Chintu Ka Birthday Movie Review: A moving tale of a family, in search of happier times, getting into undue trouble

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Source: Jagran Film Festival

Chintu Ka Birthday is a film which seeks to find happiness amidst all troubles. In this, the innocence prevails over brutality.

Thanks to Jagran Film Festival 2019, I was able to watch the ‘India Premiere’ of ‘Chintu Ka Birthday’.

It’s Chintu’s (Vedant Chibber) birthday and his father, Madan (Vinay Pathak is fantastic in this role), has requested his wife, Sudha (Tillotama Shome), to sing a song which she used to sing when Chintu was a new-born baby. So sings Sudha and she is joined by Chintu’s grandmother (Seema Bhargava). The family members and their Iraqi landlord, Hassan Mahdi (Khaled Masso lends an amazing performance in this character), find themselves spellbound by the beauty of the song. The euphonious and captivating song soothes your heart too and makes you feel the warmth and gladness.

This is one of those transient instances in Chintu Ka Birthday, directed by Devanshu Singh and Satyanshu Singh, where you get to see this family in a jovial mood and having a nice time together. The duo of Devanshu and Satyanshu decide to explain the problematic situation, which the family is in, through a 6-year-old Chintu. Rightfully so, as Chintu narrates the story, where we get to know how his father came to Iraq to earn a living and eventually brought his family too before the country’s political situation worsened and terrorism started taking the centre-stage, there comes an animated depiction of the entire narration (You can find yourself with a smile on your face during this entire cartoon sequence). The film tells you that the Indian Government has claimed that it has brought back all the Indians from Iraq. Chintu’s family is one of those who are stuck in Iraq with no help.

The film shows one day in the life of Chintu and his family. The plan for celebrating Chintu’s birthday is in full swing. Everyone is making sure that unlike previous years, this year the birthday celebration doesn’t get ruined no matter what. The situation outside doesn’t look promising and Chintu’s sister, Lakshmi (Bisha Chaturvedi), comes back home without a cake. But she makes sure that, with help from her mother, she prepares one herself at home. You see Madan fixing an old oven for the preparation of cake. Even their Iraqi landlord Mahdi sings an Arabic song to Chintu to cheer him up.

A bomb goes off outside their house and that’s when things come to a standstill. It saddens you as the mirthfulness, the family is in, comes to a halt. Two new characters enter the scene at this stage. These are the American soldiers Reed (Nate Scholz) and Jackson (Reginald L. Barnes) who, after the bomb blast, have come to check their house.

It pains you to see what the family goes through. The horror-struck faces of each of the members make you feel how frightened they are. A father, who just wanted to make his son happy, gets harsh treatment from the soldiers. The dejectedness in Lakshmi is palpable as her cake gets burnt in the oven. It hurts you to see one of the soldiers unapologetically removing and tearing off this big paper pasted on the wall that read “Happy Birthday Chintu”. The presence of Iraqi landlord and findings of some DVDs based on terrorist camps at their house doesn’t help their cause too as Madan is presumed to be supporting terrorists.

As the film is shot entirely inside one house, you only get to feel the horrible situation of outsides through one medium – sound. You get to feel that a bomb went off outside the house but do not get to actually see the wreckage. There is a military helicopter flying above the house and you get to sense that through the noise created by its rotor. There is, of course, an instance when the movie does try to show you what it’s like outside the premises of this house. One of the American soldiers steps out of the house to check on the commotion and gets fired at from somewhere before he slips back inside. So, there is always a feeling of terror that the film brilliantly creates.

The few chucklesome instances are well-executed. For instance, in a scene, Madan playfully tells his son that there is a cake waiting for his son as can be seen by his ‘third’ eye. But on Lakshmi’s empty-handed return, Chintu complains about his father’s prediction going wrong. There’s a scene in which Chintu’s friends Waheed (Mehroos Mir) and Zainab (Amina Afroz) pay a visit and Waheed introduces Zainab as Chintu’s girlfriend. Waheed doesn’t just stop there and goes on to greet Jackson, who is African-American, as “nigga”. In another instance, Madan explains the meaning of his name to the soldiers with reference from Kamasutra. Jackson, later on, resorts to calling him by the name of ‘Kamasutra’ itself.

After a long hassle with the soldiers, there comes a moment when the cake is finally being cut by Chintu as the family merrily sing together wishing him a happy birthday. As the balloon, placed above him, bursts and sparkles come pouring down, the sheer excitement in him is discernible. Madan’s earnest wish of celebrating his son’s birthday comes true. Although one of the soldiers watches them celebrate without showing any emotion on his face, it moves you to see them rejoicing together finally. And then, Reed springs a surprise in the end (You need to watch it to really feel it).

As the movie comes to a close, the camera shows a top view as Chintu lies on his bed and looks up. It slowly moves towards him and the movie ends. Chintu is hopeful that troubled times will be long gone by and he might one day be back home in India. Chintu Ka Birthday is a film which seeks to find happiness amidst all troubles. In this, the innocence prevails over brutality.

