MIRZYA – A few thoughts

It’s no easy task trying to tell an epic love story on the big screen. Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra tries to give us two instead of one. And that ends up being the boon and the bane of Mirzya.

Based on the popular Mirza-Sahibaan legend, the movie opens with an absolutely stunning sequence set in an unknown time and an unknown land filled with archers on horseback, arrows piercing clay pigeons, flaming fireballs, all in a medieval contest of sorts with life, death and love at stake. This is juxtaposed with a second story set in present times in the magnificent locales of Rajasthan with palaces, princes and polo matches. Shuchi is betrothed to Prince Karan but therein looms forbidden love with Aadil, the prince’s stable boy no less and a possible rekindling of a childhood sweetheart romance cut short. The two stories run parallel infused with a narrative that makes use of ballads set to twirling Rajasthani folk dancers to help it move forward.

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The problem with doing a love story based on popular folklore is often the predictability of it all and that’s where you need the writer, director and the leads raising their game to overcome it. And they don’t quite do it.

The newcomers are fine. Rough around the edges when it comes to dialog delivery, Saiyami is lovely in an exotic way and looks the part of a reluctant princess. Harshvardhan goes for a non-histronics, non-six-pack, non singing dancing debut and although mumbly, is quiet, understated (maybe a bit too much) and lets his eyes talk. Individually they are fine but together they fall flat. For an epic love story, chemistry is an absolute must and the lack of which is the biggest problem of the movie. No fireworks, no passion even when they’re locking lips. You don’t feel for them at any stage, their love, their pain, nothing. In fact I thought the kid actors playing them had better chemistry. Those kids were fab actually.

The supporting cast do a fine job. Especially Anuj Choudhry as the understanding but jealous Prince and  Anjali Patil as Aadil’s friend who quietly pines for him.

But where the movie soars is in its visuals. Polish cinematographer Pawel Dyllus paints his frames like no other. A bit excessive with the use of slow motion, director Rakeysh Mehra exhibits technical finesse and this is visual poetry unfolding on screen. The contrasting locales of both the stories – from the cold mountains, dreamy landscapes and lakes in Ladakh to the simmering deserts and glorious palaces of Rajasthan, you can’t take your eyes off the screen even if your mind wanders. And then the music. By far what is Shankar Ehsan Loy’s best soundtrack in a long time, Gulzar saab’s tremendous range of poetry comes alive and redeems the movie to an extent. Aave Re Hitchki, Teen Gawah, Hota Hai and the title song being my favourite picks.

If you have the patience to overcome the sluggish pace and the flat chemistry between the leads, then for its sheer aesthetic magnificence and soulful soundtrack, Mirzya is worth a watch and a listen.

mirzya-3My score: 5.5 on 10

MIRZYA

Romance, musical, drama

Directed by: Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra

Starring: Harshvardhan Kapoor, Saiyami Kher

Running time: 128 minutes

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PINK – A few thoughts

Pink is THE most important film to have come out in the last few years. And it is powerful, relevant and extremely topical for today.

Three young, independent working girls living in a posh locality in Delhi find themselves in a harrowed situation one night after a post rock show – drinks and dinner rendezvous gone wrong, leaves a guy seriously injured with repercussions to follow. Accusations fly left and right, things get out of hand and our girls need to lawyer up as hurt egos, chamcha friends, shady cops and politicians all queue up to have a go at them.

Pink treads where very few films (if at all) have dared to and it does so very boldly and very matter-of-factly, pulling back no punches. And that is the biggest strength of the movie. I liked how the opening credits listed the three girls before Amitabh Bachchan. They do a pretty solid job mostly. The firebrand Meenal played by Taapsee Pannu, the pragmatic Falak (a terrific Kriti Kulhari) and the sweet Andrea (Andrea Tariang) go from being a cheerful fun-loving bunch to crumbling before our eyes as the incidents begin to unfold and the guys as well as society leave no stone unturned to question their character and blame everything on them. The guys in question are lead by a menacing Angad Bedi who plays Rajvir and Vijay Varma as the casually ruthless and misogynistic Ankit.

