey-balls when Katrina Kaif is the best actor in it. In spite of her Neptunian accent, she manages to look like the only professional in this film (apart from the VFX guys who created Bhai’s abs, of course – those guys worked extremely hard in every film!).

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By the end of the film, the enemy has been vanquished, and Aman ki Asha has also been restored. Having killed two blackbucks with one stone, Bhai returns home, ready to be called for the next mission.

I’m told in the next film, Bhai will solve climate change by masturbating in the Great Barrier Reef. Or he could solve water scarcity in Mars. Mangalyaan se aage Mangal hai.

It’s a good thing that ISIS has been defeated by the Iraqi forces. That they will not be able to watch Tiger Zinda Hai. For even terrorists are human beings, and can only tolerate so much humiliation.

Bhai is bhai, man. Critics and reviews and dopehead bloggers don’t make a difference. Go ahead and watch the film if you have to. Or don’t if you don’t want to. Bhai is sniffling and grimacing and grinning his way to the bank.

Oh, wait. It’s his driver.

*****

‘The Last Jedi’ is Chandrakanta in Outer Space

When it comes to books and movies, I’m a bit of a cultural parasite. If something is popular, I’ll watch it even if I haven’t been seeped in its cult. On most occasions, this has paid off. I happily dived into the GoT cult, and now spend every single day cursing and blessing George RR Martin. I had read the Harry Potter books because of the hype around them, slowly passing on the virus to my friends like a sexually transmitted disease.

And yet, in spite of all my urges and tendencies, I have never been able to warm up to the Star Wars franchise. I know, I know!

I know that when the films came out, they were revolutionary and cutting-edge. I understand that the films changed the way we look at space films, and created a genre called ‘space opera’. I understand that the film gave us legendary characters like Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia.

And yet, I’m sorry. I have never been able to invest in the series. I have watched all the films in the series, and I have found them tacky. The graphics don’t hold up after all these years (kindly have a look at 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)), and for someone who grew up in India amidst dramatic family sagas, the entire ‘soap opera in space’ doesn’t do it for me.

In spite of this, I have watched the movies. Right from fighting off sleep through the tepid Episodes I, II, III in the 2000s, I have tried my best to invest in the films, and yet, I couldn’t. I understand it isn’t fair to assume that my choice is the definite word on the films. And yet, how can not one of the films impress me? Not one in the list of nine films? Really??

But as humans, we survive on hope. And I decided to go ahead and watch the latest episode of the space opera.

 

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It was the worst film of the year, and I say this after watching the suicide-inducing Munna Michael and Raabta.

It’s difficult to point out a single flaw in a film that has flaws the size of black holes (I’m trying to use space terms to fit into the gigantic cult that the film commands!). The actors have the screen presence of boiled potatoes. Their lines are delivered like stoned high-schoolers rehearsing for the annual play. The young actors who have been entrusted with carrying the legacy of the movies are (and there’s no nice way to say this) severely incompetent.

In fact, they’re so bad that the film has to fall back on a 66 year old Mark Hamill and a 60 Carrie Fisher to deliver the acting chops. You know an action film is doomed when sexagenarians have more sex-appeal that 20 year olds!

Since the film knows it commands a loyal legion of movies, it gives two shits about logic or common sense. When Leia gets blasted away, she flies for a while in outer space and hops back to life. Clearly, usne script ko mooh mein leia.

The villain of the film is killed abruptly with more than an hour to spare. Two of the characters connect to each other through some sort of tantric-space healing technique.

What annoys me the most is 20 year old Indians claiming to be a die-hard fan of the series. Really? How bad is your Fear Of Missing out?? And can we spend a minute to talk about Chewbacca? How the fuck is that red pubic hair costumed creature supposed to be cute? As if looking at that abomination is not good enough, Disney went ahead and added some cute animals for cheap giggles.

Chewbacca: Putting the 'Chew' in 'Chewtiyapa'.

Chewbacca: Putting the ‘Chew’ in ‘Chewtiyapa’.

