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Running Shaadi quick review: Tapsee, Amit Sadh’s film falls prey to curse of the second half

Running Shaadi is one of those movies that you might want to give a try because of its actors.

The movie stars Tapsee Pannu and Amit Sadh who were last seen in Pink and Sultan respectively, and these two put on a great show. Ram (Amit Sadh) works in a textile shop in Punjab, whose owner is Nimmi’s (Tapsee Pannu) father. It’s a smooth playground till love hits; Ram and Nimmi fall in love while the latter is still in school. As she moves on to college and starts hanging with cooler friends who wears better clothes and speaks in English, love falls short. While Ram gets very annoyed with this, Nimmi tries to get the relationship back in track.

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One night when Ram has had enough, he calls his relatives back in Bihar and fixes his wedding with a stranger. That night is whena million dollar idea of making a website that would help lovers elope and get married legally strikes him. They name it runningshaadi.com and this is the first 30 minutes of the movie.

From this point, for a very long time, we only see montages of them helping 20-odd couples elope and get married. Beyond that, we eventually lead up to the main plot point in the film: how Raj and Nimmi get their love mojo back.

The performances in the movie are great. Tapsee Pannu and Amit Sadh are great to look at and have the north Indian twang bang on, which helps you understand the story better. Arsh Bajwa, who plays Ram’s side kick in the movie (a Sardar tech junkie named Cyber) does a great job, too.

Running Shaadi has an interesting plot; it’s new and fresh but not entertaining throughout. The movie is fun for the first 30 – 45 minutes when we just get to know the characters and understand what’s going on. Post that the movie falls flat. There is nothing more to it once they make the website.

The movie was earlier supposed to be called runningshaadi.com — which is also the name of the website, but due to legal reasons, they had to drop the .com from the name. Since this is was a last minute decision, the movie had many scenes where ‘.com’ was blurred and beeped, which makes it look shabby.

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.

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.

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'

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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.

Force 2 movie review: Slick mix of action, John Abraham, suspense and an appealing villain

It is hard to find a film that does not promise an iota more of anything than what it intends to deliver, and then efficiently delivers on its promise. Force 2 is an intense action flick that serves up slick stunts and technical finesse to support its straight-laced storytelling style.

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Director Abhinay Deo’s latest film is a sequel to Nishikant Kamat’s Force (2011), which starred John Abraham and Genelia D’souza. That film in turn was a remake of the 2003 Tamil blockbuster Kaakha Kaakha directed by Gautham Menon, starring Suriya Sivakumar and Jyothika.

Force did not have Kaakha Kaakha’s emotional heft, but it did have gripping, not-before-seen action plus a villain worth living and dying for. Its Achilles heel was the casting of the heroine. Four years since Force, the franchise repeats the mix, giving us gripping action once again, a solid villain and a contentious heroine.

Abraham is back in Force 2 as a well-intentioned Mumbai policeman who does not play by the book because the book, in his opinion, can tie a good cop down. In the years since Yashvardhan lost his wife (played by D’souza) in the first film, he has remained as strong-willed, impertinent and determined to vanquish evil as he was back then. When a bunch of agents of the Indian intelligence agency RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) are exterminated in well-planned back-to-back killings, Yash enters the picture to find out why and to prevent further deaths.

The case lands him in beautiful Budapest. His partner and supposed boss in this mission is RAW officer KK, Kamaljit Kaur, played by Sonakshi Sinha. KK is to the always-defiant Yash what chalk is to cheese, so of course they clash repeatedly.

Together, they find themselves up against an antagonist who somehow manages to stay ahead of them every step of the way. Shiv Sharma (Tahir Raj Bhasin) is driven by an unexplained grouse against RAW and India. It is evident from the moment we meet him that Yash and KK will solve the case when they crack the reason for his animosity.

The purposefulness of this film’s writing is both its strength and its weakness. Parveez Shaikh and Jasmeet K. Reen are here to entertain us with suspense and unrelenting skirmishes – involving wit, guns and fisticuffs – and they do that well. If only they had paid more attention to the characterisation of Yash and KK, Force 2 would have been more than just that.

