‘Ghost Stories’ Movie Review: Terrifies you to the core only to lose grip in the end

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The problem with all the segments is a dull finish where the ‘final reveal’ turns out to be bizarrely less horrifying and less gratifying too.

Devoid of forced inclusions of screams or any dramatic appearances of ghosts, Netflix’s Ghost Stories, an anthology horror film, doesn’t fail to frighten you out of your wits. It plays a wait-and-watch game where the stories slowly build up the tension surrounding a character, make you ponder over the mystery, and eventually uncover the eerie situation the character is in. This is seen through four different stories in Ghost Stories where Zoya Akhtar, Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee, and Karan Johar have directed one each.

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As the title suggests, each of the stories in the film depicts supernatural elements. A suspenseful story has a same person both inside and outside the room at the same time. We also get a psychological thriller where the line between a human and a bird gets blurred. There’s also a story of a village full of zombies who are led by a man-ape monster. Another story represents a curious case of an interaction between an invisible granny and a man. In all of these, we see a calm-before-storm pattern.

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To make your heart go pitter and patter, the film comes packed with a surfeit of spooky instances. Whether it’s a dead crow on the road, or an isolated, leafless tree, or a combination of two circular designs on the door and a chair below it resembling a face of monstrous creature with a pair of eyes and mouth, or a zombie running towards the camera with rage, Ghost Stories has it all. Background music is so magnificently scored by Benedict Taylor that it raises the tension to a whole new level. Even the exemplary acting from the likes of Janhvi Kapoor, Sobhita Dhulipala, Mrunal Thakur, Surekha Sikri and Sukant Goel keeps us engrossed.

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Even though each of the stories starts off well, gathers momentum and keeps the intensity high, they fall short of greatness towards the end. The problem with all the segments is a dull finish where the ‘final reveal’ turns out to be bizarrely less horrifying and less gratifying too. The disappointing and unsatisfying closures will definitely upset you after an intriguing build-up.

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‘Good Newwz’ Movie Review: Raj Mehta delivers funny yet sentimental film on his debut

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The comedy in Good Newwz is not slapstick. Here, it’s more about the scenarios where intelligence (Varun and Deepu) meets stupidity (Honey and Monika).

Gulzar’s ‘Raat Pashmine Ki’ (Cosy Night) is seen on the bookshelf and a character misreads it as ‘Raat Paseene Ki’ (Roughly translates to ‘Sweaty Night’ which is a clear reference to Sex At Night). Husband argues with his wife in a cab, in another scene, for pushing him too hard for longer durations of intercourse (Driver listens to everything, reacts awkwardly and can’t remain silent.) A sister and a brother, in a different scene, are sitting around a table with their spouses and the discussion leading to different sex positions makes the brother feel weirdly uncomfortable as he starts making irritated yet funny replies. Directed by debutant Raj Mehta, Good Newwz has several such rib-tickling scenes that can keep one constantly engaged and in good spirits. (Well, some of the sentimental scenes, later on, may look a bit overcooked but that sidelines itself soon and let the movie turn even funnier.)

Good Newwz basically tells the story of two couples who find themselves tangled in a web of surprises and confusions. With both of the couples claiming (or denying) each other’s child as their own, the film offers a hysterical and emotional view of how they eventually deal with it. Here, you wonder if the birth of a child is really a ‘good news’ to the protagonists.

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Akshay Kumar has portrayed some wonderful characters in the past that required him to make the audience laugh out loud (most memorable ones are Hera Pheri and Welcome). He succeeded. Even in the films that were not an out-an-out comedy genre, he displayed his comic potential to a great extent. He can be as funny and sprightly as he is grim and despondent. One has to trumpet forth the praises on Director Raj Mehta for wonderfully leveraging Akshay’s making-one-laugh-out-loud ability. Akshay plays Varun in Good Newwz and never overly tries to do something comical. Varun’s frustration and angst, that come out as natural responses to a situation, turn out to be hilarious.

It’s the presence of other leading characters that actually make Varun’s job easier in giving you unstoppable laugh. Monika (Kiara Advani) exhibiting her poor English pronunciation (for instance, Flesh for Flush, Spam for Sperm) calls for a humorous response from Varun. The continuous giggling of Honey (Diljit Dosanjh), as he speaks, is enough to put a smile on your face. Deepu (Kareena Kapoor Khan), who plays Varun’s wife, leaves her best till the end. (The hilarity is at its peak when she delivers her baby in the hospital and frustratingly yells at Doctor Anand Joshi who is played by Adil Hussain.)