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Out of curiosity, I checked out the reviews of the film and was shocked to found that it has been rated 93% fresh. That shook me a little. Perhaps there was something about the films I didn’t understand. May be my tastes, my cinematic aesthetics weren’t the same as most people in the world.

And yet, this is what I will say. The film is Chandrakanta in outer space. Naugarh-Vijaygarh mein thi takraar…and nobody gives a shit, yaar. If the same film was made in Hindi, it would be lambasted to outer space. But it’s a Hollywood film, so our heads will automatically twist and stuff itself into our asses.

The latest Star Wars movie is a nostalgia whore of a movie that counts on people trying to fit into a cult that was created long before they were born. In many ways, the Star Wars cult like religion.

You try your best to fit in. Logic and reason do not matter. And if you tell people you hated the movie, people will look at you like like there’s something wrong with you.

*****

Newton-Full-Movie-Box-Office-Collection-1st-2nd-3rd-Day-Worldwide

‘Newton’ Review: Rajkumar Rao is a frikking chameleon

Actors in India usually take years, decades even, to string together a half-decent body of work. Take the works of any of our superstars, and you’ll be able to name 2 – 3 good films in a career spanning three decades. If there was a way to calculate the ratio of films : critical acclaim, Rajkumar Rao would sit comfortably on the top of the heap. In fact, I dare say he’d be alone there.

In a mere seven year career, Rajkumar Rao has somehow managed to star in films that have won critical acclaim across media. In an industry that thrives on mediocre crap, like flies that continue to hover over a pile of shit – the man has managed to carve out a truly unique body of work for himself.

Whether it is Love, Sex aur Dhoka, or the mildly porny Ragini MMS, Gangs of Wasseypur 2, Kai Po Che, Shahid, Queen, Aligarh, Trapped, or Bareilly ki Barfi – the man seems to have an agent up in Neptune. Someone who can zoom out, look at the larger picture, and offer him scripts that are out of this world.

Newton is a film of a man at his peak. A man confident in his choices, a man assured of his prowess. Most actors change their look, their hairstyle, their body shape – to get into a role. But they are most actors. Rajkumar Rao just shakes his head and slips into the role. Like a chameleon camouflaging into the background. Like a snake shedding its skin and adopting a new one.

It is frankly impossible to imagine any other actor pull off the role like Rakjumar Rao does. As the earnest, idealistic Newton Kumar, he knocks it out of the park from the first ball. We have all met such Newtons in our life. Those who refuse to back down, those who are persistent enough to make you yank your hair out in frustration. The drama in the film is neither loud, nor bawdy. So much so that your sympathies as a viewer see-saw between the Rao and the terrific Pankaj Tripathi.

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Newton is also a statement on India’s General elections.

We have all quoted the numbers, felt pride in being the world’s largest democracy. And yet, is the entire process so homogeneously harmonic? The film explores these fault lines, carved deep into the palm of the world’s largest democracy. The risk of conducting elections, the farce of choosing leaders to change our lives. And at the centre of it all, the director chooses to adopt a non-patronizing view of the tribal population, for whom the elections are just a bureaucratic hassle. Like linking Aadhar Card with PAN is for us.

Newton benefits from a fantastic ensemble cast. The solid Sanjay Mishra opens the innings with a quick cameo, only to return to the dressing room and leave the match to Rao and Tripathi. As Aatma Singh, the leader of the battalion assigned to deal with Newton’s crankiness, Pankaj Tripathi is in fine, fine form. Supporting him is the fabulous Raghubir Yadav, who has put on weight, but still pulls off a fine role. Special mention here needs to go to Anjali Patil, the actor who plays Malko. Not once does she step overboard – her full lips, her eyes, the cynical attitude towards the forces – this is an actress who is probably as cranky as Newton, but with lots of tact.

And at the centre of it all, is Rajkumar Rao as Newton Kumar. Watch him as he blinks while looking away, as he mutters, sighs and grits his teeth. As he runs away from the security forces, or as he explains the rules of voting like his life depends on it. Rajkumar Rao’s most heroic act of the film is in how un-heroic he makes it all seem.

