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Qarib Qarib Singlle movie review: Parvathy, Irrfan click individually but not as a couple

A conservative young woman, widowed early in life and hanging on to the memory of her late husband, spends years allowing life to revolve around work and married friends who take her for granted. On a whim one day, she puts up her profile on a dating website. Jaya Shashidharan (played by Parvathy) is a successful insurance professional staying alone in her Mumbai flat while her younger brother — the only person she seems truly close to — studies abroad. She meets poet cum inventor Yogendra Kumar Dhirendranath Prajapati a.k.a. Yogi (Irrfan) via the site. On another whim, she decides to go on a cross-country trip with him to meet his ex-girlfriends and check if they still carry a torch for him as he claims they do.

(Possible spoilers ahead)

No one is more surprised by her uncharacteristic impetuousness than she herself. Dating is not her scene. It is clear that at some sub-conscious level she wants to break free of her own sobriety, but it is an old habit that is hard to shake off. Her confusion over her life-long sedateness can be the only explanation for why she takes off on a journey with a virtual stranger and takes other risks in this story that even the average adventurous Indian woman would not. It also explains why she spends so much of this expedition regretting being on it. Yogi is everything she is not — unguarded, sure of what he wants, speaking his mind, constantly laughing at his own poor jokes, so sociable that even a ride on the wrong train turns into a fun diversion. She has the appearance of knowing her mind, but does not. She says one thing, while her heart wants something else.

Poster for Qarib Qarib Singlle

Most of what I have told you is already contained in the trailer of Qarib Qarib Singlle (Almost Single). Despite the sense of humour in some of the couple’s initial interactions, and the undoubted charisma of the lead stars, the film does not have much more to offer beyond the pleasures of that trailer. There is a kernel of an idea in there that could have been taken somewhere, but it does not come together as a cohesive, credible whole.

Froth and frolic notwithstanding, writer-director Tanuja Chandra makes a point here, although it is unclear whether that was her intention. In one scene, Yogi half-mockingly expresses admiration for Jaya’s feminism. Yet, the song and dance that is made about her lack of clarity regarding what she wants from him, treads the well-worn path of suggesting that behind all their bluster, there is nothing more that female feminists want than the comfort of tradition and a man. This silly stereotypical belief is implied and stated routinely in real life by those whose superficial understanding is that men and relationships with men are, theoretically, anathema to women feminists.

It is possible that Chandra did not intend to insinuate any of this, but the clichéd characterisation of Jaya and Yogi, no different from a standard Mills & Boon romance, ends up doing precisely that — not spelt out in black and white, but by implication.

Besides, Qarib Qarib Singlle’s lead actors Parvathy and Irrfan do not click as a couple on screen. It does not help that this supposedly off-mainstream film from a seemingly thinking filmmaker displays the same ageist sexism that we see in hard-core commercial Hindi cinema, in which 50-something male stars routinely play younger men and star with women half their age. The Net tells me that Irrfan is 50 and that baby-faced, chubby-cheeked Parvathy is 29, but in the film, Yogi is 40 (really?) while Jaya is 35 — an adjustment that has obviously been made to justify the casting. I guess it would be too much to ask this gender-prejudiced industry to pick a 40 to 50-year-old woman for a 50-year-old man, but Qarib Qarib Singlle would have been another film, and very likely a far more interesting one, if Chandra had gone down that path.

Movie Review: Sardar Mohammad, Punjabi Movie

 

 

Sardar Mohammad is the story of Surjit Singh who is the eldest son in the family of Retired Colonel Harjit Singh (Sardar Sohi) who has served for the Police Force under the British Rule and later joined the Indian Army. Surjit has 3 younger brothers and a younger sister. Life is going smooth and Surjit is even about to get married to Mandy Takhar. However, things take a turn when Surjit learns that he is not the real son of Colonel instead he was separated from his family during the Partition of 1947. Surjit learns that he has a mother in Pakistan and he decided to visit the neighbouring country in search of his mother. In Pakistan, he finds friends who help and support him in the search of his mother.

Review: I loved Tarsem Jassar and Harry Bhatti’s debut film, Rabb Da Radio but I am afraid that I cannot say the same about this film all together. Tarsem Jassar has taken up multiple tasks in this film – Lead Actor, Story Writer, Screenplay Writer, Dialogue Writer, Lyricist, Composer, Producer & God knows what else. The film carries a blend of emotion, drama & tries to churn all the elements into a typical potboiler commercial film at heart but the films ends up being nothing but a disappointment because of the sky high expectations that I had from the film after I saw the trailer.