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And then there’s Amitabh Bachchan. He plays retired lawyer Deepak Sehgal who’s now diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Creepy as hell to begin with, wears a pollution mask that instantly reminded me of Bane. And where there’s Bane, there’ll always be… Yes! The way he goes back to being a lawyer is complemented by a very Zimmer-ish music piece. He watches over the girls from the shadows. He’s the silent guardian. The watchful protector. Need I say more? The Big B really makes full use of his booming baritone in the courtroom scenes and the audience in our screen clapped, whistled and cheered at every blow he lands. He’s pretty awesome.

I had a few issues with the movie as well.. the aforementioned courtroom scenes are played to the gallery with realism going for a complete toss. There’s no mention of prints, DNA or anything remotely resembling forensics. Key witnesses who could’ve turned the case either way are forgotten – like the girls’ landlord. Piyush Mishra as the lawyer for the boys, although effective is as caricaturish as it gets. A lot of the supporting cast are poorly written, not adding much value to the plot – like Meenal’s father or Deepak’s sickly wife. Even the songs feel added just to take a break from the proceedings. Finally the way the case is decided – it all seems convenient and a bit too wishful.

While the writing is lazy from a plot point of view, the dialogues are terrific. Besides playing to the gallery, they actually convey the message and the point of the film well. The movie adopts a thriller format in the first half. As we’re not sure exactly what happened, it keeps us guessing until we learn the same through the witnesses and evidence presented in court in the second half.

But here’s a movie where I’m willing to overlook all the issues for what it’s saying and the way it’s saying so. The dread is real. The problem is real. Pink brings it all to the forefront. I can’t even begin to imagine what women – of all ages go through in this country every single day and it’s high time a mainstream movie gave us a small glimpse into the same. Also credit where it’s due – let’s commend the censor board for giving the movie a UA certificate despite its adult theme. I’m sure a lot of parents will want their teenage children to watch this movie.

The message is loud. The message is clear. No means No. Which makes Pink an absolute must watch.

Pink-1My score: 7.5 on 10

Pink

Drama, thriller

Directed by: Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury

Starring: Taapsee Pannu, Kriti Kulhari, Andrea Tariang, Amitabh Bachchan

Running time: 136 minutes

BAAR BAAR DEKHO – A few thoughts

Nitya Mehra’s directorial debut – Baar Baar Dekho promises a lot. Time travel films are a rarity in Bollywood and I was quite keen to know where this one goes. It went to an interesting enough place, but I can’t quite use the same word for the journey.

Jai and Diya are childhood sweethearts about to get married. And when the reality of it all kicks in and overwhelms Jai, he finds himself at different stages in the future getting a glimpse of (not quite) marital bliss. Will it be all he fears? How will he deal with losing time? Will he get back to the present?

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The movie does get around to answering all of those questions, but takes a long time to do so. Well, at least it felt so. Engaging at a conceptual level, Baar Baar Dekho ends up being a slow and tedious sort of watch, suffering from pacing issues. Some of the scenes feel really stretched way beyond what they should have been – like the conversation Sid and Diya have at their new home just before they’re due to be married. Or maybe it’s the writing that’s testing your patience. And this feature repeats itself often in the future. I never quite understand why Hindi film-makers like to beat a point into your head by repeating it again and again instead of putting it out there once and leaving it to the audience.

Having said that, it’s not all bad. The predicament Jai finds himself in is genuinely perplexing and keeps you curious as to how he’s gonna get out of it. The movie’s great to look at. It features some gorgeous locations and beautiful people – the least you’d expect from a Karan Johar production. The music serves the film well  from the slow numbers to the Punjabi dance ones, both kinds being ear candy, Dariya and Kho Gaye Hum Kahaan being my favourite picks. I also liked the production design, especially the bits depicting the future as well as the use of prosthetics and make-up.