Yash relies almost entirely on our pre-existing investment in him from the previous film, on Abraham’s dimpled charm and the actor’s unapologetic willingness to be objectified without denting his dignity in the way Hindi cinema tends to do with women. However, we do not see enough of the character’s journey here, nothing much to add to the Yash we already know from Force.

The film’s potentially most interesting element is the most problematic. Leading ladies in Hindi cinema are rarely in positions of authority over leading men, and they are certainly rarely at the centre of hard-core action cinema. KK, then, is a fascinating proposition. Having envisioned her though, the writers give her short shrift.

Sections of Bollywood these days are taking a long, hard look at the way women have been straitjacketed in films since the 1970s. While some are ushering in genuine change, too many are struggling to pull themselves out of the morass of their own misogyny. Sinha earlier this year starred in Akira, which made a woman the central figure in an all-out action-reliant drama but then spent so little time on fleshing her out as a human being, that the most engaging character in the film turned out to be her arch enemy – who was a man … of course. Deo & Co are better in the sense that their KK is not a one-line concept note. We do get to see her for the person that she is. Still, she is a RAW agent who screws up on an important assignment in a way you know the male lead of this kind of Hindi film would not, and when it comes to the crunch, she still needs a man to be decisive on her behalf and have the last word.

The saving grace of the Yash-KK equation is that despite the hint of a romance between them, the film does not go too far in that direction. This is a good thing, since Sinha looks like a child in comparison with Abraham. The actress does a fair job of what she is given to do, but I wish she had been given more to do and the screenplay had been less patronising towards KK.

The best written character in Force 2 is Shiv Sharma, a criminal who is both cold-blooded and nuanced, a man we can fear yet empathise with without the film getting too maudlin in its portrayal of him. Tahir Raj Bhasin is wonderfully controlled in his execution of Shiv, making him as intriguing as Vidyut Jamwal’s Vishnu was in Force yet completely different.

Udta Punjab’ review: Uneven tone reduces drug addiction to a near-farce

Once you get past the shock value of hearing those words in more than one language repeatedly on screen – yes, even more than in numerous Bollywood gangster flicks of the past 10-15 years – you will realise that all this is nothing more than what a visitor to many parts of north India will hear in casual conversations. It is hard to understand why the Central Board of Film Certification a.k.a. the Censor Board would get so antsy about invectives that are used more often than the definite article in real life; or why these abuses, which are uttered without beeps by various characters, are inexplicably asterisked out in subtitles in this primarily Punjabi, partly Hindi film.

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Here is the actual objection that Punjab’s politicians and their Censor Board allies would have had: writer-director Abhishek Chaubey’s Udta Punjab minces no words about a fact that the state’s netas have been anxious to keep under wraps for years now. Punjab is facing a serious drug epidemic; common sense suggests it is impossible for so many addictive substances to be so easily available to so many people, without the cooperation of the police and the political class.

Now that we have got that out of the way, let us focus on the real problem with Udta Punjab. Sure it is great that Chaubey has chosen to highlight a pressing social calamity, but the erratic narrative style ultimately dilutes what should have been a hard-hitting, revelatory film, in the end reducing the tragedy of drugs and drug addiction to a farce.

“Ever since I saw her, I no longer feel the need to take cocaine. After a long time, a tune has begun playing in my head after I set eyes on her. I’ve got my mojo back.” – This, in a nutshell, is how Punjab-based musician Tommy Singh describes his reaction to a Bihari field worker.

Is this some kind of joke?

A self-destructive drug addict has been ‘cured’ of substance abuse because he saw a pretty face?

There is more in this film where that came from. The first half of Udta Punjab is consistently grim, deeply disturbing and, appropriately, almost docu-feature-like. The second half though is intermittently farcical and ultimately makes a mockery of the concerns it set out to raise.

Three threads play out simultaneously in Udta Punjab. One involves the artiste formerly known as Tejender Singh, now Tommy (Shahid Kapoor), whose talent and success are fuelled by his consumption of multiple drugs. The second revolves around the young sportswoman-turned-peasant (Alia Bhatt) who gets entrenched in the drug mafia when she tries to sell a stolen cache. The third is about Dr Preet Sahni (Kareena Kapoor Khan) who encounters assistant sub-inspector Sartaj Singh (Diljit Dosanjh) when his brother becomes her patient.