Story-Screenplay-Dialogues are all penned by Tarsem Jassar and are based on real life events and the film informs the viewer about the inspiration through a Disclaimer in the very beginning of the film. The film begins on a very sluggish note as the comedy seems to be a forceful insertion in the very beginning and bears no connection to the overall storyline of the film. The Story is something which I can call new in terms of Punjabi Cinema but the treatment given to the story is very immature thus making a good idea seem boring on screen.

Also, most of the moments in the 1st half have no relevance to the actual plot line. They have just been added in order to give a commercial feel to the film  so that the viewer finds a bit of comedy, a little bit of romance (just the song), melodrama and what not. The dialogues were pretty regular and can be termed as mediocre. Overall, the writing of Sardar Mohammad is an opportunity missed.

Coming to direction, Harry Bhatti co-directed his debut film, Rabb Da Radio and this time he has directed the film completely on his own. Sardar Mohammad is one of those films which had a good story, a weak screenplay but bad direction made the film even more weaker. Harry just couldn’t handle the crunch situations. Seems like Harry Bhatti still has a lot to learn as a film-maker. I have always been of the believe that ‘A Successful Music Video director does not necessarily qualify as a successful film-maker’. Both the aspects are completely different from each other.

Coming to performances, I cannot point out a single performance which stood out in the whole film. Tarsem Jassar tried hard, put in all the efforts he could but still there was something missing which stops me from using terms such as amazing, standout, applause-worthy (Mind you, I am a hardcore Tarsem Jassar Fan). Karamjit Anmol is a fine actor and this is his 4th release in a span of 28 days. However, here he was under-utilised. Sardar Sohi was routine as usual. Rahul Jungral did a somewhat okays job. He could be someone who can make a name for himself in future if his choice of roles is good.

Harshjot Kaur, last seen in Qissa Panjab does well here as well. She plays Tarsem’s sister in the film. Neetu Pandher had a small role and was efficient. Rana Jung Bahadur also had 3-4 scenes in the film and was all right. However, Sardar Mohammad would be a disappointment for Mandy Takhar fans as she is seen only in the song, Single Double which also happens to be a dream sequence.

Music of the film lacked the feel of a Motion Pictures Soundtrack except for the Title Track of the film. It was more of the music which works regularly as a Single Track or a supporting track in a music album. However, tracks like Asool, Pind and Sardar Mohammad (Title Track) would be my picks from the album.

Munna Michael movie review: Who cares about logic when you have dance, action courtesy Tiger Shroff?

It’s 1995. An aging dancer with a disturbing Michael Jackson hangover is removed from the chorus line of a dance troupe. Michael (Ronit Roy) is devastated. He’s seeking solace at the bottom of a bottle but fate has him wander past an abandoned baby. Michael adopts the child and raises him as Munna.

Inspired by his father, Munna Michael (Tiger Shroff) becomes a dancing machine and makes a quick buck by pulling cons on the dance floor. His inspiration is also Michael Jackson.

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It’s bad enough that our choreographers are stuck in a time warp – they either design sequences aping Jackson or are rehashing hip-hop moves from the mid-90s. But here we have a film where even the writer and director are holding on to nostalgia, not just in terms of inspiration and choreography but also a story line.

Munna Michael takes the comic route and the cold, corpse-like narrative comes alive with the introduction of the ever-reliable Nawazuddin Siddiqui. Siddiqui plays Mahinder Fauji – a hotelier and a thug with a soft corner for a dancer called Dolly (Nidhhi Agerwal). He believes the best way to impress her is by learning to dance, and for this job he hires Munna.

Let me explain that by this time Munna has left his ailing father in Mumbai and moved to Delhi to continue his con-on-the-dance-floor act. We don’t know what his father is suffering from and why Munna cannot think of any other career option but being a dancing cheat. But there you have it.

The moment Munna sets eyes on Dolly, it’s love at first shimmy and shake. Dolly’s dream is to win a dance show on TV. The men believe she’s a dancing queen. But Agerwal dancing is passable at best with her studied moves making her barely convincing as a champion dancer. Maybe she should have joined Munna’s dance classes! Alongside her, Shroff’s robotic moves almost look fluid.

Munna is assigned the job of helping Mahinder court Dolly and then, when she flees from Delhi, Munna must bring her back to Mahinder. What Dolly wants is, of course, of little consequence to Mahinder giving Munna an opportunity to deliver a lesson about that. Fortunately Mahinder’s obsession doesn’t become too creepy as the character is shown to be mean as nails otherwise but soft when it comes to matters of the heart. Siddiqui looks like he’s really enjoying the dance lesson sequences even as he flubs the steps.

