Monthly Archives: December 2016

Shah Rukh Khan: ‘As an actor, I do not perform keeping awards in mind; it just happens

Mumbai: Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan, who launched the upcoming international film award titled ‘Indian Academy Awards’ says he loves awards and considers them the collective applause for his work.

Shah Rukh Khan. File photo/Solaris Images

“I love being a movie star and I love awards. After working for some time in the industry, we all reach a point from where we need some kind of applause and recognition. My awards are the collective applause for the work that I have done that year or on a film,” Shah Rukh told media here.

Khan added that in his opinion, none of his films so far in the vast body of his work is worthy of a National Award.

“If I haven’t got an award, I didn’t deserve it.. as an actor, I do not perform keeping any award in mind, it happens,” he added.

Indian Academy Awards, conceptualised by Brainstorm Entertainment and executed by Cineyug will held in California to celebrate world cinema of three major film industries — Bollywood, Tollywood and Hollywood.

Apart from Shah Rukh Khan, the event had Vandana Krishna, Saurabh Pandey of Brainstorm Entertainment, US Consul General Tom Vajda and Aly Morani from Cineyung.

Explaining the idea of celebrating cinema on such a huge platform, Shah Rukh, asking people not to compare it to the Oscars or any such awards, said: “Bollywood films are hugely respected by American artistes. Creating this kind of platform will help us to not only promote our Indian films of different industries, but also create awareness of our work.

“India is one of the old filmmaking countries of the world. So as a member of film industry, I feel it is our responsibility to educate people about our cinema that can resolve lot of misconception about Indian films.”

One of the unique factors of the award is film lovers’ participation. People can vote for their favorite films, stars in over 21 categories from the official website of Indian Academy Awards.

IAA founder Pandey said: “The Indian film industry is going global and the Indian Academy Awards is a celebration of that global, democratic academy that is completely transparent and all encompassing. Our aim with these awards is to bring a sense of realism and credibility to cinema awards in the Indian film industry. This is an academy that never sleeps.”

Vajda said: “We are very pleased to support the collaboration between the American and Indian film industries, in a way that recognises and promotes great talent and storytelling in movies. California is a perfect destination to showcase this for both American and Indian audiences”.

Indian Academy Awards will be a two days extravaganza of live performances by various superstars of Bollywood including Shah Rukh that will be choreographed by Shiamak Davar along with music and fashion shows on 7-8 July 2017 in Silicon Valley.

Dangal movie review: Aamir Khan and four lovely youngsters knock it out of the park

Sweaty bodies gripping each other in places strangers should not touch, violence as a form of entertainment, our baser human instincts getting official and mass encouragement – if you ask me why I cannot stand contact sports, these would top my answer.

Young Geeta and Babita Phogat have far more mundane reasons for hating wrestling: no girl they know does it, so why should they? Dangal is the story of their father’s bulldog-like determination to make them gold medal winners for India, and the girls’ own passage from aversion to passion for the sport.

Nitesh Tiwari’s third film as director is based on the real-life story of Haryana’s Mahavir Singh Phogat, patriarch and coach of one of the country’s most unusual sporting families: his daughters are all wrestling champions, the eldest two — Geeta and Babita — are Commonwealth Games gold medallists, and Geeta is the first Indian woman wrestler to have ever qualified for the Olympics.

This achievement is particularly striking considering that Haryana has one of India’s worst child sex ratios and a horrifying track record in the matter of female foeticide and infanticide.

dangal

Dangal is about Mahavir’s single-mindedness which brings him into conflict with his wife, his community, the country’s sporting establishment and ultimately, even Geeta.

The first half of the film is riveting in every way imaginable. Mahavir (played by Aamir Khan) gives up his wrestling dreams to financially support his family. He then decides to turn his yet-to-be-born sons into wrestlers who will bring home golds for India. This dream too is crushed when he and his wife Daya have four daughters instead in succession.

One day when Geeta and Babita bash up a couple of local boys for abusing them, Mahavir sees the light. He forgot, he says, that a gold medal is gold whether won by a boy or a girl.

The songs neatly woven into the narrative in these scenes are catchy, their lyrics steeped in hilarious colloquialisms. The acting is singularly flawless all around.