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The comedy in Good Newwz is not slapstick. Here, it’s more about the scenarios where intelligence (Varun and Deepu) meets stupidity (Honey and Monika). In the midst of comedies, the film offers a lot to think about. The film displays prudence and makes us ponder over the question of what’s the right way – ‘adopting a child’ or ‘trying to give birth to a child of your own blood’. It also delineates mix of heartlessness and good-naturedness as we get different perspectives on creation and destruction of life. The women in the film are more sensible when it comes to human life and teach a lesson to men. Except for the songs that seem unnecessary and an inclination towards sentiments that seem uninteresting and too melodramatic (barring an instance that can bring tears to your eyes where Varun emotionally embraces Deepu), Good Newwz is definitely a piece of great news and ensures a perfect end to 2019 for Hindi Cinema.

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‘Dabangg 3’ Movie Review: Better than Dabangg 2, but still a bad film

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When Sudeep, who plays the antagonistic character named Baali, arrives on screen and exhibits the villainy, we revel in his exemplary presence. In short, Sudeep shines in a Salman Khan film.

It all began with the humongous success of the first in the series of Dabangg. Salman Khan as Chulbul Pandey was quirky and funny. This idiosyncratic Indian cop from a rural part of North India had something about him that made him immensely likeable. The dialogues, especially, were hilarious. He, for instance, jocularly asks slim policemen to be on his left, fat ones to be on his right and fit guys to be right behind him only to realise that none of the policemen cared to follow the orders and ran past him. He also realises that he had just spent a huge sum of 500 Indian Rupees to talk only for a minute with a woman he loves. And, his English is rib-tickling too. (Remember what he says after shooting at the ground unbeknownst of the fact that the man lying on the ground, whom he was aiming at, has long run away? – “There’s always a first time, always a next time… next time”.) 

Dabangg 2 tried to bask in the glory of its predecessor and was an absolute disaster. There was nothing new about it. It just used the story of Part One as a template. The Chulbul Pandey that we knew from Part One was missing. He was flavourless in Dabangg 2 to be precise. Dabangg 3, directed Prabhu Deva, attempts to address the question of ‘doing something new’. A subplot, which is a prequel of Part One, greets you here. But, does it work? The answer to this is a big “No”. Salman is colourless both as Chulbul Pandey and Karu Pandey (this Karu version is another trial to do something new-ish). The right question here would be – What part of this ‘prequel’ works? When Sudeep, who plays the antagonistic character named Baali, arrives on screen and exhibits the villainy, we revel in his exemplary presence. In short, Sudeep shines in a Salman Khan film.

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More than Salman, it’s the Sudeep factor that gives us some respite from the state of boredom that the film leads you into. (The fast-paced narrative somewhat helps to keep you awake.) As Baali, his stare itself is spine-chilling. The danger is also felt in the background score whenever he appears. The camera shows him through the gaps of small Natraj idol and he looks ominous. He looks stylish as he, standing in front of a lady and not facing her, stabs her with one hand without any sort of remorse. He wears an evil look as a red light engulfs him while standing near a fire. He is also involved in a ‘dramatic reveal’ where, at first, his face is veiled behind a shadow and, later, he appears flying in the air.

Except for a couple of instances (The mistaking-balls-for-gulab-jamun scene and a cameo by Ali Basha are hilarious), the comedy is bad in the film. It feels odd to sit through a plethora of comedic scenes with the blank countenance.

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The songs composed by Sajid-Wajid in Part One were captivating. Dabangg 2’s music album was a huge hit too. This third part lacks that magic. (Well, that iconic Dabangg theme music, that sounds like Bollywood version of Ennio Morricone, stays.)

The cameo of heroines in Dabangg franchise continues. Sonakshi Sinha, as Rajjo Pandey, had a charming disposition about her in Part One. The romance in that film was simply fantastic. But the sheer irrelevance of her character was palpable in Dabangg 2. In this third installment, not only the character seems irrelevant, but we also get irked whenever this character makes an appearance. An introduction of a new character named Khushi (acted by the newcomer Saiee Manjrekar who looks good in her short stint) doesn’t give the wings to the romance part either. It only makes matters worse as the Chulbul-Khushi love angle takes off just like that!