‘Tottaa Pataaka Item Maal’ Movie Review: A nice outlook on women, with a vengeance, switching on the tit-for-tat mode

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Tottaa Pataaka Item Maal is an interesting and intelligent attempt that makes you ruminate and understand a woman’s perspective and her wrath on seeing the heinous crimes that happen against girls.

A rock song plays in the background. You get different scenes from the capital city of India – Delhi. Street art comes into the picture as you see paintings on the walls. Glimpses of India Gate, Lotus Temple, and Humayun Tomb can be seen. You see Delhi Metro train busily helping commuters to reach their destination. The focus shifts towards a woman named Vibha (Shalini Vatsa) as she occupies a space inside ‘Women’s only’ coach. She can, then, be seen putting two cigarettes in her mouth and lighting them. As she does so, the rock music in the background intensifies.

This opening scene of Director Aditya Kripalani’s Tottaa Pataaka Item Maal – The Incessant Fear Of Rape, streaming on Netflix, has a lot to tell you. It drops you off in the Delhi city (a city that, among many things, has garnered attention for increasing crimes against women). There is a particular emphasis on ‘Women’s only’ signboard as Vibha boards train. And there’s definitely a rage of a woman felt in that two-cigarette-smoking scene.

Tottaa Pataaka Item Maal has four leading characters – Vibha, Shaila (Kritika Pande), Shagun (Sonal Joshi) and Chitra (Chitrangada Chakraborty). Shaila runs a ‘Taxi for women’ service. Due to certain circumstances, Shaila ends up picking up all three of them in her taxi by herself. All of them are strangers to each other and they randomly talk about various things. There comes a discussion on the types of feminism such as amazon, liberal, socialist, pop, radical, and feminazism (I didn’t know there are different branches of feminism honestly and it was good to be exposed). Not surprisingly, as it’s night time and they are in Delhi city, a topic on ‘women safety at night’ springs up. The talks, then, start entering into the terrain of ‘gang rape’ and the sheer brutality that the victimised women go through.

It is at this juncture the film actually starts taking a U-turn as these women start pondering over teaching a lesson to “such” men. They contemplate if brutally raping a single man would send the message across. As a matter of fact, men don’t think they can be raped at all, one of them says. Rightfully so, they conclude that it’s not that women can’t be brutal to men but they choose not to be. Co-incidentally, they encounter a man  (played by Vinay Sharma) riding his motorcycle and hurling vulgar comments at them. These women wind up beating this guy and keeping him shut inside a not-in-use room for a week.

The film, then, goes on to show what these women decide to do with this man and what measures do they think should be taken against him that will prove cruel in this man’s case. You see that they force him to cook food for them, clean the floor, jeer at him, or even make him wearing almost a bikini-style outfit. The film still shows that these women recuse from actually ‘raping’ this guy and only resort to showing him the fear of inserting a rod inside his anus. Somehow, even as these women try to inflict pain and be barbaric towards him in their own way, all those scenes aren’t that powerful. You can be left wanting for more such harsh and intense inserting-the-rod sort of scenes.

There can’t be tit-for-tat instances happening without a purpose. There is a deeply rooted cause behind all that indignation shown by these women. Their suffering is etched in their memories and nothing can erase that. Shagun, a cop, recounts an event when a woman came running to the police station for help but was shot dead right there by her father and brother in front of other male cops. Vibha reminisces a forgettable past where her daughter was kidnapped right in front of her and was gang-raped. Chitra narrates a miserable event where she tackled some men twice but failed at the third instance. Even Shaila, who is running a ‘taxi for women’ service, shows her fight towards women’s safety.

At other times, there are noticeable references or things that keep you thinking about women’s troubles. There’s a scene at Vibha’s home where both Vibha and Chitra are having a nice little conversation. The camera shows a framed painting in which two women are selling fish. Then, turns over to the wall clock that says 2 o’ clock. At this moment, you see Chitra enquiring if Vibha and her mother are staying in this home all by themselves. You wonder at the analogy created by Aditya Kripalani here and the inferences you can take away from it. The camera, then, turns away and slowly captures the framed posters on walls of films like Mandi (Directed by Shyam Benegal, this tells the story of a brothel) and Arth (Directed by Mahesh Bhatt, this explores extramarital affairs). In another scene, you see framed sketches of human hands on the wall at Chitra’s place. These are the sketches made by Chitra herself and present an eerie and sorry picture of a woman’s hand that has signs of sufferings. And whenever such sad depiction comes into the picture, you can’t help but find yourself mesmerised by the beautiful use of guitar sounds in the background.

As the movie comes to a close, these four women meet at a place for drinks and celebrate together for having taught a lesson to such men (albeit through one man). They listen to news coverage on the television saying that this man has committed suicide. All four of them standstill with a discernible shock on their faces. Vibha runs back to women’s toilet and weeps (the camera puts the focus on women’s signboard here). You see that she has sunk back into gloom after all this. Perhaps the tit-for-tat was never the right option. It has seemed so initially with all that agony in her heart. Seeing the fate of that man has not given her the happiness which she thought she would get. She thought a fitting reply has been given to that man. And these women did that in their own style. The bigger picture is that, perhaps, thoughts of taking revenge against men would never even occur in women’s mind if they are not subjected to such cruelty in the first place.