Coming back to the beautiful people – Kat does what Kat always does. She looks good. Sid is the interesting one – he wears the shocked look a bit too often but then I wondered how anyone else would react in the same situation – probably the same way. He does fairly well but just about lacks the emotional heft needed to carry this movie on his shoulders. Nonetheless he’s earnest and that come across on screen. Maybe a couple of more movies down the line, he’d have nailed the role. Sarika and Ram Kapoor lend able support to the leads.

What director Nitya Mehra needed was better, more engaging writing to flesh out her interesting story and a better editor to knock off the uninteresting bits and keep it at a tight 110-120 minutes, which would have left us with a bit more than just some nice moments across the entire movie.

The extra 30 minutes make Baar Baar Dekho just about a one-time dekho.

BarrBaarDekho1My Score: 5.5 on 10

Baar Baar Dekho

Romance, Drama, Fantasy

Directed by: Nitya Mehra

Starring: Sidharth Malhotra, Katrina Kaif

Running time: 141 minutes

DON’T BREATHE – A few thoughts

I’m always most excited when I’m on my way to see a scifi or a horror flick. Although not exactly horror, I was really eager to watch Don’t Breathe – from Fede Alvarez, the director of the fairly impressive Evil Dead remake.

Don’t Breathe deals with three youngsters who set out to make a quick buck by robbing a wealthy blind war veteran. Or at least try to. What happens next may or may not blow your mind but will definitely keep you on the edge of your seat, if not leave you breathless.

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Don’t Breathe is quite chilling. Running at a tight 88 minutes, it sets up the story fairly quickly before moving into  the high tension and jump scares zone, providing a welcome entry into the home invasion genre.  It also gets into the moral conflict of who’s right and who’s wrong and you’ll be interested to find out who exactly you’re gonna end up rooting for as the movie progresses.

And as it does progress, a few plot points creep in that require some suspension of disbelief and may not sit well with everyone. The slow burn tension that had served it well so far begins to get replaced by the shock factor.

The kids are pretty effective in the acting department, especially Jane Levy who was also in Evil Dead, but it’s Stephen Lang who you’ll recognize as the military Colonel from Avatar who steals the show with his (mostly) quiet and physical menace. Another star of this show is cinematographer Pedro Luque who captures the interior of the house so intimately, giving everything a claustrophobic feel. He makes great use of lighting, especially considering the mostly cramped, confined indoor space it deals with. Rooms, corridors, basements, yards, everything becomes a potential war zone. And there are a couple of really cleverly done long takes and  a very cool night vision sequence that reminded me of Zero Dark Thirty.

Overall, Don’t Breathe is relentless, visceral and a very engaging thriller. Take a deep breath before you go in.

DontBreathe-5My Score: 7.5 on 10

Don’t Breathe

Genre: Thriller, horror

Directed by: Fede Alvarez

Starring: Stephen Lang, Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette

Running time: 88 minutes

RUSTOM – A few thoughts

I went in to watch Rustom knowing very little about the Nanavati murder case that it is loosely based on and has two previous big screen installments in Gulzarsaab’s Achanak and Yeh Rastey Hain Pyar Ke with Sunil Dutt.

Rustom Pavri, a highly decorated and respected naval commander shoots the man who was having an affair with his wife when he was away on duty and turns himself in to the Police. The movie focuses mainly on subsequent investigation and trial and frequently flashbacks into events leading to the murder.

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Rustom has a fairly engaging plot and for a lot of it, is quite pacy and will keep you interested in knowing what will happen. Now and then it lapses into lengthy flashbacks that act as speed bumps. The second half – which mainly comprises of the courtroom sequences goes in a very different direction to what I was expecting. Remember those 80s masala movies ke court scenes? Where someone cracks a dialogue and the entire audience in the court erupts into laughter, claps, whistles and the poor judge is left screaming Order Order! That is pretty much the route Rustom takes post interval. It sacrifices intensity and seriousness and plays completely to the gallery going for laughs instead. They work in a lot of places but if you want to like it, you’ve got to make peace with this not being a serious courtroom drama very early on in the case. For fans of American TV shows with a legal backdrop, a lot of things will seem very amateurish and even laughable.