Credit also to director Amit Masurkar, who whips up a story as idealistic, as uncompromising as the titular hero. The film is proof of how might tighter, how honest our films would look if we grew the balls to castrate the fluff. Newton doesn’t claim to change your life. In fact, the film works like a scientific theory put forth by Isaac himself – it works with scientific precision, is to the point, and is effective.

***

FU

To Those of you who presume I am biased against Telugu cinema

After my last blog on Arjun Reddy, I received a number of mails and complaints from readers.

I was accused of being biased, and harbouring stereotypical ideas about Telugu cinema. That I was some jobless blogger who smoked three joints and went on a rant.

Firstly, I have a day job now, so fuck you! Secondly, I honestly wasn’t trolling or ridiculing Telugu cinema without reason. Most of what I said holds true. Nearly every Telugu film fits into the 5 Song Design Sandbox. Most Telugu films star heroines who can’t speak the language. 95% of Telugu films are exactly how I described them in the blog.

The blog was also accused of being the flippant views of an outsider shitting over the Telugu film industry. Here’s the thing – I am not really an outsider.

I speak Telugu, and have lived in Andhra and Telangana for more than 17 years now. I have grown up watching Telugu films and even Telugu soaps (Antarangaalu…ting-ting-ting-ting, ting-ting-ting-ting!). I am a huge fan of Jandhyala and his movies with Rajendra Prasad and Naresh. My teenage years were spent in listening to songs of Venkatesh movies, and early RGV films from Shiva to Kshana Kshanam. My M.Phil topic was the rise of Telugu diasporic filmmakers who created a new genre of films in Telugu cinema. I have written and performed shows in Hyderabad for years now.

What I’m trying to say is, FUCK YOU!

 

I was also accused of being a biased outsider who carries the stereotypical bias that most North Indians carry against South cinema. An entire paragraph in a hate mail was dedicated to how ridiculous Hindi cinema is. And I agree wholeheartedly.

Bollywood is the scum of the earth. If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know I barely review Hindi films anymore because I can’t sit through them. I watch a maximum of two Hindi films a year and immediately spend money on Hyderabad’s best psychiatrists and psychologists. In fact, if there’s one film industry worse than Telugu cinema, it is the incestuous shit-fest that is Bollywood.

So, at the risk of sounding repetitive, FUCK YOU!

It is not a random rant. Why did I write it, then?

Because I genuinely feel most Telugu films that release around the year are shit. In fact, most films that release in India are shit. We are so caught up in our formats of intervals (where fat kids go stuff their fat faces with sandwiches and Coke), or musicals (with playback singers, and actors who couldn’t be bothered to hold a fucking instrument correctly!) that we have been blinded to our own bullshit.

But more than anything else, I wrote the blog because the Telugu film industry has no honest critics to talk of. Read the review of any Telugu film, and you get articles that are as interesting as an Encyclopedia Britannica page on cacti. People who call themselves critics churn out reviews that are as shitty as the films themselves – ‘Film is good. Dances are nice, fights are terrific, actor is good, loka samastha sukhino bhavantu’. Fuck off!

The Telugu film industry deserves film critics. Recently, a film critic Mahesh Kathi (who has worked in cinema, and studied Film Appreciation), was given death threats for criticising a film starring Pavan Kalyan. Are you kidding me? Death threats?? Is this fucking Syria?

So screw you, Pavan Kalyan fan who wrote an angry mail to me. The article wasn’t biased at all, it was honest. Go get an IQ test done, go home, close the door and windows, and jack off to Tammudu at your home, you dumb piece of shit!

Thank you!

Loads of love,

Hriday.

Arjun-Reddy-Review

My Thoughts on ‘Arjun Reddy’

I have lived in Hyderabad for 7 years, and have only reviewed two Telugu films.

Why? Quite simply, I think the Telugu film industry is among the dumbest film industries in the country. With such expansive budgets and reach, the films churned out are primarily made to masturbate the ego of the stars.

Also, if you look at our neighbours, films in Tamil and Malayalam continue to push the bar year after year. Even the Kannada industry, which was a poorer cousin to Tollywood for decades, has woken up to the ingenuity of people like Rakshit Shetty.