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An interesting element, and the only lovely aspect in the film, is that ‘prequel’ itself. (Salman Khan himself has written the story and he seems to have gotten this prequel thing right in some ways.) It’s really not a perfect summation to the events of the past but has answers to some of the things about Chulbul Pandey that we liked in Part One. Why does he keep his goggles on his back collar? How did he come up with this infamous “Chhed Kar Denge” dialogue? How did someone like ‘him’ get into the Indian Police? Why was he called Chulbul after all? Dabangg 3 nicely creates a whole new universe for itself answering all of these questions in its own unique way.

Salman is revered by many. He understands that. He uses that to good effect. He, in the film, has conveyed several messages to his fans. Whether it’s ‘Smoking is injurious to health’ or ‘Dowry prohibition’ or ‘Women empowerment’ or ‘Stopping violence against women’ or ‘You reap what you sow’, he has all sorts of great things to say. As the film comes to a close, he even leaves us to ponder upon the possibility of his plunge into politics. But, will that be enough for the film to work?

‘War’ Movie Review: A mixture of classy, modish and brutal elements

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War is loud and brutal but is also stylish and stuffed with surprise packages that keep you afloat.

Kabir (Hrithik Roshan) and Khalid (Tiger Shroff) are the heroes as well as the anti-heroes. They fight together. But they also fight against each other. They are chasing a terrorist. But they are also chasing each other’s tail. Amidst all of this, War, which is centred around two Indian soldiers and their pursuit of finding the masterminds of terror groups, comes packed with an abundance of surprises to astonish you at various moments (sometimes even totally unexpected). Director Siddharth Anand knows he has a set of highly flamboyant actors and he uses them to great perfection. In this, Hrithik and Tiger are muscular, stylish, agile, fast, and dazzling. Most important of all, Hrithik is a proven performer. In spite of the film’s lack of substance, these two steer the film to its safety.

Unlike the masterfully shot action sequences, the film’s plot doesn’t seem well thought-out. The plot twists work wonders but the film is devoid of the depth, relevance and focus in the storyline. The film also suffers from its sheer incapability in evoking emotions. (Neither the romance portions bloomed between Kabir and Naina (Vaani Kapoor) nor do you feel the loss or separation when their brief relationship comes to an end.) But the movie doesn’t seem wearisome due to the realistic, classy and mind-bending stunt sequences. Whether it is a sharp object that’s been almost inserted into someone’s eyes or a magnet-powered device that’s being used to jump on a flying plane and enter inside it or a deluge of gunshots from which someone’s escaping unscathed, you get all of it in this heart-stopping film.

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Siddharth Anand also considers the possibility of one actor easily overpowering the other. He gives the right amount of space to each of them to express themselves. When Hrithik has to show his heroic side (or even villainous side) as Kabir, Tiger steps aside. And when it’s Tiger’s turn to portray his heroic and villainous side as Khalid, Hrithik moves aside. They both are extraordinary dancers as well. And the songs featured in the film makes great use of their remarkable skills. (There will be comparisons of who’s dancing better and you can’t help it.)

The film keeps you guessing about several things and makes you raise questions like – Is Colonel Luthra (Ashutosh Rana) involved in terror activities too? When the film presents ‘big shocker’ from time to time, those are the moments that impress you the most. War is loud and brutal but is also stylish and stuffed with surprise packages that keep you afloat.

‘Dream Girl’ (2019) Movie Review: Ayushmann Khurrana’s brilliance doesn’t save this film

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There is always a feeling that the film might get better at any stage. But that’s never the case. It’s the other way round.

A man imitating a blind. A police chief heading investigations on rape cases and caste discrimination. A man, in his twenties, utterly surprised to know that his mother is pregnant. A guy becoming a father of many by donating his sperm. These are, and many more, the avatars donned by Ayushmann Khurrana in his films. The actor has made a name for himself as a guy who does all those off-beat roles and has, more often than not, come out on top. Ayushmann has this knack of making the characters that he plays look supremely engaging. He plays the role of most sought-after ‘girl’ by the men and women in Dream Girl (not to be confused with Dream Girl that released in 1977). As a character that juggles between being a man (Karam) and a woman (Puja), he looks convincing in this film. But that doesn’t save the film from going through these phases – Bad, Worse and Ugly.