Director Sabbir Khan and writer Vimi Datta have designed a film that is serviced by Shroff’s two skills – dancing and action. In spite of being predictable story with slack storytelling, Khan once again (Heropanti, Baaghi) showcases just what is needed to keep Shroff’s fans satisfied.

Put in enough of these two elements and who cares about logic, story, acting or originality.

Ek Haseena Thi Ek Deewana Tha movie review: Suneel Darshan’s son returns in a film so terrible, it’s riveting

A long long time ago in the kingdom of cliched cinema, a rich man’s daughter falls in love with a poor stable boy. He is killed by her father for that crime. Decades later, his bhatakti aatma returns to claim the heart of her granddaughter. We are told the young lady is her naani’s carbon copy and, as fate would have it, already engaged to her childhood friend at the point she meets the aatma.

What happens thereafter is not what you might expect, but I am not wasting time getting into the nitty-gritty of the story because, frankly, that would amount to beating about the bush. Overriding fact: this film is awful.

It is a romantic thriller, but no twist in the end, nor even Amarjeet Singh’s slick camerawork in the picturesque English and Welsh countryside, can compensate for the all-round godawfulness, the inertness and the dated storytelling that constitute Ek Haseena Thi Ek Deewana Tha.

Poster of Ek Haseena Thi Ek Deewana Tha

Producer-director Suneel Darshan’s latest venture marks the return to Bollywood of music director Nadeem Saifi, and Darshan’s second attempt at giving his son Shiv an acting career.

Nadeem’s compositions for the film are passably melodic while they last, but too generic to be memorable. The Nadeem who has churned out songs for Ek Haseena Thi EDT is not worthy of the reputation enjoyed by the man who made the blockbuster music for Aashiqui and Dil Hai Ki Manta Nahin as one half of Nadeem-Shravan in the 1990s. Like this film, his work too seems stuck in time.

It speaks volumes about the pathetic quality of Ek Haseena Thi EDT that the music is still one of the nicer things about it.

The highlight of the film’s horrendousness is Shiv, a milky-skinned gentleman whose expressionlessness resembles the blankness of faces we see these days Botoxed into immobility.

I understand paternal devotion. I do. But to expose your child’s absolute lack of talent before the world is not love. There is no kind way of saying this, so I may as well not mince words: Shiv cannot act.

The only saving grace for him in this film is that Natasha Fernandez is almost — though not entirely — as bad. Instead of advertising itself as a film, Ek Haseena Thi EDT should have considered promoting itself as a contest for pathetic acting between Darshan Junior and Fernandez. Their co-star Upen Patel is no Robert De Niro, but he comes off looking comparatively impressive in the presence of these two and made me wonder whether he might show some spark in a better film.

Pretty Ms Fernandez struggles to work her facial muscles, poses around (clearly at the behest of her director) and delivers dialogues in an amusingly strained fashion. Her Hindi diction is awkward, she even says tukraana for tthukraana. And director saab did not deem it fit to correct her before demanding a retake?

Perhaps Darshan was too busy focusing on getting the wardrobe and makeup departments to package his heroine to perfection so that she could be draped on his son.

The problem lies not just in a father prioritising his offspring over all else, but also in this team’s questionable attitude to women. For instance, the good guy in Ek Haseena Thi EDT is positioned as a good guy although he thinks nothing of kissing a sleeping woman who does not know him; and when one man asks another for a birthday gift, the other guy points to a woman, as though he had purchased her from a shop. Her outburst in the end, about the right to make her own choices, comes as an obvious afterthought, inserted there by writers who want to camouflage their narrow-mindedness in a changing world.

To be fair to Darshan, although he has enjoyed tremendous commercial success, he has at no point been viewed as a great artist or a liberal by serious Bollywood gazers. That said, nothing in his filmography is a match for the vacuity of this film.

Ek Haseena Thi EDT is so terrible, it is riveting. (Spoiler alert, for those who still care) It is not a fantasy flick, nor does it belong to the mythical/mythological genre, yet at one point, a man reveals — with a perfectly straight face — that after an accident, he prayed to God for a few extra days on Earth and God granted him 14. What calculation did God make to arrive at that precise figure. Was God a voice in this fellow’s head? Did s/he appear in flesh and blood? Did they chat on Skype?