Tottaa Pataaka Item Maal is an interesting and intelligent attempt that makes you ruminate and understand a woman’s perspective and her wrath on seeing the heinous crimes that happen against girls.

 

‘Super 30’ Movie Review: A great start and a dumb finish to an extraordinary story

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‘Super 30’ starts off promisingly, turns trite after a while and ends up with an unnecessary action-thriller sequence leaving a huge dissatisfaction.

The very first thing that captivates you in Director Vikas Bahl’s Super 30 is the background score from the duo of Ajay-Atul. The alluring and tuneful composition can make you fall in love with it instantly and you will find yourself swaying involuntarily as if the sound waves have got you under their control. Super 30 begins with the romantic side of the story. As Anand Kumar (Hrithik Roshan’s exemplary performance keeps you engrossed) comes to see Ritu (Mrunal Thakur leaves her mark in a short spell), who is taking her Indian classical dance lessons, Ajay-Atul’s score in the background mesmerises you. The love angle seems to be attracting your attention as the nerdy Anand gives a love letter containing binary numbers to the ravishing Ritu.

There’s an abrupt change in the narrative as the romance, that was building up between Anand and Ritu for a brief period, gives way to the more important matter at hand – which is the struggle of Anand Kumar and his perseverance towards assisting poor children to crack the most sought after engineering entrance exam in India. But this sudden change in the plot and its failure in registering the strong bond between Anand and Ritu keeps you wanting for more and you don’t feel for their separation. 

Anand Kumar, a real-life hero, on whom the movie is based, is lauded for his magnificent efforts towards bringing change, educating and preparing 30 poor kids every year for free of cost to help them get into Indian Institute of Technology. It’s the tough times that the movie focuses more upon. Written by Sanjeev Dutta, the film does engage you for the most part but loses its sheen in the second half.

There’s a constant attempt to reiterate the norm that is being followed the most in our society – “raja ka beta hi banega raja” (Only the king’s son is eligible to sit on the throne next). Instances like Anand being thrown out of the library (foreign journals are for high standard ones, says the library manager) or being asked to teach only the “premium” students who can pay huge amount of fees in return does make you understand the plight of poor people who really want to pursue education of their choice. But such instances become so repetitive in the film and that’s when you can get a bit restless.

Pankaj Tripathi and Aditya Shrivastava bring a villainous look to the characters of education minister and coaching centre head respectively. But their relevance drops significantly as the movie progresses.

There are moments where it can get hard to control your emotions and hold back your tears. The father-son relationship is the best thing about the movie. The excitement in Anand’s father (played by Virendra Saxena), while riding his bicycle and carrying the letter containing mathematical theory solved by his son, is palpable. There’s discernible care for his son seen as he first combs his hair and then combs Anand’s while on their way to ask for help with money. It’s heart-wrenching to see a father’s utter disappointment and dejectedness in his failure of arranging money in time for his son’s education. And then there is this display of hopeful faces of a young boy working in a manhole or a young girl being helped by her mother to escape from the grabs of a drunk father. It makes it difficult for you to see the poor conditions they live in but having dreams of becoming a nuclear scientist or a biotech engineer. Also, Anand’s incessant struggle in bringing food on the table for his students worries you.

It’s wonderful to see how Anand incorporates real-life scenarios to teach his students. He also mentions how the rich people are getting to enjoy all the privileges. He further says that it’s about time that the “hakdaar” (entitled person) gets to reap the benefits and they will have to take a huge “chhalaang” (leap) to get ahead in life. Who knew this will pan out so bad? The movie winds up trying a big cinematic experience with some dumb goons being intelligently tackled by these poor kids. Only that it doesn’t work at all. Super 30 starts off promisingly, turns trite after a while and ends up with an unnecessary action-thriller sequence leaving a huge dissatisfaction.

‘Game Over’ Movie Review: A jaw-dropping and heart-stopping thriller

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The horrors that you get to experience in Game Over are on a whole new high. Such an arresting act by Taapsee Pannu!

Swapna (an immensely powerful performance from Taapsee Pannu for the protagonist) is sharing her experience of fear and breathlessness, that she had inside a dark room, to a Doctor. While she does so, the camera steadily, slowly and quietly enters the room moving from right to left. In another scene, on the outside, Kalamma (Vinodhini Vaidyanathan), Swapna’s caretaker, can be seen from the window grills to be hanging the clothes out to dry. The camera, which is inside the room, leisurely moves towards the window producing an eerie feeling out of normal activity. And, in another instance, a close shot captures the lighting of a thick candle. Then there’s a slow-motion sequence in black-and-white where Swapna looks jovial while getting inked. During this, there’s a close shot of ink being dropped in a glass of water that gets slowly spread around and mixed up. Sometimes, inside a dimly-lit room, the camera cautiously moves towards a door creating a strange feeling. You also listen to the creak of a swing chair, as the camera ploddingly goes towards it, outside the house.