We are so close and yet so far – which is basically what Director Raaj Shaandilyaa’s Dream Girl is addressing. It points out the problem of loneliness. It highlights the lessening distances as well as the widening gap between each one of us in this connected world. But to make you realise this scenario and talk more intensively about this, the film doesn’t have a great narrative at its disposal. It tries a lot of comedy. A very few dialogues do seem humorous. (In a scene, Karam, impersonating as Puja on a phone call, indignantly clarifies that he is not a Taj Mahal but a Qutub Minar). But almost every other scene, that tries to be hilarious, turns out to be annoying and frustrating. It, then, resorts to throwing in some romance where the love between Karam and Mahi (Nushrat Bharucha) never seem to be of any relevance and vanishes into thin air. There’s always a song featuring in several films in Bollywood, if not all, to keep its audience entertained and engrossed. Dream Girl has it too. Radhe Radhe, in the composition of Meet Bros, that comes towards the end, is captivating and energetic to listen but doesn’t help the movie’s cause.

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The film also has plenty of other characters who, apart from Vijay Raaz who plays a drunkard-talking-poetry, neither seem interesting nor funny even though they try to. It’s Ayushmann who holds you tight right until the end. There is always a feeling that the film might get better at any stage. But that’s never the case. It’s the other way round.

‘Pink’ Movie Review: A gripping drama on consensual sex

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Source: Times Music | YouTube

Pink is one of the greatest courtroom dramas that you will ever see. It is focussed and heartrending.

You know how it is” says a male office boss with a sorry look. “Yes, I do know how it is” replies a crestfallen and shocked Falak (Such a brilliant performance by Kirti Kulhari in this role). A fake, indecent photo of hers has been doing the rounds in the whole office. She has felt greatly humiliated by this as she never did any of this sort in the first place. The scene showed how painful it is for a woman when she is wrongly accused. Pink is Director Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury’s answer to misconceptions that a lot of men have vis-à-vis women. The film is a masterpiece which shows what a woman goes through when she is harassed, molested, sexually assaulted, and is forced to accept the cruel world without raising questions. 

Pink is one of the greatest courtroom dramas that you will ever see. It is focussed and heartrending. It sarcastically explains women’s safety manual that has instructions on the Dos and Don’ts for the women so that men don’t get the false idea of their consent for sex. It’s Deepak Sehgal (A spellbinding performance from Amitabh Bachchan for this character), a lawyer, through which the film presents its case and that too with such perfection (Not to forget the arresting act by Piyush Mishra who plays a lawyer as well in this film). The film shows you how Deepak defends the case for three women – Minal (Taapsee Pannu’s fantastic act for this character makes you really feel the agony), Andrea (herself), and Falak – on whom the complaint has been filed stating that they solicited some men and ended up causing grave injury to one of them (The soliciting part is so tremendously portrayed that it hurts you to see these women being shown in a wrong light).

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Source: Times Music | YouTube

The film highlights a male chauvinist society where women are made the scapegoat in a lot of problems. (Falak’s unsympathetic boyfriend presumes that Minal is a girl of questionable character. In response, Falak, with utter sadness, says that she hoped to receive some warmth from him and not advice.) The film shows that there are men who still consider women as weaker sex (A guy, in a cafeteria, says to Falak, “Tum vaise bhi ladki ho” (You are anyway a woman)). It also hurts you when Pink makes you realise that even a “natural human behaviour” of women is perceived wrongly by some men. Or, even her choice of living with her friends and not with family is put under the scanner.

But again it goes without saying that this world is also replete with good people. There are male characters in the film who stand as a pillar of support to these women in times of distress. Andrea’s boyfriend comforts her and applauds her for being “brave”. The landlord Kasturilal (Vinod Nagpal) remains supportive to these women and never doubts them.

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Source: Times Music | YouTube

With so many different layers in the film, you never actually get to see the sexual assault incident happening until the closing credits. But the incident is talked about with such intensity that just imagining it makes you feel pity for the girls who suffered. The music does its trick too to match the mood of the film (Kaari Kaari song, in the composition of Shantanu Moitra, sung by Qurat-ul-Ain Balouch, comes twice in the movie and blends beautifully well with the emotional scenes).