With nothing happening on screen, I busied myself with these profound questions. I also briefly considered headlining this review thus: Ek haseen critic thhi, ek khokhla film thha.

Behen Hogi Teri movie review: Rajkummar Rao, as always, is hugely watchable and endearing

The one festival the young men of Lucknow fear is Raksha Bandhan. For some reason, the girls of the neighbourhood are considered equivalent to sisters — a concept abhorrent to the testosterone-fuelled boys. This entire idea becomes the bane of Gattu’s life. The protagonist of Behen Hogi Teri, Gattu (Rajkummar Rao) is an average boy — below average at academics, a bit timid when it comes to standing up to his parents and with no future prospects to boast of. But the one thing he’s sure of is his fondness for his neighbour Binny (Shruti Haasan).

Gattu and Binny’s homes are opposite each other on a narrow street. It’s a convenient set up for the two to meet. Several circumstances throw the romancing duo together, under the auspices of their approving families especially as Gattu is considered the ‘brother’ who will help Binny’s family during a crisis.

Rajkummar Rao and Shruti Haasan in a still from Behen Hogi Teri

There’s very little to this story written by Vinit Vyas and directed by Ajay Pannalal. Mostly it’s about Gattu needing to find the courage to stand up to Binny’s family — and his own — and declare his true feelings, which takes painfully long to happen. He just stands by and silently observes Binny’s engagement to NRI Rahul (Gautam Gulati) and allows a huge misunderstanding about her alleged affair with his best friend (Harry Tangri) to snowball.

Post-interval, much of the action becomes about this latter plot. Ranjeet and Gulshan Grover appear as local thugs who respond to inter-caste romances with honour killings. If they stand on one side of the war lines, Darshan Jariwala, who plays Gattu’s father, stands on the other side, desperate to assert his authority in this neighbourhood.

Initially there is enough nuance and situational comedy to carry the film. Rajkummar Rao, as always, is hugely watchable and extremely endearing as Gattu. There are a couple of charming scenes like the one outside Binny’s college when Gattu gets rejected, and later when he gets drunk and blames all the Shah Rukh Khan heroes named Rahul for always winning the girl.

Had Rao had a more skilled co-star, the chemistry might have been more believable rather than appearing ‘staged’. In fact the pitching of the performances is the second issue with the narrative (besides the wandering script). Where Rao, Ranjeet and Ninad Kamat (as Binny’s older brother) are steady, Jariwala, Gulshan Grover, and Harry Tangri (as Gattu’s bestie) are loud and jarring.

What the writers (dialogue by Sanchit Gupta) and the director do get right is the idea of how ‘rakhi’ and the concept of sisterhood is a terrible manipulation for young people unrelated to one another. They also capture many subtleties of non-metro India and the preoccupations of local communities. Other pluses are a clever title, good production design and costumes, some finely edited scenes and yet another earnest performance by Rajkummar Rao. But the introduction of subplots (such as the daily ‘jagran’ where Gattu dresses as Shiv, or Gattu’s father’s obsession with becoming president of the neighbourhood and the vengeance seeking father and uncle) are diversions that make you restless.

It’s not just Akshay Kumar, but the female characters in the satirical dark comedy drama, Jolly LLB 2, were also applauded.

It’s not just Akshay Kumar, but the female characters in the satirical dark comedy drama, Jolly LLB 2, were also applauded.

One such character was the wonderfully-nuanced cameo by SayaniGupta, who played Hina Siddiqui, a young Muslim woman driven to despair.  It’s a small but pivotal and deeply impactful role, so much so that Sayani was lauded for her performance by some of the veterans from the industry. Twitterati in large numbers also poured their love for her.

Gupta has so far been doing a balancing act between commercial and art cinema. She has received critical acclaim for her offbeat and distinctive roles in films like her debut Margarita With A Straw (played the role of Kalki’s love interest)and most recently Fan (as Shah Rukh Khan’s secretary), however, Sayani doesn’t take compliments or criticism seriously.

“I have never sat down to ponder over what others have to say because ultimately you know what you have done. Piyush Mishra (theatre and film actor, NSD alumni) called me few days back when I was shooting for Jagga Jasoos, and said while referring to Jolly LLB 2, ‘I didn’t know you acted so well.’  Lot of people are complimenting me on social media as well. Somebody told me that they went to watch the film thrice because of me. There are lot of people who said I made them feel for the part and I made them cry,” says Sayani.

sayani

She continues, “My performance really moved my mother, and she is far too detached about the industry and not at all excited about the film world or what I am doing. She is not in favour of me acting and it was quite a struggle to convince her when I went to FTII (Film and Television Institute of India). Little by little, she is coming to terms with it but she would have rather seen me as an IAS officer or in a regular job.”