Most of the cast does well. Akshay Kumar is sincere and underplays to a tee – the righteous naval commander who does the right thing in the wrong way. Ileana looks really pretty and is fairly efficient as his repentant wife. Kumud Mishra (best of the lot), Pawan Malhotra, Anang Desai, Usha Nadkarni play their likable parts well. I’d have liked to see Esha Gupta show at least one expression of grief at the loss of her brother, but I guess she skipped that stage entirely.

What I also quite liked was the way it created the era with the sets, make-up and costumes. The movie has some passable numbers with Tere Sang Yaara being the best of the lot.

In some places the effects do come off a tad tacky. What I didn’t like is the super loud background score. In general the movie carries an over-the-top tone and is very in your face. The flashbacks get a bit repetitive and it also features one of the worst jury sequences I’ve seen on celluloid.

Overall, Rustom mostly works, just not in the way I expected it to. Don’t go in expecting a serious thriller or courtroom drama, and you will be entertained.

Rustom2My score: 6 on 10

Rustom

Genre: Crime, mystery

Directed by: Tinu Suresh Desai

Starring: Akshay Kumar, Ileana D’Cruz

Running time: 150 minutes

 

DISHOOM – A few thoughts

To find a ‘masala’ movie with an interesting premise and plot is not so common these days. That’s why when such a movie doesn’t do a lot with it, it’s even more frustrating to watch. And that is Dishoom’s biggest problem.

Star cricketer and India captain ‘Viraj’ – *Ahem* is kidnapped on the eve of an India Pakistan final in Abu Dhabi with a ransom call from a cricket-obsessed fan, no less. Cue to send in Buddy Cop Hero #1 – the tough, serious, law-breaking, chain smoking cop from India who joins forces with Buddy Cop Hero #2 – a good-hearted, bumbling, over-enthu, rookie yuppie. The unlikely twosome thus join forces to find the missing cricketer and catch whoever’s behind this.

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The movie is full of all the cliches you can find in such a movie from personality clashes, item songs, mystery women, evil henchmen, chases through crowded areas (one that was very reminiscent of the last Tintin movie), it’s all there. Having said that, it’s quite funny, the pace is fairly frenetic and things never get boring through most of the first half. Our heroes share banter, actors make interesting cameos including one absolutely hilarious one. Call it the curse of the second half or whatever you will, after an engaging setup, things then just fizzle out. The much awaited and promised confrontation between our heroes and baddies pretty much never happens.

The performances are reduced to our two chiseled leading men demonstrating a lot of swag, women looking very sexy and Akshaye Khanna trying to be very menacing. John Abraham is… well John Abraham. Varun Dhawan, although funny occasionally, seems to have played the good hearted simpleton far too often even in his short career but Akshaye Khanna who I was most looking forward to, is let down by a ridiculously limply written part. And there’s Bradman the bulldog who charms and could give HAHK’s Tuffy a run for his money.

Thanks to the hulking  men, hot women and the exotic luxurious locales of the UAE, the movie is definitely easy on the eye. Sau Tarah Ke is a catchy number but you wish it was shot better. And the awfully worded Jaaneman Aah featuring a sizzling Parineeti turns up right at the very end. All this ends up taking the film from a potentially timepass fare to a strictly average one at best by the end of it.

The ultimate irony is that a movie called Dishoom doesn’t throw a single punch when needed.