At first, Udta Punjab proves to be a well-researched, sharply observed, much-needed, no-holds-barred account of the extent to which the state is mired in drugs and drug-related corruption. Even if you think you know, it is shocking to see the extent of unscrupulousness of those willing to ruin an entire population and even their own families for financial gain.

The intricate web of powerful folk and minions involved in this conscienceless trade is gasp-inducing, to say the least. It is also unnerving to see the soul-shattering effect that drugs can have on individuals who might otherwise have been humans with dignity.

So far so good. Then though, as if another director or multiple directors have taken over, the film unravels. Udta Punjab’s Achilles heel proves to be an inexplicable compulsion to assign a romance to each major mainstream star in the cast. The acting too is surprisingly patchy.

In fact, this film might be a good case study to help students understand that fine acting is rarely possible without the right chemistry between an actor, a director and a script. This can be the only explanation for why Shahid – whose stupendous performance in Haider (2014) remains fresh in the memory – is convincing in the first half but goes all goggle-eyed and almost comical once he apparently gets over his love for coke and sets out to help a stranger; or why the usually dependable Kareena here seems not to know when to wipe the twinkle out of her eyes.

Besides, there is no spark at all between her and the man in whom she appears to develop a romantic interest. As a result, that entire blossoming ‘relationship’ is awkwardly handled and appears contrived. Their younger co-star, Alia Bhatt, comes off better for the most part.

Likewise, Amit Trivedi’s music is as pleasing to the ear as always – especially the foot-stomping title track – but every good song is not good enough to be stuffed into a film. Ikk kudi, for instance, is well sung by Shahid Mallya, nice as a standalone number but maudlin in this context and completely out of sync with Udta Punjab’s initial tone.

It is a mystery why this film was allowed to come undone despite the tremendously gifted individuals involved and the extreme poignancy plus conviction of the first half. To watch a woman drugged into sexual submission, to hear her captors assure a potential rapist that “she is well trained” and will therefore not attack him, to witness the depths to which drug-addled brains will fall in their desperation for a fix is chilling beyond description.

After all this, then, to have a character suggest that he has recovered from his addiction because he fell for a woman is infuriatingly irresponsible; to see the film switch between heartbreak and the male protagonist’s serio-comic behaviour is confusing.

It is hard to believe that this uneven treatment of a grave issue has come to us from the director who delivered Vidya Balan to us in all her electrifying glory in the otherwise mixed bag that was Ishqiya (2010), from the man who gave us the genteel Dedh Ishqiya (2014) starring Madhuri Dixit-Nene and Huma Qureshi.

Baaghi’ review: As plastic as Tiger Shroff’s over-bronzed body in the posters

Baaghi is a slickly packaged empty vessel. The action choreography is striking, the locations are exquisite, the camerawork polished, the art design impressive, the cast well dressed. Scratch the attractive surface though, and you get a dated, cliched storyline that compartmentalises hero, heroine, villains and comedians in the way Hindi films of the 1970s and 1980s did.

The story begins in the menacing Bangkok den of a rogue called Raghav Shetty, who is on the lookout for Sia Khurana. Cut to Hyderabad, where she is shooting for a film directed by her Daddy, when the numero uno baddie’s goons abduct her. Martial arts expert Ronnie Singh is called in to rescue the damsel in distress. Ronnie and Sia have a past. Time for explanatory flashback.

Tiger Shroff and Shraddha Kapoor in Baaghi

Cut to Kollam railway station in Kerala where boy and girl met, girl pretended to resist boy, they fell in love, fate split them up, reunited them, Raghav split them up again and so on. It is a formula that is so dull and dusted that even Sunny Deol has stopped revisiting it.

Baaghi’s writer Sanjeev Dutta seems to have a thing for antiquity though. This is the sort of film where the hero is omnipotent and successfully bashes up dozens of men single-handedly, as did male leads of pre-1990s Hindi cinema who sought to replicate and cash in on the success of Amitabh Bachchan’s Angry Young Man formula. Here, like it was back then, the heroine’s only role is to be good-looking, charming and if possible dance sweetly/sexily enough to make the hero fall in love with her, thus providing him with a motivation to bash the bad guys in the end.

