Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Bajirao Mastani - an epic SLB spectacle!

Bhansali ne Bajirao pe film banayi hai;
Documentary Nahi! 

I want to start my review with those lines simply to act as a disclaimer (much like the movie) to confirm that my views are of this movie as a movie and not as a piece of historic documentation of a much loved and respected character or a review of how well the film recreates the details of an era, which even historians agree isn't well documented. So then.. 

Everyone has a weakness and mine is mainstream Bollywood.. Every time a big budget multi starrer is in the making, I'm busy following up on it and eagerly awaiting the release. Add to it an A-list cast, appetising promos and interesting music, and I can't wait any more. Obviously, I was looking forward to Bajirao Mastani - a magnum opus by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, who is arguably the most gifted visualiser of our times - love them or hate them, you can't ignore that with every movie Bhansali has made, he has created unforgettable images. And who doesn't like watching a beautiful frame. From Nandini's inflamed shawl to Paro chasing a closing gate  to Michelle McNally predicting snow to The drops of water teasing an immobile Ethan Mascarenhas' pastal abode - these are Bollywoods gems in a treasure of rare visual treats.  

So there I was queueing up to watch this movie and after the much elaborate disclaimer, the movie takes off with a brisk pace: But did it have more than visuals? Did it deliver beyond the Bhansali template? Did the actors create unforgettable characters? Mostly, yes. 

So The film gets through the wars and political conflicts to set up the meeting between the titular characters. Both valiant Warriors are awestruck of one another, but Mastani is clearly more deeply in love than Bajirao - and she's also the more expressive and daring one. And then there is Bajirao's first wife Kashibai- the quintessential rajgharana bahu, peshwinbai, who between decorating rangolis, fluttering saffron flags and lighting lamps, is mostly waiting for her warrior husband to return home. Shy but playful, she is the films only "unflawed" character. We also meet maa saheb, who is an astute matriarch who neither approves frivolous liberties nor lets her guard down on the kingdom. Why, even a palki entering the Wada can't miss her eagle eyes. You can only imagine her fury when her son wants to bring home a Muslim second wife. 

These prime characters form the crux of the material that transforms into 2 hour 45 minutes of entertaining drama on celluloid in signature Bhansali treatment. Yes, entertaining and yes, drama (not melodrama). Kudos must be given to SLB for not going overboard with heavy dialogues and keeping confrontations sharp and thought provoking. I especially liked all confrontations between maa saheb and mastani- both outwitting each other in a war of words. 

The other win in the film is the visuals - sets that are raw yet opulent and graphics that are credible yet imaginative. It's a great big screen experience. 

And then we come to performances. Ranveer is such a hardworker. And it is shows. In the recent past he has played seemingly simple characters with nuanced finesse but with Bajirao, he takes a difficult character head on. He succeeds in getting the mannerisms and body language mostly right and does let you read his love, pain, guilt and attempts even without words at times. If anyone ever had questions if he had arrived in the big league, this act is a resounding yes. That doesn't mean there isn't the occasional slip or drop in engagement. While we are on Bajirao let me say this: Personally, the one part I didn't like in the movie was the Malhari song, which for some reason seemed more Dabanng and less Bajirao. No, I don't care that he danced but I care that he did that dance. Not as Bajirao but as any King or warrior. 

Priyanka excels in a small yet powerful role and gets the accent and body language of a Peshwin woman perfect. This movie will be for her what Shakespeare In Love was to Judie Dench - an 8 minute role that won her all awards. Speaking of doing more in less screen time, Tanvi Azmi builds an intimidating presence. Every time she is in the frame, a sense of authority lurks and her unyielding faith and astute beliefs are a nightmare for any outlier. Even as she momentarily laughs at her own helplessness, you know she's not broken yet. And never will be. 

Which leaves us to talk of Mastani - the lady with a golden touch - Deepika. Since cocktail, I'm not sure she put one foot wrong ever. Mastani is a gutsy woman who  wants to write her own Destiny - and yet constantly a teardrop is waiting to shed from those enigmatic eyes. The legends of mastani's beauty are aptly recreated in the movie and she is grace and valour personified. Deepika even gets her Kathak and Urdu right. And in the end she wins your heart for her yearning for love and acceptance of her love. Mastani asks but never begs, she questions but never commands, she longs but never gives up. Deepika makes Mastani unforgettable. 