A. Vasanth’s cinematography is the very first thing that stands out as the film gives you glimpses of different elements of the story. Perhaps this is not anywhere close to the brilliant camera work of Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma. But it is definitely among the greatest works in Indian cinema. It just presented Director Ashwin Saravanan’s Game Over in a different light altogether. Of course, Ashwin’s vision is a big factor too. It’s not just the stupendous camera work that excites you but also how important these detailed shots turn out to be as the movie progresses.

The core of the narrative in Game Over is about incidents of some unknown men taking videos of women while torturing them, beheading them and then burning their headless body. One of those women in the film, who ends up being the target of these men, is Swapna. The film does not dwell too much on this character’s life. We take a gander at her past life where she is seen to have been kept in captivity inside a dark room and being tortured. This agonising incident is etched in her memory so much so that she finds herself in a state of terrible uneasiness when she encounters darkness inside a room. The tattoo, that she has on one of her forearms, resembling a video game controller, as she is a game freak, turn out to be a memorial tattoo that contains the ashes of a dead woman. Towards the intermission, the film can make you feel a bit of restlessness as Swapna’s fear of dark room and being a victim of torture (that never gets elaborated but only shown briefly) may seem repetitive and dragged a little. Even the tattoo is used as something that can add sentimental value to the film (The dead woman’s mother comes to see Swapna and have a feel of the memorial tattoo as it contains ashes of her daughter but it doesn’t move you because the focus was never really on building the story of this dead woman character).

Ashwin decides to finish off the first half of the movie with a message on the screen that says, “Game On”. Well, it literally means ‘What if life is a game’ (You will understand why when you see it). It’s the post-interval part that keeps you on the edge of the seat with your eyes popping out and mouth wide open in fearfulness. Every detailed camera shot that you saw in the first half will start finding meaning in the second half. There’s a headless body sitting in the swing chair. The head cut off from the body is thrown at the window. Swapna’s fear of darkness comes to the fore and this time with even more intensity. Men, all covered up in a black outfit, carrying daggers, don’t just sit on the couch and give a villainous look but also slit the throat instantly. The thick candle shown earlier comes into play as well as it, along with a flammable oil, is used for setting fire on one of these men and burn them.

The amazing music by Ron Ethan Yohann gives a boost to thrilling sequences in the film. The film is, one might say, India’s answer to Jordon Peele’s Get Out. The horrors that you get to experience in Game Over is on a whole new high, just like Get Out, but it also comes at a price. Like Get Out, amidst the shockers and thrillers, you may feel some of the elements not fully developed and left half-baked. But you won’t be thinking about all that after such an arresting act by Taapsee Pannu and heart-stopping experience that you get while watching this film.

‘Bharat’ Movie Review: A film that tries too hard but fails to ignite any emotion

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Either the film tries too hard in some cases to move you or shows nothing at all in other cases hoping that little exposure is enough to bring out emotions in us.

Directed by Ali Abbas Zafar, Bharat (Salman Khan) is the name of the main character and the movie itself. As the movie begins, we see Bharat in grey hair and grey beard. This is the year 2010. He is almost 70-year-old. His voice can be heard in the background saying that we, as an audience, must be thinking that the story of this old guy would be uninteresting. But he assures that what we are about to witness is the story of his “rangeen zindagi” (colourful life). It was great to hear that sort of assurance but I didn’t allow myself to set high hopes solely on the basis of this.

Bharat is based on a South Korean film Ode to my father. I haven’t seen this South Korean film. So, there’s no room for any kind of comparison between the two movies. The story of Bharat takes us back to the year 1947 when the imminent partition of India and Pakistan was on the cards. Bharat is a young kid and is living in Lahore (Pakistan). To escape the indiscriminate killings on the basis of one’s religion, Bharat’s father (played by Jackie Shroff) takes his family to join the throng of people boarding the train to leave for India. Amidst the crowd, Bharat’s father and one of his sisters fail to board the train. Bharat and his family start living in one of their relative’s home in Delhi (India) and look after their provision store. So, this store becomes dear to Bharat. From thereon, the film shows what Bharat does to look after his family, his constant remembrances of his father and his sister who left behind, the efforts taken to reunite with them and how he tries to keep the provision store from being taken down by the potential builders who are keen on bringing a shopping mall instead.

The film tries to score on nationalistic sentiments. A kid says that even though he is a Muslim, he migrated from Pakistan to India as he considers India as his home nation. Someone greets “As-Salaam-Alaikum” and gets “Ram Ram” in return (to show the secularism and unity in India). In one scene, Bharat randomly starts singing National Anthem of India and the whole audience inside the theatre naturally stood up as a mark of respect followed by the chants of ‘“Bharat Mata Ki Jai’” (Long Live Mother India!). In fact, Bharat character is shown as the embodiment of people of India.