My scoDishoom1re: 5 on 10

DISHOOM

Genre: Comedy, Action

Directed by: Rohit Dhawan

Starring: John Abraham, Varun Dhawan, Akshaye Khanna, Jacqueline Fernandez

Running time: 124 minutes

STAR TREK BEYOND – A few thoughts

I have to admit – when the first teaser for this came out, along with Justin Lin’s name attached to it, I was really worried. This was looking like Star Trek: Fast and Furious. Thankfully, all the subsequent promos were a lot better. And after the last – rather disappointing outing from the Enterprise – Into Darkness, I’m quite relieved and happy to say that things get more than just back on track when they head – Beyond.

So as things stand, life has become a bit routine and monotonous aboard the Enterprise (if that were possible!) Friends and family are being missed and alternate jobs are being considered. That’s when Kirk decides to take up a new search and rescue mission to another planet as they are the best-resourced  to carry it out. Things go South when they’re attacked and then marooned on an unknown planet. The crew are separated and stuck in pairs and must find their way together to combat supervillain Krall who has his own evil plans.

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What really works well in this installment is the fusion of the old school, nostalgia of the original series with the freshness and special effects that would be possible only today. Add to that director Justin Lin’s flair for the big, showy action setpieces, you have a very potent, enjoyable Star Trek adventure. It really felt watching an extended episode of the Original Series. Spock and McCoy are a hoot together and Scotty finds himself stuck with a welcome addition to the party in the form of an alien – Jaylah, played by Sofia Boutella, who you might (not) remember as the ass-kicking, fleet-bladed henchwoman Gazelle from Kingsman.

A bit light on plot and familiar in its ways, Beyond makes up for those with some fantastic eye-catching visuals and clever use of 3D – which is a rarity in live-action movies these days. Even though I’ve still not quite warmed up to Chris Pine as Captain Kirk, most of the cast is in fine form although I wish Idris Elba’s Krall – cool voice and all was a bit more menacing. And they’re well aided by a perfectly rousing score. There’s a genuinely moving and well-done tribute to our original favourite Vulcan – Leonard Nimoy and it made me sad to see the super-talented Anton Yelchin on the screen in one of his last outings.

Star Trek Beyond doesn’t exactly go where no man has gone before but wherever it does go, it does so in a really enjoyable, spectacular way. And we’re ready for more. LLAP!

StarTrekBeyond-1My Score: 8 on 10

Star Trek Beyond

Genre: Sci-Fi, Action

Directed by: Justin Lin

Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Idris Elba, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg

Running time: 120 minutes

 

THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS – A few thoughts

We’ve had a few good animation movies in the recent past – Kung Fu Panda 3, Zootopia, Finding Dory. The Secret Life Of Pets is the latest addition to that list. At an ultra-crisp 87 minute running time, it offers everything you need from an animated feature to please both – the young ones and the adults in plenty.

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TSLOP gives us a brief look at what pets get up to when their owners aren’t around before taking us on a rollicking search and rescue adventure – all within the space of one working day.

It is gorgeously animated with wonderful attention to detailing – if you’re a pet owner, you’ll find yourself smirking at a lot of moments and might even look at your pets a bit differently wondering what they really do in your absence. It features a hugely talented voice cast featuring Louis C. K., Eric Stonestreet aka Cam from Modern Family, Kevin Hart and lots of others as  a whole bunch of zany characters from telenova-addicted dogs, thug rabbits, evil birds, tattooed pigs and even a wonky crocodile making it a pretty hilarious ride. I especially loved Kevin Hart’s wannabe badass bunny – aptly titled Snowball, Jenny Slate’s hyperactive, smitten pomeranian Gidget and the amazing expressions of Lake Bell’s callous and cold-hearted appearing feline Chloe. For a change, even the 3D effects are pretty cool (I always find them used to much better effect in animated movies versus live action ones).