A word must be said about the songs and choreography. Other than Malhari I'm a fan of how the songs are shot. Deewani Mastani, is a new benchmark, even for Bhansali. Pinga, even with it questionable premise and true Bollywood  execution is going to become a legend in itself for whatever reasons. I find it boisterous and cute and very very fun - and those gals dance their history off - Like there was no yesterday and no tomorrow. 

Overall the film is an operatic entertainer and worth a watch for its visual achievements and performances. And although not underlined enough, there is a message that is relevant even today - that love is like a prayer, you don't need to seek permission to pray. Ibaadat ke liye Ijaazat ki zaroorat nahi. Watch it as just a movie, and you'll find it engaging, mesmerising and magical. 

Remember: Bajirao ne mastani se mohobbat ki hai; ayyashi Nahi.. Aur Bhansali ne Bajirao pe film banayi hai; Documentary Nahi! 

Friday, June 5, 2015

Dil Dhadakne Do.. Paise bachne do!

Remember the diabetically sweet family in a Rajshree film which brimmed with motherly, fatherly, brotherly, sisterly, inlawsly (outlawsly) TRUE  love. And even the dog has extra sensory powers?  Dil Dhadakne Do is THE OPPOSITE. It's all about hating your parents - kabhi sad kabhi glum - sab kuch locha hai... You get the drift? It's a mildly humorous tale of a family that has put image above feelings. 

Meet the Mehras - family of four, where the parents - Kamal and Neelam (Anil Kapoor and Shefali Shah( hide their marital displeasure behind make up . Their kids ayesha and kabir (Priyanka and Ranveer) are mostly playing their part in  facade that their parents have constructed - one lie at a time. While one parent hides an eating disorder the other must pop anti anxiety pills to live through parties and meetings alike. This is one dysfunctional rich family - the business empire is collapsing, the daughter wants a divorce, the son doesn't know what he wants and the dog has no extra sensory powers! Shame. 

As fakely successful marriage reaches its 40 year milestone and the filthy rich family invites close family and friends and prospective investors (read prospective samdhis) to a 10 day cruise. An all expenses paid fake celebration. A shallow party where no one is a true friend. Where only the siblings trust each other in the middle of the sea - stuck in a cruise where they must Co exist and confront their issues. 

The film is a mockery of the upper middle class - who underneath their branded clothes and page 3 air kisses, are a regressive bunch of insecure men and women. A son is the obvious successor for the family business even if the daughter is more capable. It is easy to disown a daughter if she utters the idea of divorce, but a sons empty threats can change your mind. 

Yes there is too much evil on board this cruise. But there's also love - first time lovers, ex lovers, lovers Who's families are rivals. Its a hotchpotch of urban characters constantly hiding their real emotions while harbouring deep passions within.   Love is in the sea and the cruise is a melting pot of many a plots.. 

To its credit, it must be said that the nearly 3 hour family drama does not feel as lengthy. It's an easy watch with not much shor sharaba. There is plenty of subtle humour and good acting that keeps the ship afloat. But in the end, that is really it on the plus side.. This is not a refined thorough entertainer or a deeply moving story or a Romedy and you can't help but wonder if you're watching a daily soap on the big screen. The climax is so bizarre and over the top that suddenly you wonder if the genre was comedy. 

In terms of Performance, Shefali and Anil Kapoor get the most well written parts and carry it off with expert finish. Shefali we've missed you on the big screen - welcome back. And then there is Ranveer and Priyanka who shine in their parts. Priyanka especially rocks with her body language in scenes where she doesn't even have lines. Farhan and Anushka are thanklessly adequate in their roles which are, well, thankless. 

The other major undoing for this Zoya Akhtar movie is its music. Very average. Very non soul. It is a crime to compare but the movie is terrible follow up on the director's previous outing - the timeless Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara and even Luck by chance. It is a sorry realisation that a great cast, and a dream team could only deliver a barely average ride at the movies.. :(

2 stars. 
Chuck dil dhadakne do, paise Bachne do. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

Piku puts the fun in dysfunctional, but dies a constipated death!