A sign of how honest Telugu films are can be gauged by the fact that none of the Telugu heroines actually speak the language. Why would you, if your role is primarily a Telugu adaptation of 50 Shades of Navel? Also, stardom and following of Telugu superstars is on the basis of their caste, literally putting the ‘caste’ in ‘casting’ director.

I watched Arjun Reddy a week after it released, after reading the review by Baradwaj Rangan – undoubtedly the best film critic in India. If you wish to read a review of the film, kindly read his review here – I couldn’t do a better job than the man himself. What I have however, are a few stray thoughts on the film, and my answer to the question if Arjun Reddy is going to change Telugu cinema.  

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It doesn’t take too long to notice that Arjun Reddy – both the film and the character – have no fucks to give. Arjun the character bashes up his opponent in a football match, then explains to the dean that he’s going to leave the college.

Arjun Reddy the film doesn’t bother with an Intro song, or any of the 5-song formats that Telugu cinema is stuck in. In fact, it blows my mind how most Telugu films afford to waste 30 minutes of screen time on senseless songs! Neither does Arjun Reddy the film bother with glorifying the hero. The hero here, is supremely flawed.

It is to Vijay Devarakonda’s credit that he manages to steer clear of the tropes that pass off as acting! In a film where he’s on screen for 95% of the running time, he’s fire! Vijay breathes the role, and his training in theatre shows in his subtlety. The earth doesn’t shake when he’s angry, a vein moves in his neck. Which is the other shocking thing about Telugu films. I find it weird how star-sons get into films without having done any theatre work. It’s like playing Stick Cricket on your phone, and then being called to represent India. But Vijay, is prepared.

Take the scene where he confronts his Dean. He does not sprout world knowledge, but the shallow, egoistic world-views of a 22 year-old at his peak. When he orders the heroine to sit in the first bench, it is with the swag of a college bully, not once bothering to soften the role for the politically correct, extra-sensitive world that we live in. Or the scene where after shooting up heroin, he wets his pant. Vijay charts territories that no Tollywood actor would dare to – scared as they are by the brainless gits who call themselves fans.

 

A Sinful Indulgence

Director Sandeep Vanga handles the film like an acid trip. Riding the highs and sinking into the lows. At over 3 hours, the film does seem like an indulgence, but is indulgence a bad thing? Would Tim Burton be who he is, without his psychedelic extravaganza? Would the works of Baz Luhrmann, or the magical-realism of Marquez hold their own without the indulgence? Indulge is not necessarily a bad thing.

This is a man in love with his story. In a world running around formulaic palettes, Sandeep chooses to marry his scenes to a delightfully eclectic background score by Radhan. When Arjun sees Preethi for the first time, a Carnatic song plays in the background. Louis Armstrong (whose posters adorn the artwork of the film) breaks into What a Wonderful World at a funeral. There are scenes that are six minutes long, characters etched out even though they have nothing to do with the plot. Take for example the delightful Shiva, who runs a clinic in Maula Ali and caters to Muslim aunties. Or his even more delightful father. Or the maid who doesn’t respect Arjun’s dog, who’s named after the love of his life. The director is tripping on a drug he created from scratch!

 

Miss O. Ginny

Is the film misogynistic? I don’t think so. Arjun Reddy as a character is, for sure. But he’s a character. It’s like saying Game of Thrones promotes incest because Cersei and Jamie celebrate a different kind of Rakshabandhan.

But that’s who Arjun is. This is a man who shouts at his father, punches his brother, insults an old friend on a whim – how can he be sensitive to women? Making him sensitive would have been politically correct, but cinematically lousy. Also, if you see interviews of the actor and director, you’ll know they are aware and educated, brought up on cinema from around the world. Painting Arjun with misogynistic shades would have been a risk, but they end up staying true to the character, instead of stooping to political correctness. This isn’t Balakrishna slapping and pinching a heroine’s ass for no reason. Kilgrave, Patrick Bateman, Faisal Khan – all share misogynistic traits, but that doesn’t make them any less brilliant.