Geeta and Babita as children are played by two brilliant debutants, Zaira Wasim and Suhani Bhatnagar, who knock it out of the park in every scene (if I may borrow a phrase from another game). And the storytelling matches up.

No effort is made to gloss over Mahavir’s flaws: he is a dictator at home and a terror outside. This is, without question, a traditional set-up where the husband/father’s word matters more than anyone else’s opinions or beliefs. Even the local people are afraid of him, but that does not stop them from gossipping about this man who, they are convinced, will drive his daughters to ruin by forcing them into a field they believe no woman should touch with a barge pole.

Jolly LLB 2 trailer: Akshay Kumar plays a bumbling lawyer-turned-hero in Subhash Kapoor’s film

The Jolly LLB 2 trailer is out. And from what it offers for our consumption, it seems to have capitalised on all of its leading man Akshay Kumar’s strengths.

Akshay Kumar in Jolly LLB 2

Jolly LLB 2, the trailer, starts off as a comic caper. We see Akshay’s character, a lawyer named Jolly, on a losing streak in court. He is prone to asking his witnesses filmi questions, like when Salman Khan is likely to get married; cry like (in the words of Saurabh Shukla, who plays the judge) Nirupa Roy, and generally engage in a whole lot of theatrics that have little or no intended effect.

He also has the gift of spinning grand, catchy lines — although his bombast finds barely any appreciation in the courtroom, or at home, with his long-suffering wife Pushpa (Huma Qureshi).

Things — and the tone of the film — change suddenly when a man is killed, and his wife approaches Jolly for help seeking justice.

Jolly quickly realises that this is not just about one man’s life being brutally cut short, the victim was but one pawn in a larger nexus that involves several powerful people. When Jolly fights against them, he realises that he has the fight of his life ahead. His adversary in court is the evil advocate Annu Kapoor.

There is one dialogue that is sure to be a crowd-pleaser: Jolly says in court that whoever said ‘everything is fair in love and war’ was the biggest fool — because then it would mean that those who decapitate soldiers at the border in the name of war, or those who fling acid at women in the name of love, are justified in carrying out their heinous acts.

The Jolly LLB 2 trailer packages everything that the ‘Akshay Kumar brand’ is known for — comic timing, action, dialogue delivery, romance and pop patriotism — in its two-and-a-half minutes of run-time.

Jagga Jasoos trailer: Ranbir, Katrina rock a goofy avatar in this dreamy Anurag Basu film

Ranbir Kapoor says literally one line in the entire trailer of Anurag Basu’s Jagga Jasoos (and Katrina Kaif says nothing at all) and yet the trailer speaks volumes about the film.

Before we spill our judgment of the trailer, here’s something one must acknowledge.

It’s a well made trailer, especially at a time when trailers have started to present the entire film on a platter. It’s one that doesn’t reveal too much, but much like a kaleidoscope, through fast moving images and moments, reveals the tone of the film, and what we can expect.

We are told from the official synopsis of Jagga Jasoos that a young detective sets out to find his missing father, and an unusual series of events unfold.

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The trailer begins with an introduction to Ranbir and Katrina’s characters and while the film seems to be shot all over India, they first meet in Manipur. Ranbir is a quirky guy, and in essense, so is Katrina, and we are taken through a dreamy, whirlwind journey — with ostrich rides, bike rides through the dessert, races with elephants, and much more adventure.

The look and feel of the film gives you a whiff of Basu’s earlier movie with Ranbir, Barfi! mostly because Ranbir is seen in school clothes and as a hosteler. But then we see him in multiple avatars. Not much is revealed about ages, or any other character details.

However, with Disney producing the film, you definitely get a sense of watching a children’s film. Whether that is a pro or con for Jagga Jasoos, only time will tell.

Amid all the visuals, the last 30 seconds of the trailer *finally* reveal something about Katrina and Ranbir’s chemistry.

From Rajneeti to Ajab Prem Ki Gajab Kahaani, this is the first time they looked relaxed as two goofy but affable lead protagonists. Maybe the hype around their personal life has helped them on-screen much like Jab We Met worked for Shahid, and Kareena Kapoor.