When I first watched the film back in 2016, I felt that the importance of the film and its relevance to the real-world situation was sky-high. I watched it again recently as a Tamil remake of this movie – Nerkonda Paarvai – thronged the theatres last week. Pink still felt so fresh and riveting. This story demands such a remake. It needs to be told in different languages. Pink is not just a great story on consensual sex where a simple “no” from your girlfriend, wife or even a sex-worker forbids you from having sex with them. But it is also told in a way that it engrosses you, thrills you and astonishes you all at the same time.

‘Mission Mangal’ Movie Review: A fantastic tribute to India’s first-ever Mars mission where dreams became a reality

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Source: Fox Star Hindi | YouTube

Mission Mangal does justice to one of the most influential and eye-opening achievements in the history of space research.

Rakesh Dhawan (Akshay Kumar) and Tara Shinde (Vidya Balan), the lead scientists supervising India’s historic Mars mission, have taken inspiration from home science, managed to get the necessary approvals and the resources, and incorporated everything in the rocket science that they know so well. Mission Mangal (Mission Mars) is Director Jagan Shakti’s ambitious and meticulously written project that not just feels sweet but also tastes bitter. Jagan knows that we are apprehensive of the fact that the success of Mangalyaan (Mars Orbiter Mission) drawn accolades from the entire globe and we may have doubts whether the film will resort to more of glorification than the struggles. Jagan makes sure that Mission Mangal is not that sort of a film. He lends it an equal share of both the moments where we don’t just feel dejected by the failures, embarrassments and difficulties but also feel proud and rejoice over the triumphs.

There is ‘hope’ in the background music (composed by Amit Trivedi) as it perfectly enhances the spirit of being alive in the mission. You feel astonished by the intelligence of the scientists in whom, amidst every other obstacle, sparks innovative ideas while cooking Puri or looking at people protesting against plastic dumps in the ocean or even while staring at a picture of sailing craft on a throw pillow. When you think about India and its space programs, the very first name that may come to your mind is Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam. The film does honour him. And when it does, it may give you goosebumps. Even the close shots of the rocket when it is being set up on the launch site or smoke engulfing a part of it or the hopeful faces of scientists were so brilliantly shown (All credits to the cinematographer Ravi Varman).

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Source: Fox Star Hindi | YouTube

Akshay gives the mixture of seriousness, staying-calm-under-pressure and mirthfulness to Rakesh’s character. But it’s the hilarity that works so well. In a humorous scene, he calmly enters inside a poorly maintained building, calls it Mars, finds the availability of little water and even claims the presence of life. He even asks a guy to place a television over his head. And when a guy asks Rakesh if this is Mars department, he says, “Hum bhi yahi soch ke khade hain” (We are also standing here thinking the same). Also watch out for Akshay’s Tamil-language speaking skills in the film.

The women in this movie always take the centre stage and are as much an important part of the film as the real women scientists were for the success of this Mars mission (You also have to appreciate the wonderful ensemble cast with each of them raising the bar higher when it comes to performance). You are also not alien to the personal lives of these characters. You do care about them. Outside of this mission, they have their own problems to take care of. You root for Eka Gandhi (Sonakshi Sinha) and her colleague Parmeshwar (Sharman Joshi) to be together. Tara’s amazing calmness while managing her husband, son and daughter speak volumes of Vidya Balan’s stupendous act. The sadness and disappointment in Varsha (Nithya Menen) are noticeable when her mother-in-law angrily scolds her for not getting pregnant. The driving lessons taken by Kritika (Taapsee Pannu) are chucklesome. You feel the agony of Neha (Kirti Kulhari) when she is denied a house for rent as she is a Muslim (While there is a work going on to find habitable planets in the space, some of us belonging to the ‘most intelligent’ species on Earth still follow a divisive design).

Of course, there is always someone who tries to close all the doors and be pessimistic about everything. There is Rupert (Dalip Tahil) in this film to do that. Dalip fantastically lends that villainous feel to this Rupert character. But the determination of Tara and a ‘change’ in the attitude of the scientists (one of the loveliest sequence where scientists realise why they chose to be in the field of science in the first place) ultimately spell the victory. Well, the film could have done without a weird fight sequence inside a train or a scientists-jovially-dancing-to-the-tune-of-a-song (Probably, the only two things that didn’t work for me). But, other than that, the film does justice to one of the most influential and eye-opening achievements in the history of space research.