 

The Grudge Part 1

If there’s something I hold against the makers of the film, it is the shoddy writing of Preethi’s character. In a film full of strongly written roles, Preethi is no more than a sex-doll. We know nothing about her apart from the basics. What are her likes? What are the conflicts that gnaw into her?

While we are given more than an hour of Arjun moping in misery, what happened to Preeti? While Arjun was skipping through jobs and banging actresses, Preethi had to leave her husband, her parents, stay alone, work, and carry a baby.

The film had a fantastic opportunity to sculpt a wonderful Telugu heroine for the first time. A real, breathing character with emotions and real dialogues. And yet, the film squandered it away. Also, the final act of ‘purity’ put me off. When the protagonist decides to go back to Preeti, it is his first act of maturity, the first time he mans up. And yet that is softened by the big reveal in the end. Perhaps it wasn’t necessary. Perhaps, in a film trying to push boundaries, that could have stayed. The idea of ‘purity’ is an absurd, Vedic-age concept that sticks out like a sore thumb in the film. But these are small pickings in a film that has balls the size of boobs.

 

The Question

So, will Arjun Reddy change the Telugu film industry?

I have my doubts. I had similar hopes after Pellichoopulu a few years ago, but as long as children of superstars continue to star in films, the future is dim. As long as caste decides an actor’s popularity, as long as the next big star-kid is called Stylish Energetic Young Bubbly Star, Telugu cinema is doomed.

But it is heartening to see Arjun Reddy play to packed theatres. It is a stray ray of hope in an otherwise dark cave inhabited by unruly beasts. Go watch it if you’ve given up hopes on Telugu cinema.

Sachin A Billion Dreams

‘Sachin: A Billion Dreams’ is two and a half hours of Tendulkar Porn!

As I stepped out to buy overpriced Coke and oversalted popcorn during the interval, I overheard a father explaining to his son—”It’s not a movie, beta. It is a documentary.”

I could empathise with the kid. Sachin: A Billion Dreams is a film that works only if you were born before 1995. The film has no hero, no antagonist, no songs or dances. In fact, the film sits more comfortably in the domain of documentaries than cinema.

If Sachin is God, his life is a mythological epic.

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The story is known to all, told and retold, written and rewritten, over and over. His childhood stories are similar to Krishna’s exploits in Vrindavan. When he looked at the skies, scoring a century after his father’s death, Indians wouldn’t be shocked if flowers came falling from the sky, reminiscent of Bheeshma’s terrible oath.

Sachin fulfils every single criterion of being an Indian adarsh baalak. Fair-skinned, immensely talented, honed by the right people, had the world eating out of his hands. But most importantly, Sachin is humble and soft-spoken. We Indians love humility and soft-spokenness—we’d prefer Harishchandra over Howard Hughes, Ratan Tata over Warren Beatty. In Sachin, kids saw what they wanted to become, and parents saw what they wanted their kids to become.

The thought often rankles me—would India have loved Sachin as much if he was flashy and proud? I doubt it. They’d wait for him to fail, and tear into him—”Told you! His success got to his head!” they’d say! But Sachin remained humble, and joined our long list of gods.

When every single detail of a man’s life is known, how do you make a film? You hire a foreigner to do it! When Indians make films on Indian cricketers, they’re either too fawning (Dhoni: The Untold Story), or mind-numbingly dumb (Azhar).

Director James Erskine uses Sachin and his wife as narrators, using home videos and wedding clips to create a personal bond. There are clips where he’s playing with his daughter, teaching her the umpire’s signals for boundary, sixer and out! This is a portrait of a man who knows nothing but cricket, being worshipped by a nation that follows nothing but cricket.

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But if you’re a cricket buff, you begin to notice the details. Take for example the Sachin of 1994-1997, when there’s swagger in his stagger—he wears Suniel Shetty glasses, a thick gold chain, and a superstar gait. The swagger quickly vanishes when he’s made the captain, and he’s the obedient adarsh baalak once more!