Kahaani 2 quick review: Vidya Balan is riveting in thriller that’s let down by its second half

Except for carrying forward the name of a character — ‘Vidya’ — for the first half of the movie, Sujoy Ghosh’s Kahaani 2 (also known as Kahaani 2: Durga Rani Singh) starring Vidya Balan and Arjun Rampal, is an entirely different movie from its predecessor in the franchise. The plot is new, so are the characters.

Vidya Balan in 'Kahaani 2: Durga Rani Singh'

Kahaani 2 is set in Kolkata and is the story of Durga Rani Singh, played by Vidya Balan, who has been accused of kidnapping a 6-year-old called Mili, and murdering her grandmother. There is a also a parallel life she leads as Vidya Sinha, who has a daughter named Mili. Confusing enough? You will have to watch the movie to find out how this plot plays out.

The movie revolves around child sexual abuse. The first half of the movie gives you all the possible thrills and chills as Durga Rani Singh sets out in a mission to rescue a child from a possible abuser.

This is one of those movies for which the trailer is a curse. Two of the most startling moments in the film lose all their shock factor if you’ve already watched the trailer, and that’s sad.

The movie also has Inspector Inderjit, played by Arjun Rampal. ‘Hot’, I’m sure is the correct terminology here. He is entirely convincing as an inspector who has been transferred to a small town and is waiting for a promotion so that he along with his family could shift back to the city.

The first half is gripping, and 100 percent entertaining. But the second half turns out to be slightly off track. While Sujoy Ghosh with his magical attention to detail has scripted out what was meant to be an amazing narrative, the second half drags, and is not as entertaining. The director also flavours the second half with subtle humour in the midst of intense moments. While I was with a theatreful of people laughing along at those subtleties, I felt like it might be taking the seriousness away from the issue of child sexual abuse. And the way CSA is dealt with in the movie is good, but not moving enough perhaps.

Powerful, strong and riveting, Vidya Balan gives a performance which is definitely worth watching multiple times. Arjun Rampal puts up a great show as well. The two childactors who play the character Mili are spot on. While the performances take Kahaani 2 a notch higher, a not-so-thoroughly thought out second half pulls it down.

Dear Zindagi and the call to end mandatory maata-pitaa worship: Bravo, Kaira and Gauri Shinde

The mind goes where it wills. And last week, as I watched writer-director Gauri Shinde’s Dear Zindagi, my mind – much to my amusement – wandered off in the direction of Asaram Bapu. The followers of the jailed religious guru have been trying for a while now to popularise Matru-Pitru Pujan Divas (Parents’ Worship Day) as an alternative to Valentine’s Day. They flashed through my head as I watched a particularly memorable scene from the film in which Alia Bhatt’s character Kaira slams her mother, father and their irritatingly opinionated guests with these words:

(Spoiler alert for those who have not yet seen Dear Zindagi)

Parents hone ka kaam?! Khatam kar do! Bachche paalna itna tough kaam hai toh end it na! Kisne kaha parents bane rehne ko? Ek toh theek se kaam shuru hi nahi kiya toh kyon continue kiye ja rahe hai? Put an end to it… Bachche paida karne ka idea kiska thha? Aapka. Correct? Aur phir jo chaaha unke saathh kiya, whatever you wanted. Aur blame bhi hum pe hi daalte ho. And then you say tough hai. Kya tough hai? My foot!” (Note: a translation of this monologue is provided at the end of the article)

(Spoiler alert ends)

Alia Bhatt in a still from 'Dear Zindagi'

Actually, never mind Asaram Bapu. Kaira’s verbal explosion must surely rank as a moment of monumental subversiveness in Bollywood history and across Indian society as a whole. From a film industry that has for decades now made maata-pitaa adulation a virtual obligation, in a society that pedestalises parenthood and requires children to compulsorily venerate their mothers and fathers, here is a fictional young woman belling the cat on this parents-are-gods nonsense. Parents, the film in its entirety reminds us, are people – mere humans, sometimes good, sometimes bad, horrible at worst, imperfect at best.