The villains here too are uni-dimensional cardboard cut-outs. Comedians are slotted in to relieve tension even in the middle of a hectic chase. Love happens at the first sight of a pretty face who fakes disinterest in the hero though of course she is keen on him because, well, you know, after all he is the hero. What else was she created for but to fall for him?

Besides, do we not also know that when a woman says “no” she means “maybe”? Ronnie, an absolute stranger who just met Sia a few minutes back on a train, blows a kiss to her from a station platform. She shows irritation but turns away to hide a smile. This film may not be as aggressive or overt as the song Koi haseena jab rootth jaati hai from Sholay, Jumma chumma de de from Hum, Jumme ki raat from Kick or Tu hi to hai from Holiday, but it does make that regressive point all the same.

The film’s only selling points are its only novelties. First, it is set almost entirely in Kerala, which translates into an eyeful of stunning locales, the famed snake boat race (vallam kali) in scenic backwaters and miles of greenery all around. Second, Ronnie is in Kerala to learn the state’s traditional martial arts form Kalaripayattu, which has a way of transforming men into Rudolf Nureyev and Birju Maharaj while they smash and slice other human beings to bits.

Tiger Shroff as Ronnie gets the bulk of the film’s fights and has clearly worked hard to learn Kalari. Many points to him for that and what he has achieved with his body. He must, however, control the tendency to pose about, which is never more evident than in scenes where he replicates his Guru’s moves and comes across as a mannequin, while the old man looks like a battle axe and a ballet dancer rolled into one.

In terms of acting, Tiger’s exaggerated expressions are one with the film’s penchant for overstatement. To be fair, he seems like he would do better with better direction, even if it is hard to ignore the fact that his Caucasian facial features make him a bit of a misfit in Indian cinema. He absolutely does not look Punjabi, although that is what he is meant to be in this film; he looks European. Perhaps he will figure a way around that.

And while I’m all for men showing off their beautiful bodies on screen, could someone explain why so many Hindi film heroes these days make it a point to rip off their shirts before a fight? Sure they look good, but is there a scientific logic here that has escaped me? Just asking.

Shraddha Kapoor as Sia is well turned out and gets a couple of fight scenes of her own. It is nice to see the actress throwing punches and kicks with such elan. Her acting in the early scenes though, is over-cutesified. Time to cross over into the adult world, girl. You are too good to waste yourself playing and replaying a child-like innocent who is an appendage to the hero. Of the remaining performers, Sudheer Babu Posani merits a mention for his Kalari moves as Ronnie’s bête noir Raghav Shetty. It is curious though that Sudheer, who is a Telugu actor, manages his Malayalam diction so poorly in the film. He keeps addressing his father as “Aachan” when it should be “Achchan”, a word that even a north Indian might easily get right if you point out that the “chch” is pronounced precisely as it is in Bachchan. Simple, no?

Veteran Sanjay Mishra and Sumit Gulati (who we saw last year in Talvar) enter the picture at one point to provide what is conventionally called “comic relief”. If a blind man bumping into things or mistakenly feeling up a woman’s legs makes you laugh, then the director has got what he wants. Some people, hopefully, have better taste.

Director Sabbir Khan made his debut with Kambakkht Ishq in 2009 starring Kareena Kapoor and Akshay Kumar, which he followed up with Tiger and Kriti Sanon’s debut Hindi film Heropanti in 2014. Both films revealed his love for bombast.

In Baaghi, he adds to his shoulders the burden of targeting Salman Khan and Akshay’s traditional audience. And so, Tiger is given an old-style punchline to repeat through the film: “Itni bhi jaldi kya hai? Abhi toh maine start kiya hai.” (What’s the rush? I’ve only just begun.) It is hard to imagine why the producers thought this ordinary writing would be as memorable as, say, Salman’s “Ek baar jo maine commitment ki, toh apne aap ki bhi nahin sunta” (Once I make a commitment, I do not allow myself to hold me back) or that Tiger has the panache to elevate it.

More triteness comes in the form of Baaghi’s effort to cash in on the prevailing tension between India and our neighbour China, as Hindi cinema once did with Chinese-looking villains around the time of the 1962 war or before that in the just-post- Independence era when seemingly Western Roberts were the bad people. Here, Raghav’s henchman Yong tells Ronnie: “You killed my brother, you Indian. You think you can fight? We fight. Chinese fight.” Ronnie beats him to pulp before replying grandly, “Sorry, China ka maal zyaada tikta nahin hai (Chinese goods do not last long).