Like Sachin himself, India grew into a generation which likes to date before getting married. Where the wife calls him by his name, instead of silly words like “woh” and “unhein.” Like the India of today, we find out that Sachin goes through depression too.

Within an hour, you begin to feel like a part of the dressing room. You begin to feel for players like Dravid, who put in hours of blood, sweat and tears. For Shane Warne, who has graciously contributed to the legend of Sachin, in spite of being no less of a genius.

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The masterstroke though, was getting AR Rahman to create the background score. They’re not too dissimilar, Sachin and Rahman. Short, stocky, curly-haired, immensely talented, humble to a fault. Rahman’s background score is like a Rahman background score—rousing, thumping, an army of emotions charging forward. A Rahman soundtrack can make mating anteaters look graceful, so imagine the effect it has on childhood nostalgia.

By the end, as Sachin stands on a beach in shades and shorts, it feels like a trip to the planetarium. To a museum of innocence, where ugly relics of match-fixing and controversies are locked up in the attic.

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How much you enjoy Sachin: A Billion Dreams depends on when you were born. If it was before 1995, you can’t stop looking at the man who personified the nation you grew up in. If you were born after 1995, you begin to wonder about this strange obsession with this man!

The film is a heady cocktail of two of our obsessions—cinema and cricket. Now, if only Sachin would go back to the Rajya Sabha…

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This post first appeared on Huffington Post.

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‘Hindi Medium’ proves Irrfan Khan is Bollywood’s best leading man

It’s a matter of great sadness that Irrfan Khan is not the biggest star in India. Over decades, the man has brought life to his roles, stayed away from embarrassing caricatures, and has been bold enough to call Bollywood out on its bullshit.

It pains me that Irrfan still has to act in smaller budget films, competing with coma-inducing shitfests like Half Girlfriend.

But a few minutes into watching him on screen, I was glad he isn’t a mega superstar.

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Hindi Medium drives home a topic that we are all aware of. English prejudice.

The Britishers took away not only our resources, but also our pride in native languages. This thought pains me for two reasons.

1) As a comic, most English stand-up in India is limited to elite, urban spaces. In most shows, half the jokes are on poor English – we are so comfortable with our privilege that we mock those without it.

2) As someone who grew up in a lower middle class household, English helped me enter social circles that my economic status wouldn’t. It’s a guilt I am guilty of.

I walked into the hall with this baggage, only to have Irrfan Khan blow my mind in the first few minutes. There is a gentle casualness about Irrfan’s acting. Unlike most of our stars, he is not loud, striking, or garish. He does not require the showmanship of a lion or the exhibitionism of a tiger. Irrfan has the lazy elegance of a cheetah. He does not roar, or leap at you through introduction shots. He waits and he purrs, and he traps you and then snarls. Such is his conviction in the role, that he mutters his punchlines, sometimes whispers them – and still has the audience laughing hysterically. What a joy it is to see this man on screen!

Director Saket Chaudhary and writer Zeenath Lakhani give him the best lines, and the field to play his shots. It helps that Irrfan is surrounded by a stellar cast of actors. My perennial crush Tillotama Shome plays an education consultant with such aplomb, Irrfan himself takes a backseat.

Deepak Dobriyal, who appears on the screen to hoots and whistles, walks a tightrope on a role that could so easily slip into caricature. And yet, he steers his role so well, you cheer him on as he takes sharp turns on the bend.

And finally, Pakistani actress Saba Qamar who brings from across the border an unbridled feistiness to her role. She is petty and high-strung and lovely and strong and vulnerable at the same time, and is an absolute joy to watch. It’s a good thing they didn’t cast an Indian actress, for most Indian heroines have stock expressions to scenes.

When they come together, this fantastic ensemble of actors elevate this story into an immensely watchable film, even if the writers let the story run wild.

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If there is any grouse against the film, it is that the director and writer allow the film to meander about like a drunk cow in the second half. The plot points shift without giving the audience any notice, and it is up to the actors to amp up their performance in reaction. This could partly be due to the fact that the film has been earlier made in Bengali and Malayalam, and perhaps the writers were staying true to the original story.