Yash Chopra will perhaps be turning in his grave or in his urn of ashes or wherever he is resting in the cosmos, at this speech from the heroine of the latest big-ticket Bollywood release. After all, Dear Zindagi has been made in a cinematic universe far removed from Chopra’s 1975 film Deewaar in which the crooked Vijay Verma famously taunted his honest brother Ravi with, “Aaj mere paas buildingey hai, property hai, bank balance hai, bangla hai, gaadi hai. Kya hai tumhare paas?” (Today I own buildings, property, I have a bank balance, a house, a car. What do you have?) to which dear treacly sweet Ravi replied: “Mere paas Maa hai” (I have Mother). No wealth could have been greater than a Nirupa Roy-like saintly Mommy in a hero’s life back then.

Hindi cinema may have travelled the distance from parent worship to Kaira in the four decades since Deewaar was released, but in the real India the notion of parents as noble beings if not near-divinity persists — and those who disagree are damned. Bollywood, for a change, is a step ahead of society rather than trailing behind. For the sad truth is that Kaira speaks a truth most Indians are still afraid to utter.

The practice of idolising parents in India goes back to ancient Hindu mythology. One of the most popular accounts of Lord Ganesh has him competing with his brother Karthikey for a prize that varies with the version of the tale. The winner would be the sibling who manages to circumambulate the world first. Karthikey takes off on his peacock to circle the Earth. While he is away, Ganesh folds his hands, quietly walks around Shiv and Parvathi, and on Karthikey’s return, claims victory. But you did not leave this place, Shiv points out. I did not need to, replies the son, to me my parents are my world.

Too many Indians miss a crucial point in this anecdote – that Ganesh may have revered his parents, but Shiv and Parvathi (as is widely acknowledged) were flawed. What distinguishes Hinduism from other present-day major world religions and gives it an element of relatability is that its deities are not portrayed as blemishless beings, but as gods with human failings.

Viewed in this context, it is ironic that Indian society – despite the prevalence of Hinduism – insists on seeing parents as universally selfless individuals who unconditionally love their children, views parenthood as a higher calling and a social duty, and decrees that children must forever be obliged to their parents, while condemning both singledom and childlessness within and outside marriage.

Singletons are considered footloose and fancy-free individuals fulfilling no social duties. The stereotype of the heavy-drinking, hard-partying (ergo noisy), immoral, sexually promiscuous bachelor and spinster (read: a likely bad influence on other youngsters) is so prevalent in urban India that housing complexes unapologetically announce a “dogs and unmarried people are not allowed” rule for tenancy and purchases. Married people who decide not to have children are openly labelled selfish.

Is becoming a parent an act of selflessness? Excuse my rudeness, but… Baah!

And seriously, selflessness is a choice, while the reality is that a majority of Indian women at least have no such agency. Providing an heir to the husband and his family line continues to be seen as one of a wife’s primary duties. Most women in India have limited access to birth control and safe abortions anyway, a situation that reproductive rights activists and scholars have chronicled and decried for decades. There is a stigma associated with being a “baanjh aurat” (sterile/barren woman). And if you are either uneducated or financially dependent or both, not bearing a child when your husband and in-laws want one is obviously not an option.

Among women who do have a choice, it goes without saying there are plenty who become mothers because they love babies, children and/or the traditional family set-up, genuinely want to experience another life growing within them and feel maternal love. There are just as many, if not more, though who have children because it is customary, or they had not thought beyond the norm when they first got pregnant, or because societal and familial pressure was too hard to withstand, or for some other reason unrelated to the joys of motherhood. The result is scores of women out there who became mothers despite being disinterested in the role or not ready for it.

Men do not escape social pressure either. Try being a couple even in supposedly liberal circles who have not had a child for over two years after marriage. The intrusive questions about when you will give “good news” to the world at large are interspersed with inquiries about your fertility, jokes about the man “firing blanks”, pity at what is vaguely assumed to be a sad, lonely, purposeless, empty existence and accusations of being self-centred, which imply that having a child is almost a sacrifice married folk make for the greater good.

This myth is debunked by the very people who propagate it when they coax singles to marry and married couples to have children. “Why don’t you want to get married? Don’t you love children?” they ask, as if potential spouses are nothing more than walking, talking sperm banks and fertile fields of ova. And that other question: “If you don’t marry and have children, who will take care of you in your old age?”