In one of the opening scenes of the movie, Piku snubs her father’s irrational fears of dying a bowel death by saying, “No one has ever died of constipation.” Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about the movie. This one surely is death by Constipation.

No, not bad at all, in fact it has an original, interesting premise – an irate, widowed, old man Bhaskar (Bhashkor essayed by Amitabh) lives in his own world on his own terms. He is that verbose vociferous vintage caricature who thinks he knows it all and wants to control everyone/everything around him, but there is one thing that literally escapes him – his bowel movements. I am personally not a fan of potty humor, but let’s face it – it is an interesting premise for the film to start with.

And with actors like Amitabh Bachhan, Deepika Padukone and Irrfan Khan in the mix, you can only expect this to be really entertaining.

Piku is a slice-of-life story of an eccentric father and his empathetic daughter, who invite you to their shitty, “shitless” world – where the father cannot complete a sentence without mentioning his potty troubles and the daughter constantly finds her personal life is a case of “shit has hit the fan” – thanks to her interfering father’s questionable possessiveness that is a pain to endure.

So there’s Bhaskar for whom his bowel troubles are the center of his universe and there is Piku who is forced to revolve around her father.. It’s a dizzy rollercoaster and their everyday arguments are simply  mountains of a molehill. The father-daugther equation is a rare portrayal or earthy discomforts, and everyday dysfunction that every family has. Be it complaining about missing salt, or that gossiping an aunt and her affairs, or dramatic family drama over dinner. This is what makes the film watchable and endearing – its realistic take on a typical Bengali family, who love their language, their music and their food.

Once you are over the atmosphere and characters of the movie, the film, much like the audience, starts looking for a purpose – because really, constipation can’t be the sole topic of the movie. So we are told there is an ancestral house in Calcutta, which Piku wants to sell and Bhashkor doesn’t. But the old twat will have it his way – he MUST GO to Calcutta, MUST travel by road, AND they MUST carry his commode chair! (When you reach Calcutta, you realize that he is owner and only he can authorize the sale, so then why MUST he visit, beats me. Anyway..)

The driver of this juggernaut duo is Rana Chaudhary (Irrfan Khan) – the owner of a taxi company where no one wants to be Piku’s chauffeur – infamous for her temper and demanding ways. Also accompanying them is Piku’s house help – who among other things has to make a shhhhhhhhhhhhhhh sound so that the hypochondriac patriarch can pee. Brimming with trademark quirks this (fl)awesome foursome is on a roadtrip that the audience can’t wait to experience.

So when it’s the interval and the journey jolts to a stop in the middle of a highway, you are wondering exactly how this group will survive the journey both - with and without each other. You know that together, the father and daughter can somehow put the ‘fun’ in dysfunctional - like that moment in the taxi when out of nowhere they start humming a duet and end in a warm repartee. You simply can’t wait for the film to take off in the second half.  

However, the promising premise is not only its highlight but also its only high point, as the movie fails to tie ends and make a solid finish. Post interval, the characters (much like the movie itself) wander around Calcutta – in an attempt to make sense of the plots of their lives. So we meet Pikus uncle and aunty, who bring more flavor, banter and fights to the dinner tables, but again with no real movement to the story. There is also a romantic angle between Rana and Piku that never really takes center stage – and the film is so commode centric, that this subplot seems somewhat forced. Not to mention, the chemistry is missing.

The real chemistry of the movie between the father and daughter eventually comes to a slow tragic end. Clearly, Amitabh has loved playing this character – his body language brimming with that annoying, overconfident, overbearing presence of a know-it-all. While Maushumi and Irrfan are delightful in their rather small roles, it is Deepika who surprises you once again by matching Bachhan in their verbal duels. As the unashamed, unflinching, yet vulnerable Piku she makes you empathize with her every time she compromises. If there were doubts, this movie is a thundering reaffirmation that she has DEFINITELY arrived!

It is therefore, with a very heavy heart that I must say, this movie let me down. I don’t know if it was an overkill of the constipation conversations, or the lack of pace and twists in the plot, but somehow the sum of all great performances still translated into a very average movie. There may not be too many films better that this, this year, but the real undoing is that there seemed to be so much potential and such great performance, that you wish it delivered a knockout blow, which it so does not!

Like Bhashkor declares after one his bowel attempts you say rather unamusedly Okay, but not satisphactory!”