Hindi Medium also left me wondering if the Indian practice of adding an interval in the film is the reason our films are so bad. Imagine the plight of the writers – they have to create an engaging story, only to have a 20 minute break where people buy cola and popcorn, and children run to the toilet, and ads of Vicco Vajradanti play on the screen!

The writers then have to draw the audience back into the story, and this is where most Indian films falter. People walk out of the theatre mouthing brilliant lines like – ‘First half mast hai. Second half tatti hai’. But they will not let go of popcorn and coca cola for 15 minutes in the film!

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Be that as it may, the actors of Hindi Medium elevate the story with their honest performances. Go watch the film to see Hindi cinema’s finest leading man paint a canvas for you. Watch him play audacious shots, touch risky notes.

Also, watch the film for Saba Qamar’s terrific performance.

But mostly, watch Hindi Medium because as you read this, the film is losing out to Half Girlfriend, a film that stars a privileged ox and a porcelain bimbo.

*****

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The mediocrity of ‘Pink’

I watched Pink a few weeks after its release.

The dark, deep pink had faded to a weak, thin pink. A night show with families who brought their 2 year old kids along.

I usually stay away from films that are highly praised. For example, critics went raving mad about the film Fan, but it made me look for a rope. I don’t mean to sound like an elitist, pipe-smoking intellectual, but when the biggest films are shitfests, the bar is very low. It is so low that it is an underground bar with only Haywards 5000 and Knock Out available.

But I did go to watch Pink.

I dislike late night shows as I tend to fall asleep. The silence, darkness and joints earlier mix together in a heady, drowsy concoction. Thankfully, Pink is short, so 10 points to Gryffindor there!

If you compare the reviews of Pink, I find that most of them harp on the message of the movie. On how important the message is, and why it is absolutely relevant to the times we live in. None of them linger too much on the actual film.

Probably because Pink takes its message seriously. So seriously in fact, that it doesn’t bother with basics like fleshing out characters. We know nothing about the protagonists – the three girls are Hindu, Muslim and Christian, and we are supposed to go along with the Amira Akbari Antoinette palette. Nothing is known of the antagonist, except that he’s a rich spoilt brat. There’s no explanation for Amitabh Bachchan taking up the girls’ case. Pink is so hell-bent on hammering home the point that it the message seemed to loom over the film like a gigantic Dementor.

The second aspect where it fails is in the genre of courtroom drama.

At the very outset, it is important to mention that courtroom dramas are not really Hindi cinema’s strong suit. We have been churning out hammy, illogical courtroom drama for decades now. Our courtroom dramas are deeply emotional, loud, and dramatic – every court scene is elevated to the heightened drama of a Draupadi Vastraharan scene.

From the dramatic Damini to the snoozefest Veer Zara. I’ve even watched a film where Anil Kapoor drinks poison to win the case, only to vomit and take antidotes when the case is adjourned. The only exceptions I can think of are Court and Shahid.

Which is why I wasn’t biting my nails waiting for the courtroom scene. And the film proved me right. The court scenes pack neither tension nor provoke thought. Amitabh Bachchan’s points don’t really make any sense, except to highlight drama. Showing the accused a Facebook picture of his sister in a bar to prove that girls from ‘good’ families also drink, sounds laughably lame. The wonderful Piyush Mishra’s character is only a caricature, and the villains are constantly glaring, threatening and intimidating.

As I expected, the courtroom scene ended with Mr. Bachchan delivering a speech. The only difference here was that it wasn’t loud and punctuated with words like M’Lord, Kanoon, and andhaa.

Pink did nothing for me.

It didn’t seem inspirational, because I had no personal connection with any character, they’re not living, fleshed out characters but names with faces. Pink ends up as a two hour Public Service Announcement.

It delivers a very important message, yes. But does little else in the process.

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How ‘Pellichoopulu’ is bending the rules of Telugu cinema

In spite of having lived for 16 years of my life in Andhra Pradesh, and having reviewed movies for nine years now, I have never reviewed a Telugu film.