Vilayati, which means foreigner, is the name of a character who is also a close friend of Bharat. Vilayati is Muslim. (Is that a deliberate attempt to show the current environment in India where Muslims are seen as foreigners by a number of Indians and are sometimes even threatened to go back to Pakistan?). This Vilayati character is funnier at his best. He plays the iconic snake game on his mobile phone with a constant murmuring of “khaja.. khaja” (eat! eat!). He is jokingly said to be and shown as a lookalike of Nehru. After a futile attempt of lifting a heavy bag, he throws his hands up and acts as if finally having lifted it when, in reality, Bharat is the one holding it. As a matter of fact, the hilarity produced by this Vilayati character was a lot better than the annoying and forced comedy of Pirates-of-Somalia-dancing-to-the-tunes-of-Bollywood scene.

Radha (Disha Patani) is irrelevant in the film (Except that she is a part of ‘Slow Motion’ track, composed by Vishal-Shekhar, which is one of the decent songs in this film). She is glamorous and shown to have some sort of bonding with Bharat. But it is so transient and never registers well. So, as Bharat moves on with his life and parts ways with Radha, it does not make you root for them to be together. Kumud (Katrina Kaif) is in a live-in relationship with Bharat and that too with the approval of Bharat’s mother. Katrina Kaif’s bad acting, failure to render comic lines, and romantic relationship with Bharat that never blossomed further aggravated the scenes involving her.

There’s even an advertisement for a television channel and done as if it is part of the story. Anyway, this becomes even more irksome when a prolonged phase of the reunion of Indians and Pakistanis is shown. It gets so tiring and trite as this phase never ignites the emotion inside you. This ultimately leads to the inevitable reunion of Bharat and his lost sister.

As is customary, Salman flaunts his well-built body as he pulls a number of injured men using a trolley. It doesn’t even matter whether this Bharat character is 70 years old or not as he fights with such power and strength against a number of men trying to assault him while riding their motorbikes.

You do understand Bharat’s sentiment of not parting ways with the provision store but the emphasis put on it is so less that you never really feel Bharat’s emotions. Also, the banal portrayal of the family reunion, which is too long, doesn’t help it either. Either the film tries too hard in some cases to move you or shows nothing at all in other cases hoping that little exposure is enough to bring out emotions in us. Unlike Bharat’s promise that he makes early on, the film turns out to be colourless and wearisome.

Kalank Movie Review: Almost 3 hours of tedium!

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I survived (Somehow). That’s all I can say after an excruciatingly painful watch and a tiring experience.

Kalank deserves a rap on the knuckles for the kind of restlessness it leads you into. Having sat through the first half-an-hour of the movie and endured the colossal boredom, I wasn’t surprised that I started going into the state of slumber. There’s a big announcement in a dramatic way as to who’s the father of one of the protagonists and who’s his mother as the film nears the intermission (Something that turns out to be a child’s play as you would have precisely predicted it much sooner than they actually reveal). And there’s some sort of romance building up in the midst of India-Pakistan partition issues that hardly move you. The biggest of all problems is that the screenplay is structured in the Indian soap opera style! I didn’t walk out of the cinema hall midway. I had made up my mind to check just how badly it all unfolds in the film.

The story is set in Lahore during the time when India was on the cusp of Independence from the British and the birth of Pakistan was on the cards. The film shows the glimpses of conflict between the followers of Hindu and Muslim religion which ultimately result in indiscriminate killings in the end. Director Abhishek Varman’s focus is more on the lives of a Hindu girl Roop (Alia Bhatt) and a Muslim guy Zafar (Varun Dhawan) and how this affects the people related to them.

Call it inspiration. Or, an attempt to use elements from hit films or even a TV series. This jejune film does have elements that make you hark back to some of the greatest films or series but that doesn’t work in its favour. Do you want a bit of Ridley Scott’s Gladiator sort of action? You got it! You see a strong and muscular Zafar involved in bullfighting. Be ready to witness one of the greatest CGI work in this sequence (pun intended). If you wanted to get a feel of that iconic “My heart will go on” sung by Celine Dion for Titanic or Ramin Djawadi’s haunting main title theme for Westworld, Kalank’s background score by Sanchit Balhara and Ankit Balhara gives you modified versions of the same. In fact, when the teaser of this film was released, film critic Raja Sen tweeted saying that it has ripped off the theme music from the TV series The Flash. And Bollywood also has its very own to look up to. So, you do get to recall Shah Rukh Khan’s famous train scene from Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge as Alia Bhatt, who has boarded the train, shouts out to Zafar and he runs to hold her hand in a dramatic fashion and get onboard. The more this film tries to make this film interesting, the more it plummets miserably.

Brace yourselves. Almost every lead actor has an “intro” song too. The unnecessary and not-going-well-with-the-mood-of-the-film songs were probably meant to give you a sigh of relief and give some respite from an otherwise stodgy collection of scenes in this film. But that doesn’t save the film either.  A ‘special’ mention to a song where Roop has turned up at the brothel of Bahaar Begum (Madhuri Dixit). Roop wants to take singing lessons from Bahaar Begum and actually starts singing to a great perfection along with her in the first meet itself (It looked like Roop did not really need singing lessons at all). Outside of this Brothel, Zafar hears the voice of Roop and is mesmerised. Zafar meets Roop on her way out and leaves an impression on her just like that! And there blossoms a romance (actually, tries to blossom).