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On the downside, I couldn’t help but make comparisons to the Toy Story movies while watching it and maybe it does lack a bit of the emotional depth of a Finding Dory or the social message of a Zootopia. The premise definitely set it up to do a lot more than it ends up doing. But these issues certainly didn’t stop me from having a very good time at the movies. And after all that’s what it’s all about. Woof!

tslop2My Score: 7 on 10

The Secret Life Of Pets

Genre: Animation, Comedy

Directed by: Yarrow Cheney and Chris Renaud

Starring: Louis C. K., Kevin Hart, Eric Stonesreet

Running time: 87 minutes

SULTAN – A few thoughts

A Salman Khan movie comes with a specific set of expectations. You’ll have a wafer thin plot, you’ll have a good-hearted, likely shirtless, tough guy beating baddies to pulp, some wacko dance numbers with him trying to woo the girl, and so on. Sultan checks some of these boxes but thankfully creates some new ones as well. The story is a simple one about the rise, fall and resurrection of a wrestler against the challenges life throws at him.

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What’s different is the immense physical and emotional punch Salman packs into this film. He really leaves himself all out there – be it physically in the MMA bouts, grappling sessions in the mud, terrific training montages and even emotionally when he looks at his overweight, haggard self in the mirror, denies having ‘gurroor’, or when he’s shamed by the lady he’s trying to woo. Anushka has the most any leading lady has had to do in a long time in a Salman-starrer and she matches him all the way despite being handed lazily written feminist tones in her role. A couple of the supporting cast really stood out for me despite having under-written characters – the ever reliable Kumud Mishra as Anushka’s father and Anant Sharma as Sultan’s gold-hearted best friend Govind.

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Three of Vishal-Shekhar’s numbers from a partly soulful score struck a chord with me – Buleya, Jag Ghoomeya and the Sultan theme that plays through the movie. They’re beautifully written by Irshad Kamil and help the story move forward as well. The other songs aren’t bad but do hinder the pace in an almost three hour flick.

What really works more than anything else is the vulnerability and fallibility that Salman brings to Sultan. For a change he’s not invincible, he’s not perfect, he gets beaten up, he’s almost an underdog and he actually needs to work hard to win. Which really ends up making you root for him – in the ring and in his life.

Sultan might be predictable, uses familiar sports movie cliches and borrows heavily from the Rocky series as well as its latest avtar – Creed but where it does not lack is in the entertainment quotient. It features some well choreographed wrestling and MMA bouts (albeit a few too many), in between a generally engaging love story. Director Ali Abbas Zafar shows a marked improvement over his last two efforts but has his superstar to thank for doing most of the heavy lifting.

Sultan4My score: 7 on 10

SULTAN

Genre: Sports, Drama

Directed by: Ali Abbas Zafar

Starring: Salman Khan, Anushka Sharma

Running time: 170 minutes

HAIDER – Quick thoughts

I must admit right up front, that I wasn’t one of the many who was impressed by the trailer of this one and hence wasn’t on my immediate must-watch list. But boy did I really like the movie or what! Haider is one of the most gorgeous movies I’ve ever seen, besides being extremely relevant. Whether it’s the cinematography, the music, the acting, the poetry, the words, everything is so so beautiful. Supremely acted – melancholic & ethereal Tabu (best of the lot), Irrfan (what a cameo!), career best turn from Shahid and a nicely underplayed slimy Kay Kay, topped with Gulzarsaab’s and Faiz’s magical words set to Vishal’s lovely score across Pankaj Kumar’s stunning imagery, everything comes together – indeed like poetry on screen. I did have some issues though – mainly the slightly chaotic timelines, abruptly cut short characters, the unnecessary romantic song and track and the mildly skimmed upon oedipal complex which I wish had been explored better. And no, I definitely didn’t have any issues with the politics of the film as many seem to have had. It worked fine for me. Haider is a fascinating Hamlet adaptation set in the backdrop of a brimming political environment that’s meant to be felt on the big screen.  To see or… not to see, not a question.

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My score: 7.5 on 10

HAIDER

Directed by: Vishal Bhardwaj

Starring: Tabu, Shahid Kapoor, Kay Kay Menon, Irrfan

Running time: 166 minutes