Sunday, April 26, 2015

#KThanksBye - Contemporary, original, effective.


Directed by: Abhishek Thapar  & Mozzaika
Artists: Tanvi Hegde, Aditi Venkateshwar, Maitreyee Joshi, Amruta Dhramkamble, Divesh Idnani, Abhishek Thapar, Salsa

If you, like me, are the average Punekar/Pune-ite, who wonders why we don’t have enough contemporary art shows and theatre activities, then you must read this!

Pune has held the reputation of being the creative and cultural capital of the state, but I keep wondering where are the performances? (And I mean beyond traditional shows and regional theatre) Other than the occasional big banner (big ticket) English plays that visit pune hardly witnesses original creative efforts. Well, as I just discovered, it’s right here, right now!

For long, I have been scanning “book my show”  to look for theatre/drama events  in Pune in English/Hindi - and I mean original content that is neither amateur not plagiarized. So this weekend, I was pleasantly surprised to stumble upon a series of new dance/drama events on the city’s landscape– Sanjog, Rajhansa,  Trayyantra, #kthanksbye, Simorgh, Nidravathwam, Songs of Love.. It didn’t take me long to uncover that these seemingly unrelated performances, belong to one family. Pune, in fact, is hosting “Prayatna Film and Dance festival” organized by Hrishikesh’s Centre for Contemporary Dance, Pune. (24-28 April 2015)

So finally, when I got myself tickets to one of the events #KThanksBye – (on Sunday evening, at Pt Jawaharlal Nehru auditorium) and travelled the length of the city to reach the venue, I only hoped that I would not be let down. Little did I know that my journey back home will be one with a number of thoughts and questions? And of course, beaming with pride that Pune rocks! J

Starting off with a creative security announcement, styled like aircrew, a motley bunch of dancers began to deliver what was a very thoughtful ensemble of contemporary dance acts, woven in monologues, interactive games and even a small skit.As they warn you, the content is adult, graphic but all you need is take a few deep breaths and think.

I am not an authority on contemporary dance, or dance in general, but it doesn’t take an expert to tell that this was a very professional effort, very well crafted and delivered with a lot of attention to detail. So instead of speaking much on the art itself, I will focus on the content, which was the backbone of the evening.. Kudos to the directors, (Abhishek Thapar & Mozzaika) who touched very relevant topics and wove them into the contemporary form on stage to deliver a message without being preachy, or authoritative. But instead ask questions, and leave the audience thinking:
  • is naach the same as dance
  • Does tradition hinder creativity, and that in turn hinders expression?   
  • What are identities but traps created by societies, which while trying to judge us, retrict our boundaries of acceptance?
  • And more..

-         In one sequence, you see clothes being flung at a woman who's covering herself in a sheet, perhaps out of shame as if being dumped in a pit of guilt that the society wants her to suffocate under. Watch her find her way out of the mess, like a river finds its way out to traverse its course, come what may. It is her body, it is her expression, it is her bra, if she wants to unhook it, it is her choice, her consent.

In another sequence, we see a child watch her parents engage in a violent exchange, only to be silenced, but her shadow falls on the couple and figuratively their shadows continue to fall on her. In a sequence preceded by a game of Chinese whispers, the performer, a trained kathak dancer, first respectfully ties her ghungroo, performs traditionally and slowly transforms into contemporary movements – to ask why a contrast exists – is it simply her ghungroo that limit her from doing something new? Or is it the boundaries we have set around what is traditionally acceptable for dance and dancer.

My favourite sequence remains the one where a woman trapped inside a cocoon like outfit, unfurls into a butterfly of sorts and mesmerises the audience with her grace. Abundantly beautiful and dancing like a dream, the performer is so gifted that you wonder why one would ever cocoon such talent and restrict her from flying.

I have tried unsuccessfully to attend this group’s previous activities a few times, and I can now confirm, that the loss was mine. I do think a festival like this is Pune’s answer to the questionable lack of originality and depth in content. It is a shame to imagine that we may have to wait another year to experience such brilliance, but from what I read on their website, it appears they have a number of shows other than the event that happen. 