Befikre quick movie review: Ranveer Singh, Vaani Kapoor shine in Aditya Chopra’s sweet rom-com

Befikre steers far away from a typical Yash Raj Films love story and deals with both the past and the present of its protagonists.

The past:

Dharam — played by an ebullient Ranveer Singh — is a stand-up comedian from Delhi. Dharam moves to Paris, the city of love and creativity and artistic endeavour, to perform at a bar that’s called Delhi Belly.

Shyra — the very photogenic Vaani Kapoor — works in Paris as a tourist guide. She was born to Indian parents, but her character is depicted as being very French.

Vaani Kapoor and Ranveer Singh in a still from 'Befikre'

Dharam meets Shyra at a party: He’s desperately trying to get a girl to go home with him for the night; she dares him to meet a challenge; he wins [cue Hindi song playing at a French nightclub] and they go home to enjoy a wild romp.

They clearly have the kind of chemistry that’s the stuff of romcom lore, but Shyra — in a reversal of the wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am trope, tells Dharam that she’s not interested in getting serious with him since she’s just been through a break-up. Fine, sex with no-strings-attached it is then.

So far, so good.

Of course, once is not enough and we see Dharam and Shyra embark on a wildly uninhibited relationship. As a throwback to their first meeting, Shyra keeps setting Dharam new dares and challenges. He fulfills them, and their spicy, somewhat kinky relationship moves forward. Finally, they decide that to live in together.

Cut to a different time, and we see Dharam and Shyra have come some distance from those first heady, explosive days. Now they’re in the apartment they share, hurling abuses at each other — the argument takes an ugly turn and they decide to part ways.

The present:

Can two individuals who’ve shared a past navigate new ground as friends? This is what Dharam and Shyra must confront in their present.

That they get to do this against the scenic backdrop of Paris is a huge bonus. Aditya Chopra has chosen some breathtaking settings as the location for his latest film, and as an viewer, one is glad for that.

What about the actors though? Do they match up to Paris?

Ranveer Singh makes for a perfect Dharam. He’s the quintessential Delhi brat who adapts quickly to life in Paris, and proves yet again why he’s considered among the most versatile actors of his generation. Vaani has a job keeping up, but is able to deliver what the role requires. Most of the first half is given over to visuals of the couple making out. (We’re not complaining.)

It helps that Befikre keeps things breezy and light during the first half. Fun and humour are sprinkled liberally throughout the first half and you’re ensured a feel-good time.

But does it also feel — well, frivolous?

Is there more to this film than its good looks?

Ranveer plays Dharam, while Vaani Kapoor is Shyra in Befikre'

***

Post-interval, we’re back in our seats, and ready to watch more of Dharam and Shyra’s adventures unfold. And boy! do they not disappoint.

Now far too many films of late have fallen prey to ‘the curse of the second half’. Everything’s hunky dory in the first, but after the interval, boom! the film loses its plot.

Surprise, surprise — Befikre does not suffer from this fate.

In fact, its second act lifts Befikre to a more beautiful level.

What do Dharam and Shyra get up to in the second half? We left them, dealing with a break-up, and trying to be ‘just friends’. The plot thickens when each of them gets into new romantic relationships. We can’t give more away other than saying, the duo has a lot to deal with.

[Spoiler alert] There’s an exceptional scene, set on a yacht where Ranveer Singh goes completely ‘befikre‘ and bares his derriere. And we’ll only say this: It is a sight to behold.

Does Befikre have a conventional happy ending? You’ll have to see the film to find out.

Does it any point seem clichéd? Yes, Dharam and Shyra’s journey, while fun, is hardly groundbreaking. But perhaps what works for Befikre, is that it does not try to be groundbreaking. Aditya Chopra’s first directorial venture in eight years plays to its strengths: It’s entertaining, beautiful and light.

When the Befikre trailer released, there were doubts over whether or not the film had more to it than seen in these promos. To be honest, there’s isn’t much else to the story beyond what’s seen in those trailers. But that’s not disappointing at all.

At a little over two hours, Befikre is short, sweet and a bonafide Bollywood rom-com.