Not only the relationship between Zafar and Roop fails to bloom, but the not-so-moving tale of Dev Chaudhry (Aditya Roy Kapur) and his ailing wife Satya (played by an affecting Sonakshi Sinha in her short stint) also does not go well.

A grim-faced Sanjay Dutt as Dev’s father is terrific but does not have much to do in this film.

Well, then what did I really like in this film? I got to know that Lahore city is known as Lohaaron Ka Sheher (City of blacksmiths) and this is how it got its name.

I survived (Somehow). That’s all I can say after an excruciatingly painful watch and a tiring experience.

Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota Movie Review: A desi Superman

Replete with indirect references to brainless masala movies, this film is a reinvigorating and chucklesome take on familiar turn of events with a twist of weirdness.

It’s a never-ending process. It seems like masala genre and Indian cinema have been going hand-in-hand since ages and it is still continuing to be made for it has a huge fan-following and hero-worshipping. There are plenty of films that have largely been on the lines of familiar structure – hero-meeting-heroine-against-all-odds – with some of them having really good stories at its helm. Mostly, such films are criticised for defying all the logic. Vasan Bala’s Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota does the exact opposite. Replete with indirect references to brainless masala movies, this film is a reinvigorating and chucklesome take on familiar turn of events with a twist of weirdness.

Surya (Oh! How fantastic was Abhimanyu Dassani in this character) has a medical condition called congenital insensitivity to pain which literally means that he can’t feel the pain. Hence, the aptness of the title – Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota (The Man Who Feels No Pain). The movie goes about showing how Surya meets Supri (Radhika Madan is splendid), how he takes inspiration from a one-legged karate master named Karate Mani (Gulshan Devaiah), and the eventual capture of the villain (also acted by Gulshan Devaiah) in order to get back the chain snatched by him.

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Sometimes you get a scene narrated or played out in full and later get to know that it was either a figment of imagination or was actually ridiculing what would generally happen in a masala movie. Whenever such revelations happened, they were always laughable subjects. Surya’s mother, in a scene, hits a goon in a cinema hall sending him flying up in the air before the narrator clarifies that it didn’t happen that way. In another instance, Surya joins Supri in fighting off the goons before he comes to his senses and realises that it was all in his imagination and that it is Supri alone fighting them all off.

Even in serious situations, the hilarity remained intact. A goon lying on the ground acts as if he is hurt and purposely does not stand up so as to get away from the fighting scene. The villain, in another scene, asks for the genius who has, stupidly enough, fixed a tape on the leg of Karate Mani so as to restrain him. My favourite was the one where Surya shows all his fighting skills against a bunch of hospital staff and all Karate Mani does to encounter them is to casually squeeze an orange in their eyes.

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As the younger version of Surya calls it, if he is “Aag” (Fire), then Supri is a “Toofaan” (Storm). It turned out to be very true when they met 12 years later. Unlike the usual notion of masala films in which hero acts as the saviour of heroine and they both fall in love, this film chooses to show female empowerment and emphasises that they are in no way lesser in terms of physical strength when compared to men. Supri’s mother, while highlighting her own inability to choose a ‘life’ for herself, persuades Supri to run away to escape the man who is seemingly trying to take her to Canada and live a married life with her. Also, Supri can be seen fighting more than one goon with great style and flexibility.

Time and again, Surya does the Superman punch and asks Supri to use the laser in her eyes to ward off evil. You need someone to push you into a state where you think of yourself as some sort of superhero and it’s the grandfather Ajoba (Mahesh Manjrekar) who does that in this movie. So, there is always a feeling of watching a comic book sort of story. In this case, it seems like a story involving Superman and Supergirl devoid of any superhuman powers.

There comes a time when, much like us, Supri gets irked by childish mannerisms of Surya when she asks him to “grow up” and says that she does not have “bandwidth” for retelling what happened in 12 years of life in just a few minutes. In all its weirdness and funny instances, the frivolous nature of the pursuance of the ultimate goal is something that would put you off towards the end. Nevertheless, Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota hints at a possible sequel in the end. It was amazing to see the way it took a dig at clichéd Indian masala movies and I hope it keeps doing so in the sequel.

Kesari Movie Review: An underwhelming showcase of an important Indian history

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Kesari pins its hopes on getting loud cheers (which it does get) for action sequences that are filled with intrepidity

Even before the film begins, there is a note that clearly says that this is based on the Battle of Saragarhi that also includes fictitious depictions. This did reflect onto the screen as Akshay Kumar, one of the biggest commercial actors in Bollywood, revels in the heroic fights in this painstakingly long drawn-out film. As a matter of fact, the very first fight sequence, where Havildar Ishar Singh (Akshay Kumar) jumps up in the air and shoots a man, foretold what’s in store for us. This is a film that pins its hopes on getting loud cheers (which it does get) for action sequences that are filled with intrepidity. Once the brief history is portrayed and the causes behind the battle are established in the entire first half of the movie, you realise that there is still another half of the movie left to endure. Director Anurag Singh’s Kesari (Saffron) is the account of how 21 soldiers of Sikh regiments show bravery and fight till death to combat thousands of men.