In his closing remarks, the curator of the festival, Hrishikesh Pawar, said his objective was to look at how the group and his efforts are positioned in the field of dance, in the city and the state, in general. Going by what I saw, I think this is a very promising, talented and deserving group – which can easily reinstate the city’s  reputation as the cultural capital of the state. Only, the new culture, which respects the tradition, perfects the technique and finds a more unique, contemporary forms of 


PS: The festival is on for another two days. If you are in Pune, try and catch the acts on Monday and Tuesday.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Margarita with a straw - a perspective!

If you are into cocktails, you know Margarita is hardly ever served with a straw, but who is to say you can’t have it with a straw? Who sets these standards of normality? What is normality? When life throws a lemon out at you, make lemonade? That might be the “normal adage” but don’t doubt that you might as well slice wedges of that lemon to spunk up your cocktail – have it with a straw, if you may. The magic, after all, is in the concoction - not the goblet, glass or straw.

I don’t think the highlight of “Margarita with a straw” is that it is the story of a patient of cerebral palsy. Neither is it her unusual journey of discovering her sexuality.. I think the biggest achievement is how “normal” the story is.

Sex and handicap have so far both been terribly misunderstood and/or misrepresented in our movies (and perhaps our society). Let’s recall what Bollywood has us believe mostly:
  • Handicap in bollywood – a good human being, who is tragically handicapped and the big bad word is mean to this person for no fault of his/her. Poor he/she lives a life of suffering and sympathy is the least you can give him/her.
  • Sexuality in bollywood – (usually means homosexuality) and is the butt of all jokes (pun intended). So a gay angle in mainstream Bollywood is usually intended to provide comic relief (?) and almost always is physical comedy – to evoke laughter over dressing or mannerism. At best, it titillates homophobia (remember kantaben!).

"Margarita with a straw" is a slap-on-your-face impolite departure from both these stereotypes. It is in the end a story of a girl with her unique flaws (and I don’t mean her physical flaws), and how she handles her life on her terms. Yes, her disability is a factor, but who in this world is perfect. And then again, who is perfectly happy. Aren’t we all but a group of mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive list of flaws?

But then who are we to call anything a flaw. Perhaps there are no flaws, simply facts - which we all accept and get on with life. So what would a mother do, if she found her child was challenged physically? Brood? Perhaps momentarily. But, Brood forever? Nope. She will take it in her stride and do what she must to make sure the child does not feel the pinch.

So welcome to Laila’s (essayed remarkably by Kalki) life – different, but raised normal -  A girl whose dreams do not show any signs of the struggle that her mortar skills do. A musician, composer and writer, in her late teens, who Skypes and messengers with her boycrush, even writes him a song in his languages, only to get her heart broken. But she is a today’s educated girl – who can dabble between software, men and even porn, at her will and has no shame asking a desi dukaandar for a vibrator.

With crushes and sexcapades behind her, her story takes a defining turn when she is accepted in New York University. A lot changes for her and for her Aai (the ravishing, refreshing, rare, Revathi) in the Big Apple. For starters, Aai no longer needs to carry a manual ramp in her non-cosy van, for the developed country is equipped to give her daughter the wings she never imagined. But old habits die hard – in her brief stay in New York she still shadows her daughter without her knowledge only to make sure she is fine. As a confident, yet worried mother returns to India, the brave, yet newly independent daughter stays on to pursue her dreams and live her life.  

While academic flight is underplayed, it is the unfurling of Laila’s innerself, that forms the crux of MWAS. When she meets Khanum from Pakistan (Sayani Gupta) in New York, you can sense sparks flying. Make way for Hindi cinema’s most unconventional coupling  - one a patient of cerebral palsy and other with no eyesight. Both women. Chemistry crackles and couple starts to live together. But is Laila sure of herself? Is she as committed as her partner?

In the last leg of the story, the couple of New York arrive in Delhi to make a few announcements. Attempts are made, and Aai, misunderstands bi for baai – and can only empathise that all women are but baais at home – dealing with chores day in and day out. A determined Laila makes it but obvious in the next attempt but has little chance to converse. For beneath the fighter exterior, Aai is losing her battle against cancer.

The protagonists real battles are finally not about her physicality or her sexuality, they are about her family, her infidelity, her personal choices. Does she tell her partner the truth? Does she choose convenience over companionship? Career over family?