Aamir Khan in Dangal: Trainers Kripa Shankar Bishnoi, Rahul Bhatt on how he achieved the look

In recent times, wrestling seems to have emerged as a hit formula for Bollywood films, and when reigning superstar Aamir Khan had to play the part of a Haryanvi wrestler for Dangal, his preparation went far beyond putting on weight.

Known for his perfectionism, Aamir wanted to look effortless in his portrayal of a wrestler and in order to go beyond a cosmetic makeover, the actor hired a wrestling champion to give him exhaustive training. Thus came in 40-year-old Kripa Shankar Bishnoi, an Indore-based wrestler, coach of the Indian women’s wrestling team, and winner of the prestigious Arjuna award (conferred for excellence in sports). Bishnoi has also won a number of medals for India at international competitions, including the Commonwealth Games.

He trained Aamir and the entire crew for the movie, which is slated for release this month. Directed by Nitesh Tiwari, the movie is based on the life of ace Indian wrestler Mahavir Singh Phogat, who coached his daughters Geeta Phogat (Commonwealth Games gold medal winner), and Babita Kumari (2012 bronze medal winner at the World Wrestling Championship).

Aamir Khan. Facebook photo

“When Aamir’s team contacted me for the first time, I thought someone was pulling a fast one on me. Later, when I was approached again, I was sceptical and wondered how could an actor do wrestling? It is a sport which is devoid of any use of weapons and it’s a game where injury is inevitable. Also, doing wrestling scenes, acting as a wrestler and even training for it is very difficult. But when I came to Mumbai and saw Aamir’s passion and his grasping power, catching skills and techniques of wrestling, I was proved wrong, He is called Mr Perfectionist for a reason,” smiled Bishnoi, who was approached by Aamir’s production house in March 2015. He added, “The characters in Dangal will be shown wrestling with professional wrestlers while depicting various championships, in the movie. We did not want to cheat the audience by showing the actors merely imitating some random wrestling moves.”

In order to portray the ageing wrestler Phogat, Aamir had gained 30 kg, taking his weight to 97 kg. The film depicts the journey of a young wrestler, starting from his youth, going all the way to his early 50s. While the director wanted to start the shoot with the ‘young’ Mahavir, Aamir preferred to shoot the sections that showed his character as a middle-aged man first. The actor had reasoned saying, “For a large part, that is almost 80 per cent of the film, I portray a middle-aged man, and I wanted to play that first because if I shoot the ‘young’ portions first and the ‘old’ portion later, I would be fat when the film is complete and there won’t be any reason or motivation for me to lose weight later on.”

Force 2 is a refreshing action film from John Abraham, despite its faux-patriotism

Right away let’s establish one thing, and this will likely hold true for a few years at least: Popular Indian cinema is going to milk patriotism and pride in the nation as much as it can, given the direction in which national discourse has swung. (Check your WhatsApp forwards for a quick confirmation.)

No genre of popular cinema is going to tap into this more than action entertainers, because nationalism is a natural ally of grandiose masculinity and brute physical power, attributes that we’re trying to ascribe to a nation we, strangely enough, call our ‘Motherland’.

Expectedly, given that it gets to play with a big action star as a cop, Force 2 does it with élan.

At one point John Abraham’s ACP Yashvardhan declares that the days are gone when India couldn’t carry out covert operations on foreign soil. ‘Ab hum ghus ke maarte hain’, he exclaims. Translation: ‘Now, we barge in and kill our enemies!’ (Does anyone else feel that ‘surgical strike’ has the potential to be a smashing new drinking game? Surely we deserve a pun on ‘shot’.)

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Once you accept that we’re going to see this quite often now — at least until India (as a collective consciousness) has more important things to worry about than projecting a strong masculine image to the world — and once you accept that cinema is going to assimilate popular culture in order to maximise footfalls and profit, you might just find Force 2 to be a refreshingly decent actioner, unlike the ludicrously overcooked action films Hindi cinema in particular frequently subjects us to. (I’m looking at you, Dilwale and Shivaay.)