“We are from middle class family and they didn’t want their only daughter to get into films. Obviously there are certain perceptions about the film industry. My close friends never say nice things, they are always critiquing my work, but finally they felt that I was brilliant in Jolly LLB 2.”

Strangely enough, Sayani has been getting offers for horror movies for last few years and she, too, fails to understand the reason for it. “Maybe they think I am a Bengali, I have big eyes…” she laughs.

While Sayani so far has rejected two offers post Jolly LLB 2 (as  she is “choosy”, “instinctive”, “and not ready for it”), she is certainly excited about her first international project, The Hungry, which is an Indo-British production starring Naseeruddin Shah and Tisca Chopra. The film, for which the actors were very selectively chosen, is directed by debutante filmmaker Bornila Chatterjee, who is an alumnus from New York’s Tisch School of the Arts. The Hungry is an adaptation of William Shakespeare tragedy Titus Androcinus, which is believed to have been written between 1588 and 1593.

“This year marks the 400th death anniversary of Shakespeare. His stories could seem a tad hyper-real for this era, but this film is a realistic take. The script won at a collaborative cine-lab,” says Sayani, further adding, “The film has a bunch of deadly actors. We shot for it in Delhi and Agra. The ambience on set was stimulating and since we all got along so well, it turned out to be a great shoot.”

Recently, Sayani earned an honourable mention for the Best Actress award for her short film, Leeches, at the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles  (IFFLA). In just two years of her career, she’s also bagged one of the lead roles opposite Naseeruddin Shah with The Hungry. The actress considers it her privilege to act alongside ‘Naseer’, who was her teacher at the FTII.

“Naseer was very excited about his role after decades. He plays my father. He has been my teacher and lot of my understanding about acting and the craft is because of him. It was almost like reassurance of sorts when he would come to take our class. I adore him as a human being. He is fun to be around. He has always taught us how acting is all about reacting. He is a keen listener, which adds to the performance,” she says, adding:

“There are two of the coolest men I have worked with – Shah Rukh Khan and Naseeruddin Shah. They are sensitive, they are aware, they don’t take themselves too seriously. They are normal dudes.”

So did Sayani take any advice from the two “coolest” men?

“Some of the things Naseer told me is: ‘Learn your lines till you bump into a furniture. Know your lines backwards. Study the script well. Be relaxed and don’t take things too seriously. Make it fun and light.’ On the other hand, there’s much to learn just by the way Shah Rukh carries himself. He is the most technically sound actor, I feel. His understanding, the cleanliness with which he does everything, his craft is solid. He doesn’t show it. He is persistently hardworking and also the humility. He doesn’t take his stardom seriously,” she reveals.

Two of Sayani’s “friends” from the industry are the erstwhile directors – Rajkumar Hirani and Vishal Bhardwaj. She may not have offers from them yet but she certainly takes their advice. “I don’t talk work with them. Hirani often tells me that I should give people time after they have seen my film. I did audition for a part in Rangoon but Vishal told me that it won’t be good enough for me. I would never ask them to cast me because that could hamper our relationship. Whenever they want to cast me, they will.”

Sayani is currently shooting for Ranbir Kapoor-Katrina Kaif- starrer Jagga Jasoos which has been in the making for a long time. “When I signed the film I was playing the only narrator in the film. I had a separate track of my own. But since there is no script — Dada (Director Anurag Basu) doesn’t work with scripts, he writes as he goes along — my role has changed. I will know what my part is only after I see the film. Also, it is a very difficult film when it comes to format. It is musical, it’s a children’s film, and it is not a normal narrative. I play a 14-year-old girl and that is all I know (laughs),” she says.

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.

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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.

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.

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.

Dear Zindagi an unusual Bollywood movie that explores the inner life of a troubled woman

There are several lines of dialogue in Dear Zindagi that you are unlikely to have heard before in Hindi cinema. A woman telling a man to pull up his (unsightly low-slung) pants before he goes in front of the camera; a woman telling a man, “I need to pee.” (In Bunty Aur Babli, Rani Mukherjee implies it when she asks Bunty to come guard the railway station. And in Raj Kumar Santoshi’s Lajja, Manisha Koirala learns to pee on the side of the road while drunkenly cavorting with Madhuri Dixit.) Dear Zindagi also features a woman announcing that she failed Class II, and a man saying his former lover would never have achieved success if they had stayed together.