Margarita with a straw is more than a film, it is a perspective. Sexuality is not a situation, it is a fact. If you accept that your child has cerebral palsy, why not accept a child who discovers he/she is gay/bisexual? Cerebral palsy can not be cured, but as a parent (and society) you can try and make the environment more conducive to help the person lead a normal life. Is it a lot to expect the same for a person with uncommon sexuality? For everything that is uncommon is not unnatural.

To say so much about this film is to mean without saying that it excels in all departments, and superlatively so in performances. Revathi’s portrayal of Aai is as real as it can get – angry, loving, caring,  sometimes doting and nosey, she is the typical Indian mother, an epitome of affection. Both Sayani Gupta and Kuljeet Singh (as Laila’s father) deliver memorable characters for what they bring to the screen.

But the movie belongs to Kalki Kochlin – who makes Laila very three dimensional, very believable. She works effectively to nail the body language and voice without ever making Laila a caricature. You can see her inner struggle flash on her face and can feel for her everytime she struggles to move or to communicate or make a decision. This is definitely a performance of an international standard.

Kudos to director & writer Shonali Bose, who not only breaks stereotypes but sets a new benchmark of sorts. She has more than pushed the envelope in Bollywood. MWAS is a bold, daring, refreshing and very important film. It breaks conventions and asks you accept what you mustn’t question, and love without conditions.

Do not have fixations of what is right, what is acceptable or what is normal. And the next time you have a Margarita, (or even a filter coffee for that matter), remember you can also have it with a straw ;-)

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

NH10 - The Bold and the Ugly.

NH10 makes you cringe.

It reminds you that it is not safe for woman to be on the roads alone in Delhi suburbia. It strikes a fear that roads to hinterland getaways feel like less of a haven and more hell. And above all, it brings to cinema the idea that there exists an extremely regressive cult, where honor is above blood relations. and “karna zaroori tha” is reason enough for Honor killing, even if it's your own child.  Take these brutal realities and soak it in realistic portrayal, and what you have in the end is a film so shocking, so disturbing that makes you hope and pray  that this parallel universe exists only in cinema. It is so true, that I am surprised the film is not banned yet!! (Sarcasm) J

We all know those posts on Facebook where people share their treachery, or say they have some illness or share something disturbing and you are lost whether you should hit the “like” button. Because you clearly didn’t like what you saw and yet you want to acknowledge that you have noticed it - and just say something. Ditto with NH10.

I think NH10 could be the beginning of asking how much is too much. Was it too violent to be entertaining? Or was it not meant to “entertain” in general. (Sidenote: Glad that our movies have moved to these times when this movie wasn't classified as a "art film" and didn't die a unnoticed birth/death). 

By no means is this a bad film, but I would NOT recommend it to anyone who doesn’t want to see raw brutal action – no, there is no gore, but if direction is a visual medium, kudos to the director for making you cringe without too many close-ups of the brutality.

Anushka Sharma and Neel Bhoopalam play the quintessential cosmopolitan couple – smooching in an elevator, chatting on messengers even when they are in  the same room, juggling between friends, party and Work.

She is a feminist (stretched too far to be working on female hygiene products), she smokes, strikes back at sexist comments and wants to erase abuses in washrooms, (even those that are not hurled at her).

He is the typical egotist charmer, who cant even be told he is on the wrong road, forget be slapped in the middle of the road. He might not so much as skip a late night party to take his wife to her office for an emergency, but makes sure he buys her a gun for self defence and make up for all the bad times by booking a “private villa” somewhere in the hinterland.

So then, armed with recent trivial (?) trauma, love and a gun, they set off for what is supposedly a birthday weekend for the Protagonist. What follows on NH10 is a crazy turn of events and it isn’t long before the couple is in the middle of a nightmare – who could imagine that a seemingly random street fight would end in honor killing. From being innocent travelers, to concerned citizen to eventually being unfortunate victims, the couple would have hoped they never wanted to leave the city.