For starters, Force 2 is set in a world where everyone doesn’t speak Hindi (imagine). The film is based primarily in Budapest, and mercifully, Hungarians and other foreign nationals in the film get to keep their language and not converse in awkward Hindi with the Indian lead pair. The foreign language lines are subtitled in Hindi, which is encouraging. It’s a sign of not taking the audience for granted, while also ensuring that the audience does not remain a passive viewer throughout. (In general, this would be a good time to brush up on our Hindi reading abilities, please note.)

This trait, of not taking the audience for granted, runs through the film.

The plot itself is standard international espionage fare for a seasoned viewer of Hollywood’s self-aggrandising CIA movies. (Stories of the CIA blatantly using Hollywood, for something that goes beyond even propaganda, make for a fun read if you love conspiracy theories.) However, beyond that, the film actually does a good job of not dumbing everything down.

In fact, Force 2 can well be compared with any commercial film with an espionage backdrop from anywhere in the world, and it would hold its own because at the heart of it, the film’s intent is clear. There exist different types of patriotism, and even service to one’s nation cannot be seen through a monochrome  prism. It blurs the lines between what we call ‘massy’ and ‘classy’, keeps the setting contemporary, and serves up a fairly engaging plot all the way till the end.

Credit for this must go to director Abhinay Deo, who has always displayed a sensibility that is far more evolved than most other filmmakers. Incidentally, he happens to be one of India’s finest advertising filmmakers. He has made plenty ads over the years that showcase his ability to use the visual medium effectively without having to spell everything out. Watch one particular scene early in the film, where an Indian RAW agent is assassinated while riding a motorbike. It is a brutal scene that eschews gore in favour of pure imagery to make its point.

The hiccups in Force 2’s screenplay mostly come from trying to straddle that line between what’s right and what sells, and this is something even the most hardened cynic must grant to at least the producer of the film.

So, you have an Indian police officer appointing himself for a mission abroad involving the death of RAW agents. You have a perfectly made-up woman, from RAW no less, who partners with him on this mission. And you have a charming, baby-faced villain who oozes snarky charm. A few convenient liberties here and there are bumps in a film that otherwise keeps you interested for the most.

A special mention for John Abraham here.

The man does best in roles where he doesn’t have to emote, so he sticks to them. Back in 2013, when the Congress was in power, he co-produced and starred in Madras Café, which took a more than sympathetic view of (if not one that was downright in favour of) Rajiv Gandhi. This year alone, he has had Dishoom and Force 2, both of which firmly take a position aligned with the current government’s rhetoric.

Here’s a man who plays his cards right, and it explains why he’s still able to continuously churn out films as producer and solo lead, even if some of them don’t emerge winners at the box office.

Credit for Force 2 must go to the man who is at the receiving end of enough jokes about his acting talent, or lack thereof. Yes, we’re still a long way off from giving the world a global action film that we can be proud of, but Force 2 seems like a surgical baby-strike in the right direction.

Dear Zindagi movie review: Incredibly cute Alia, Shah Rukh Khan need a more consistent script

Dear Zindagi is clearly straining at the formula-ridden Bollywood straitjacket to give us a refreshing take on love and family, and for the most part it sticks to its guns. In the end, it does succumb to the pressure to bow to perceived public demand with passing mentions of what we have come to consider inevitable in every Hindi film, but the ride up to that point is so rewarding so often that it is tempting to look past those needless moments.

Writer-director Gauri Shinde’s Dear Zindagi comes four years after her remarkable debut with English Vinglish. If that film brought the charismatic Sridevi back to the big screen as a leading lady after a 15-year hiatus, this one redefines the concept of hero and heroine in Hindi cinema.

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Dear Zindagi revolves around Kaira (Alia Bhatt), a talented young cinematographer in Mumbai who despises her parents, appears confident in her romantic relationships yet is ridden with insecurities about the men she is drawn to. Those insecurities lead her to deliberately hurt her boyfriends before they get a chance to hurt her. It does not take a degree in psychology for a viewer to figure out her behaviour patterns, but Kaira is naturally confused by her fears. She ends up seeking professional help, and with some wise counsel, finds her answers herself.

When one of the biggest stars in the history of Bollywood appears on screen about 40 minutes after the opening credits, it goes without saying that this is an extremely unconventional film. Bhatt’s Kaira is the focal point of the story from start to finish whereas Shah Rukh Khan – playing her therapist Dr Jehangir Khan – surfaces towards the latter part of the first half and is nowhere to be seen in the concluding scene.