You don’t really need someone to spoon feed the patriotism in you. You should be able to feel it while watching a film. ‘Lagaan’, India’s rare gem that was shortlisted for Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, instilled a feeling of pride in every Indian. But there weren’t any forced instances of making us feel so. Except for the story that is set during the British rule, both Lagaan and Kesari are entirely different (with the former clearly outclassing the latter in triggering the emotions). By reiterating dialogues like Indians are “Ghulam” (Slave) to British and are “Darpok” (Coward) or “Pag ko haath nahi lagana” (Do not dare touch my turban), there is a definite effort being taken in Kesari to intensify the moments. As an Indian, I did understand the gravity of these dialogues and where they stem from, but such forced triggers hardly moved me.

On the contrary, some of the less emphasised scenes were much more interesting and I could only wish if those moments could stay longer. Parineeti Chopra, who fills the spot of Ishar Singh’s love-interest, lends much-needed warmth during the brief stay and even Akshay Kumar’s calm and jovial attitude in her presence is a loveable portrayal. The pre-battle comedic instances are transient and yet so nice (When Ishar Singh smirks behind the door thinking of how his men have misinterpreted a hen’s ‘Kook-Doo-Koo’ sound as ‘Cook’ or when he purposely visits a soldier’s room repeatedly to see him standing there and saluting him). Even Ishar Singh’s funny interaction with an Afghani girl, where neither of them knows each other’s language, is a great addition. Ishar’s kind gestures of offering water to the injured men or helping to build a mosque were unexpected and touching.

Kesari does serve the purpose of reminding Indians of a history that is not talked about or even taught in Indian schools. But it fails to leave the kind of impact that it intends to. It remains a forgettable affair.

Mere Pyare Prime Minister Movie Review: An open letter magnifying the problems of lack of public toilets in India and the rape cases

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Director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Mere Pyare Prime Minister is a story where Kanhu (Om Kanojiya), an eight-year-old son of Sargam, writes a letter to the Prime Minister, after what happened to his mother, requesting him to build a toilet.

It’s the festival of Holi and, as is customary, Sargam (Anjali Patil) has drunk bhang which is a drink made out of cannabis. Sargam is joined by the entire group of people who live in this basti (Settlement). With everyone having fallen in the mood of celebration, the camera zigzags around to show them enjoying in this festive time, particularly the focus being given on Sargam and her love-interest Pappu (Niteesh Wadhwa). It, then, cuts to wee hours of the morning on the next day. It is still dark as the women in the basti go out together to defecate in the open. While they are heading back to their home, they meet Sargam who has overslept and couldn’t join them. Sargam assures them that she will be fine alone. A woman going out alone at night or in the wee hours, especially in India, is considered so dangerous with the reason being the cruel act that ensues at that spot involving Sargam. She becomes the victim of rape with a police constable acting as the guardian for such heinous crime. Director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Mere Pyare Prime Minister is a story where Kanhu (Om Kanojiya), an eight-year-old son of Sargam, writes a letter to the Prime Minister, after what happened to his mother, requesting him to build a toilet.

The movie is an open letter to the administration raising concerns over the dearth of public toilets in India. And the best part is that there are no preachy instances to make us understand the gravity of the issue. Kanhu builds a toilet, all by himself, using just a few wooden pieces and a cloth. He, then, takes his friends to a public works department office and has to confront arrogant and unhelpful officials. He, even, travels all the way to the Prime Minister’s office with just a couple of kids to give him company for handing over a handwritten letter that innocently describes the issues faced by him and his mother (All it takes is an effort to make this world better and Rakeysh chooses to educate us through a kid). There is no uncertainty with regards to whether the letter to PM will bring about the desired change. It is just a matter of time when we finally get to see that the PM has stepped in to construct the toilets. It is more about the trauma that women like Sargam go through and how significant the issue is.

Devoid of basic amenities and living amongst the dirt, Sargam and Kanhu can live so happily. This is like an in-your-face answer to the people who crib about small things when there are bigger problems in the world. I loved the scene where Kanhu and Sargam sing “Aati Kya Khandala” before Sargam puts him to sleep. The mother-son relationship is further exemplified when Kanhu returns home after handing over the letter to PM’s office and says, “Maa ke liye kuch bhi kar sakta hoon” (I can do anything for Mother) and all he wants her to do in return is to cook the food spicier. In another scene, Kanhu and his friends are having fun and betting each other on some silly games while defecating in open. There is fun in filth. So, there is definitely a hope for goodness even in troubled times.

It was fantastic to see the way the importance of sexually transmitted disease (STD) is exhibited. It happens through a mature love angle between Sargam and Pappu. He says, in a scene, to a distraught Sargam that he thought about it a lot and he thinks it is better if she undergoes a medical-checkup for STD. He, also, had to say to the nurse in the clinic that the test is for him and asks Sargam to get herself tested as well since she is here. It was brilliantly portrayed to showcase a society where a sexual problem with a man is not as big a deal as it is when the same concerns a woman.