With a runtime of just under 2 hours, NH10 is a gripping watch. With adept cinematography, brisk editing and just the right amount of background music, the director manages create an eerie, haunting atmosphere that is almost like an invisible character in the narrative. The film is also backed by stunning performances, especially by the support cast (villains) who make you hate them from the very first time they appear on screen. Dipti Naval does justice to a tricky cameo. While Bhoopalam does well in the little that has less to do, the film is somewhat of a showreel for Anushka’s dramatic performance. Having almost only played unidimensional characters so far in her career, NH10 is the first time we see Anushka shed her bubbly girl next door image and be rough and brutal. Her characters journey gives the actor a canvas to portray her acting acumen, which she does reasonably well. Although it seems as if she put bit too much effort at places.

But for me, the film's real winner is the smartly woven story and a screenplay that keeps you at the edge of your seat. While the disturbing violence makes you cringe, the interesting twists in the story keep you hopeful that somehow, something might finally come to the protagonists rescue.

It is a scenario so unfortunate that you find yourself rooting for the protagonists guilty triumphs in the end – when she herself becomes a murderer. Just like ill minded crime lurks right outside posh metropolitan city like Delhi, a deadly murderer can be camouflaged by sophisticated looks. NH10 is a story of how a good human being can’t help but everything bad, when pushed to the unthinkable extreme.

It's raw, blunt and scary. Thank god it’s just a movie. Or is it?

I don’t think I personally can ever watch this movie again. But thank God I saw it once – it is not to be missed for the sheer audacity with which it discomforts you.

3.5 stars

Friday, February 21, 2014

Highway: No way!

For a really long time in the movie, Veera and Bhaati, played by Alia Bhatt and Randeep Hooda, are clueless of what is happening to them and where they are heading. Ditto audience! You're caught in a journey of two characters -somewhat joined by destiny and mostly forced together by Bollywood sensibilities. Their contradicting backgrounds are an obvious Bollywood pretext. And so we learn that as different as they may appear, they are victims of a troubled past and somehow not so different in how lonely and insecure they both are in their respective presents. Not the first time we heard that, but exploring the idea of being trapped in your own house and feeling liberated as a kidnappee might be a first, a Bollywood first. Yet, in the end the movie is not a very wholesome experience. It is easily Imitiaz  Ali's most experimental work and most definitely his least impressive.

Over the past decade, Imitiaz Ali's work has been rife with endearing characters enabling a potent ensemble. Remember the man from hotel decent in JWM or the music producer from Rockstar or Love aaj kals fun ensemble; this time the storytelling focuses on (and relies on) two characters and ends up being just a series of monologues spread across moments of travel and silence.

Perhaps comparing Ali's work to his own is a bad start, as would be comparing Rahman's soundtrack to his previous work. But even without those comparisons the film is an anticlimax of sorts.

So a bride to be just sneaks out a day before her wedding to catch some fresh air and ends up being kidnapped by a not so motley bunch of goons. With an accent thicker than his mustache, we see an intimidating Hooda, nailing the character of Bhaati who is resolved to kidnap, for that's the only thing he does. Over a few days, Alia struggles to come to terms with being kidnapped, then feels secure with strangers to the effect of not eloping when she easily can; and finally true to Bollywood sentiments, decides to "spend some more time" with her uncharacteristic hero.

Perhaps the only master stroke in story telling is how imtiaz manages to keep the chemistry broadly platonic. The intimate cuddle is as suggestive as it is real and it makes you want to believe that there is something special there, without calling it physical attraction or even love. As the scenery changes from the lonely hinterlands of Rajasthan in the first half to the serene peaceful and romantic escapes of the second half, the characters have come to terms with their differences and just want to live for some more time, before a more obvious climax interrupts their cinematic journey. The strongest point  of the movie has to be the breathtaking cinematography - an awe inspiring montage for incredible India!

In terms of acting, the pick of the two is Randeep Hooda, who manages to gain your sympathy when he cries or makes you smile when he smiles, which is rare for the resolute self that he plays. Alia was offered a role of her life, but can't hide her inexperience in handling a very nuanced character. Interestingly, her best moments are when she has no dialogues and she has quite a few of them. Watch her cry against the truck window or giggle n choke undecidedly against a gushing stream of mountain water. She has promise and potential, but ends up over or under emoting when it matters. In a screenplay that thrives on monologues, she fails to take the dialogues head on.

Undoubtedly the movie has it's moments. But they are few and for between. For a really promising idea, the film is an Imitiaz Ali experiment gone awkwardly wrong.

2 stars