In a male-obsessed industry still tending to subordinate women in most mainstream projects, this is a decision that shows guts on Shinde’s part and Khan’s evident willingness to experiment. That other MegaKhan, Aamir, took a similar gamble with rewarding results in Taare Zameen Par (2007), and this is a winning aspect of Dear Zindagi too.

SRK gets less screen time but owns every scene he is a part of. In fact, Doc Jehangir enters the picture just as the film is sagging and appears to be repeating itself. His arrival immediately lifts Dear Zindagi. It sags again occasionally thereafter, but never when he is around. Besides, there is such warmth in Kaira’s interactions with the Doc that it envelops the rest of the narrative too.

It is worth mentioning that Khan in this new phase of his career when he is acknowledging his age gracefully, showing us a dash of gray and a whiff of wrinkles, is looking hot.

Kaira explodes in anger at one point when someone describes her as a pataka (firecracker). Well, that’s precisely what Bhatt is – a pataka with pizzazz and verve. What makes her so impactful is that she has had an internal journey with each of her roles so far, and not so far allowed that journey to be overshadowed by her attractive personality. Kaira is simultaneously exasperating and endearing, and Bhatt remains in control of that difficult blend throughout.

Still, the film needed more matter to wrap around these two lovely stars, and Dear Zindagi too often does not. Some of that comes from the failure to build up the satellite characters who are Kaira’s go-to people in times of need. We get that she is pre-occupied with her own emotional struggles to the point of not noticing their problems, but that is no excuse for the writing to neglect them too.

Who is Fatima (Ira Dubey) beyond being a mature, married friend? Who is Jackie (Yashaswini Dayama) beyond being a sweet, supportive, possibly younger friend? Who and what is that chubby male colleague beyond being chubby and funny? Who is her brother Kiddo (Rohit Saraf) whom she loves, beyond being her brother Kiddo whom she loves? Who and what are her boyfriends Sid (Angad Bedi), Raghuvendra (Kunal Kapoor) and Rumi (Ali Zafar) beyond being a good-looking restaurateur, a good-looking producer and a good-looking musician?

(Spoiler alert) And then there are those two oh-no moments towards the end – you know the kind that make you say, “Oh no, you too Dear Zindagi”? One of them seems to go along with the traditional view that characters played by a major male star and a major female star must inevitably be attracted to each other if they interact long enough in a story; the other underlines the essentiality of a man in a woman’s life to make her feel complete. Both are fleeting suggestions, but they pull down the film’s assuredness about what it is trying to say until then. Oh no, you too Dear Zindagi? (Spoiler alert ends)

For this and other reasons the film is inconsistent and intermittently lightweight. Yet, there is much else to recommend in Dear Zindagi.

The use of music, Amit Trivedi’s breezy tunes and Kausar Munir’s conversational lyrics are lots of fun, as are Kaira’s many amusing interactions with her friends. DoP Laxman Utekar fills the film with pretty frames of Goa beyond what we are used to seeing of that picturesque state, and is just as imaginative in his focus on Khan and Bhatt’s faces. Watch out for the closing shots of Bhatt on a beach.

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From an industry that usually treats parents as deities deserving to be worshipped, it is also unusual to get a story that does not ignore these gods’ feet of clay, especially considering that Dear Zindagi is co-produced by Karan “It’s All About Loving Your Parents” Johar.

Above all, it is nice to see a film making an effort to destigmatise patient-therapist interactions, in a portrayal far removed from the “paagalkhanas (lunatic asylums)” of an earlier Bollywood era.

Dear Zindagi then is a mixed bag. I loved SRK in the film, Bhatt is always a pleasure to watch, the story visits many themes that are uncommon in Bollywood, and several of the discussions are either witty or insightful or both. Overall though, the film comes across as being not enough because the writing needed more substance.

Dear Gauri Shinde,

You broke the mould with the delightful English Vinglish. Since you have defied convention in so many ways this time round too, you may as well have gone the entire distance without worrying about the consequences. We believe in you. Please do have faith in our faith in you.