Partly because it took me a few years to understand the nuances of Telugu cinema, and partly because there’s nothing really to review. You could take the script of any Telugu blockbuster and replace it with another; replace any hero with another. The heroine barely has any role to play in the film apart from acting coquettish and seducing the hero. The laughs are generated when the hero bashes up a ‘comedian’ – it’s all absurd to a point where you wonder if the entire unit was smoking pot while the film was being made.

Telugu Cinema is a rather cruel place for an aspiring filmmaker. Dynasticism runs through every film industry but nowhere else is caste a determinant of a star’s pull. Actors, directors, distributors – they’re all gauged through their caste, and yet there is a deafening silence about it everywhere you look.

The hero is expected to fight and dance and mouth long-winding dialogues, even if he’s supposed to have grown up in a chawl. The heroine dances around him and is objectified, stalked, and is nothing more than a doormat. And even if you break into the scene, there’s the oligopoly of distributors who control the release of films across the two Telugu speaking states.

Of course, there are filmmakers who have attempted to break the mould, and yet they’ve sold out – there’s an item number here, an unwanted song there. Every time I have walked out of a Telugu film, I have looked for the nearest bar to get sloshed and drown my memories of the film.

In my frustration, I stopped watching Telugu films, except when they’re played on buses and I have no other option. If you are unacquainted with Telugu cinema, may I kindly lead you to this blog – A Script for Chiranjeevi’s 150th film.

I went to watch Pellichoopulu in a single screen theatre, and was doubly curious to see how people would react. If you’ve watched the trailer, you’d have guessed the tone of the film is urbane and yuppy. Pleasantly surprised that the film had a 93% approval on BookMyShow, and that the popcorn cost a mere 20 Rupees, I walked into the hall.

Single Screen Theatre issues.

A post shared by Hriday Ranjan (@heartranjan) on

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Pelli Choopulu contains the  most non-glamorous introduction to a hero that I’ve seen in Telugu cinema. There are no songs, no shots panning upwards from boots to biceps – just a regular dude waking up to a life that has fallen asleep.

It takes but a few minutes to get woven into the plot, driven as it is by sharp dialogue and genuine characterisation. We meet the leads as if by chance, just as they stumble into each other. They aren’t heroic, or loud, or driven by any motive. It is a refreshing change, and in minutes, the entire hall sat in hushed silence.

Director Tharun Bhascker uses sharp writing to prove his point, doing away with the bells and whistles one would associate with Telugu cinema. Prashant hops from one incident in his life to another in the slow, careless manner of a water buffalo. Chitra fights every obstacle in her life with the fearsome resolve of a bison. There couldn’t have been a more un-Tollywood like couple!

Pellichoopulu benefits from realism. The characters seem real, and the dialogues hilarious. The humour in the film comes from Priyadarshi Pullikonda’s impeccable comic timing. As the hero’s equally useless buddy, every second he comes on screen is gold, and the audience were giggling in anticipation even before he delivered his lines. And yet, the director never punches below the belt.

In an industry that makes sex-kittens out of talented actresses (check out Ileana D’Cruz in Barfi, and compare it with her Telugu roles), Chitra is a refreshing breath of fresh air. Ritu Verma and Vijay Devarakonda seem so much at ease in their roles, you begin to wonder if they’re acting in the first place.

Pellichoopulu gets a lot of things right, but mostly, it carries balls of steel. The film doesn’t sell out even for a moment, even though it has its weaknesses. The film refuses to bend down to market demands, staying true to its character through every single shot.

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Tamil, Malayalam and to an extent Hindi cinema enjoy a thriving parallel cinema. For every Sultan and Kabali, there are smaller, sharper films competing in the same arena. Sadly, Telugu cinema never had a parallel movement. Probably because nobody went full-on, and partly because of how demanding and unforgiving the average Telugu film viewer is.

But Pellichoopulu is akin to the smart guy who joins your section in Class 8. He doesn’t bother about the bullies and is smart enough to tackle the 1st ranker in class. The film is running to packed houses, but on a limited release.

If you watch Telugu films, or like me, stopped watching them long ago, please do yourself a favour and watch Pellichoopulu.