There is not much of a romance going on between Sargam and Pappu as that’s not the main focus of the movie too. But on a few occasions, when ladies in the neighbourhood vouch for him or jokingly say if she slept with him on the night of Holi, there is always a feeling that they will get together. And we want them to be getting along eventually. There have been many marriage proposals, even unique ones. But the mutual agreement between both of them, putting forth their consent for marrying each other without neither of them actually proposing with a straightforward question, is one of those scenes you remember for a long time.

Although I revelled in the scenes where Kanhu and his friends end up selling condoms or asking for donations using fake causes, the narrative was such that there was no conclusive thought given to all of that. They get caught by the police but when Sargam asks Kanhu to apologise to God for doing such illegal things, all he says is that he won’t say sorry to someone who didn’t save you while you became the victim of rape. Kids in the slums shouldn’t beg or steal money no matter what. Nothing of that sort could be inferred in this film. That’s the only weakling I felt in an otherwise spectacularly told story, with credible performances from Anjali Patil and Om Kanojiya in particular, that magnifies the problems of lack of public toilets in India and the rape cases.

Photograph Movie Review: Serenity at its peak

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The Lunch Box fame Ritesh Batra has this knack of creating characters with whom the different shades of life come to the fore. Photograph is no different.

A long shot shows Rafi (Nawazuddin Siddiqui is brilliant as always) walking on a footover bridge as the traffic on the roads below is crawling along. There is a placidity and quietude about him even as he is deluged with loud honks of the vehicles. This is the very first scene of the movie. Even though it is ephemeral, it is also a moment to be captured on camera. A photograph of this scene will bring back the memories of solitude and quietness amidst the noise of everyday hustle and bustle. Such is the beauty of a photograph that Rafi, who earns a living by taking instant photos of tourists outside the Gateway of India, uses to great effect. The Lunch Box fame Ritesh Batra has this knack of creating characters with whom the different shades of life come to the fore. Photograph is no different.

Rafi and Miloni (Sanya Malhotra) are like two different ends of a thread. Circumstances are such that the two ends meet each other in the form of a knot. But the knot is not tight enough and is in the position of getting disentangled anytime.

Rafi’s stubborn grandmother (It must be said that Farrukh Jaffer’s authentic performance lent great weight to this grandmother character) is trying to get him married. Around the same time, he meets Miloni with his usual selling point when he says that “saalon baad jab aap ye photo dekhengi madam, toh aapko aapke chehre pe yahi dhoop dikhai degi…” (You will be able to see this sunshine on your face when you will take a look at this photo after several years). The story begins when Miloni agrees to act as his girlfriend in front of Rafi’s grandmother and a feeling of love and affection starts growing between them.

It is the bond between Rafi and Miloni that remained the standout feature of this film for me. Rafi, while writing a letter to his grandmother, writes that Miloni is like the first rain in the fields. It is, also, lovely to see Miloni’s slight hints to her fondness for him during her interactions with Rafi’s grandmother. The charming interaction between them when they sit opposite to each other in a tea shop exchanging their childhood secret is so wonderful (While Rafi reveals why he always goes for a kulfi at the end of a month, Miloni narrates her love for a beverage named ‘Campa Cola’ that is not in business anymore). When Rafi reaches just in a knick of a time to take Miloni away from her teacher (Jim Sarbh), who was trying to force her to come with him for a cup of coffee, she, later, innocently expresses her relief of being in Rafi’s company again as she utters, “Tum theek ho?… Main bhi theek hoon” (Are you fine?… I’m also fine).

The life of Rafi and Miloni, however different they are, seems to have one thing in common – wedding. Rafi dodges a question like “What sort of girl do you want?” from a shopkeeper. Even the news of his grandmother’s decision to not to take her medicines until he agrees to marry reaches the likes of taxi drivers and the kulfi (a type of dessert) sellers who know him. Miloni, on the other hand, is a bright student, belongs to an affluent family and her parents are looking for a perfect match. She is living life by the rules laid down by her parents. All she has to do is study well and get married to a guy who they think to be her best match. She has no say in the choice of her own dress (In a shop, she nods in agreement to whatever dress her family chooses for her). She silently eats her food and responds with a feeble voice that all is well when enquired by her father. The best portrayal of suppression of her feelings comes to light when the camera focuses on her feet, which is hesitantly moving, and we hear the voices of her parents discussing her future.

I was moved by Miloni’s character and a lot of credit goes to Sanya Malhotra for lending innocence and gentleness to this character with aplomb. Miloni’s revelation that her photo, taken by Rafi, showed a much happier version of her and a more beautiful one too, is telling evidence of how, in reality, she has to be content within the constraints of her life. In another instance, when Miloni expresses that she wants to live in a village and work in the fields, we understand how eagerly she wants to be liberated of her confinements.

As the movie neared its end, Rafi tells Miloni, while sitting outside a movie theatre, that all films have a similar tale where a man and a lady love each other but get separated due to man’s poor financial condition and the pressure exerted on the lady from her family. Somehow, the ending of such tales seems to be the most likely outcome of this movie as well. Ritesh Batra, probably, understands how attached one can get to these lovely characters and there is no definitive end given to this story. The beautiful bond between them is ephemeral just like the scenes inside a photograph.