Dear Zindagi stars Shah Rukh Khan and Alia Bhatt

I was looking forward to Dear Zindagi in a vague way, aided by the memory of watching Sridevi’skabuki mask-like, but still absorbing face in Gauri Shinde’s first film, English Vinglish. In Dear Zindagi, Alia Bhatt is also often expressionless-yet-not, prickly and grouchy to hide her wealth of feelings. At one point, when Kaira (Bhatt) hears from her friend Fatima (Ira Dubey) that her lover has gotten engaged to someone else, she bites into a green chilli and eats it with steady viciousness. You want to look away from her tiny red lips, but you can’t. She sniffs, and when her friend asks her if she is okay, she blames the chilli. Then she goes back to the editing studio to edit the music video she’s directing.

English-Vinglish was the journey of a well-adjusted, middle-aged woman who thinks well of herself. She only has to understand why the world doesn’t think well of her — just because she doesn’t speak English. In Dear Zindagi, Kaira doesn’t think well of herself, but others do. She veers between fragility and irritability, and we don’t know why. We don’t quite know why she’s so mean to her parents and relatives. (That’s a lie; the relatives are so well-calibrated in their smugness that I was ready to slap them on Kaira’s behalf.) We find out what has created her brittle unhappiness, as she finds out, through her therapy sessions with cool shrink Jahangir Khan (Shah Rukh Khan).

This explicit exploration of the inner life of a young woman is fairly unprecedented in Bollywood. In Tanu Weds Manu 2, we do get a chance to see Tanu’s emotional struggles with her self-destructiveness. But the black comedy of that movie and that heroine didn’t permit the earnest pursuit of mental health. Instead, in the opening scene, Tanu manages to turn marriage counselling into an opportunity to get her husband locked up in an asylum. In Queen, Rani needs the trip to Paris to recover from heartbreak and gain confidence in her own ability to navigate the world.

It’s soothing, therefore, to hear Khan tell Kiara that she doesn’t have to forgive her parents or confront them for abandoning her. To hear Khan tell Kiara that she is not “cheap” but “superfine” to not settle for the first man who comes down the pike. Kiara has literal-minded nightmares about society judging her for being unmarried and unloved (troublingly, Shinde visualises this as working-class men mocking married middle-class women). It’s even more soothing when Khan tells Kiara that no society — no matter how judgmental — doesn’t have to think well of her, as long as she thinks well of herself. It’s so soothing that you are tempted to ignore the outrageous wish-fulfilment that is the tailpiece of the movie.

A friend who went to Dear Zindagi with me began with pessimism, saying warily that the scenes of Kaira zooming above her sets in a cinematographer’s crane are likely to be the most empowering things about the movie. (He changed his mind). For me, the wish-fulfilment moment was when Kaira tells the newly engaged ex-lover Raghuvendra (Kunal Kapoor) that she has decided to not work with him on his next project. Raghuvendra, dejected but trying to be a good guy, begins some spiel about what he thinks. This sets off Kaira like a bomb. She yells at him because she has already announced her decision, he wasn’t going to get a chance to now pretend it was his decision. Ah, the ridiculous, petty, total satisfaction.

Shinde’s story stays true despite any temptations that may have come along. Kaira doesn’t find herself in a romance with her ex-lover, a new lover or even in her crush on Khan. The climax is a classic emotional breakthrough about her childhood. If you have any doubts that Bhatt can act, this is the scene for you. She cries hard enough to melt a rock. This is also a scene of unintentional comedy. SRK, who should be a proud therapist, has never looked more uncomfortable than he does at this stage. He looks like he wants to say, “I hate tears, Kaira.”

My formerly pessimistic friend explained, “No one told him he has to do anything but smoulder. Or may be it’s those pants.” It’s true that the pants seem very tight, Aki Narula. It’s also that SRK is frequently a smouldering shoulder, but he is more. Shinde’s several on-the-nose pitches and Khan’s sussegad style makes an attractive case for therapy.

Kaira has her breakthrough and slowly makes her peace with her family. Which brings us to that fantasy tailpiece. Her long-stuck short film about a cross-dressing Portuguese soldier is finally made. It is screened on the beach to an audience of her whole life. All her friends, her whole family, the man she broke up with (Angad Bedi), the man who broke up with her (Kunal Kapoor), the man who wasn’t quite right for her (a shockingly muscular Ali Zafar). They are all there, flushed with admiration, applause and goodwill for Kaira. There’s also a new man who has solid potential of being the next love interest (Aditya Roy Kapoor).