Might as well have gone a step further with a crowd-pleasing, sarkar-pleasing “Bharat Mata ki jai!” yelled out by the hero. The chest-thumping suits the film’s emptiness. Gloss sans substance tends to make a lot of noise.

Kapoor and Sons’ music review: Nothing exciting in this album apart from ‘Kar Gayi Chull

February is still wedding season, and I found myself speaking with a bunch of friends about what songs we could potentially dance to at an upcoming sangeet. The popular choice seems to Kar Gayi Chull from Kapoor and Sons and after hearing the song on loop, I begin to see why.

The beat and the chorus phrase are quite catchy, and let’s admit, it is pretty fun to dance to (try it). Plus, it has the ever-so-swagalicious Badshah, who is slowly overpowering Yo Yo Honey Singh as the drunken jam king.

But would you be terrible surprised if I told you that the only song worth its salt in the Kapoor and Sons soundtrack is Kar Gayi Chull?

Kar-Gayi-Chull_380

Based on a Haryanvi party anthem, originally helmed by Badshah, the Hindi version has very minor changes here and there (like Bollywood pop culture references to Raveena Tandon etc). It’s a fun song alright, but upon hearing the original, you’ll realise what a lazy adaptation/remix Kar Gayi Chull is.

Speaking of adaptations, Kar Gayi Chull isn’t the first one. It breaks my heart into many shattering pieces to inform that Let’s Nacho, the last song on this album, is a beat by beat ‘remix’ of Nucleya and Benny Dayal’s crazy song, Tamil Fever. The lyrics are switched to Hindi, and the end result is lines like these, “Kar dance full, romance full, oh baat sun“, while the melody remains (gloriously) the same.

It’ll be pointless to say that in both cases, the original is better mostly because they sound almost identical. There’s not much difference apart from the lyrics, but with the risk of sounding like a purist, I must say it escapes me as to why they couldn’t just use the original songs, untouched. Badshah’s Kar Gayi Chull is as fun as the film version, and Nucleya’s Tamil Fever is quite apt for the movie as the story is based in Coonnoor, Tamil Nadu. Questions, questions.

Moving on from mixed feelings to clear ones. The stock Arijit Singh ballad Bolna is almost entirely forgettable. It’s not even the sort of song that you hear a bunch of times and then it grows on you. It’s just a very average song that is made melodious because Arijit is a good singer.

Buddhu Sa Mann has a nostalgic ’90s feel to it, which could have been quite nice (read: Dard karara from Dum Laga Ke Haisha) but it ends up being far too generic, with a couple of (forced) lines sung in English as well. It sounds like a tweaked version of Sooraj dooba hai‘ from Roy, which won both songs’ composer Amaal Malik several awards.

Similarly, Saathi rey comes across as the quintessential sad song, used at a crucial plot point in the film. However, it’s important to note here that each song in this album has its own composer, and this song has been sung and composed by Arko, who has an unique voice suited for pensive, intense songs. This one’s a win.

It’s quite sad that it will be very hard to remember the remaining three songs (other than Kar gayi chull and Let’s nacho) for more than a couple of weeks. Nothing about them stands out and only a viewing of Kapoor and Sons will tell us whether they contribute to the plot of the film or not.

Pyaar ka Punchnama 2 review: Lovestruck men, bimbettes and silliness amount to light-hearted fun

In Pyaar ka Punchnama 2, the Hindi word for a man in love is ch$@#ya. As someone puts it succinctly in the film, “kuch ch$@#ye auraton ka ch$@#yapa sokhne ke liye istemaal karten hai.”

While in its first edition, 2011’s sleeper hit Pyaar Ka Punchnama, the man in love was the dog or the substitute ‘good friend’ who cried, Pyaar Ka Punchnama 2 has made some progress. This time, he doesn’t cry. Instead he shops, paints nails, sets up matrimonial profiles for his girlfried, says “I love you”, is a yes man and wags his horny tail. And so the peppy theme song continues: “Ban gaya kutta…

In the writer/director, Luv Ranjan’s world, the ch$@#ya is the Frustrated, Used Boyfriend (FUB). If the popular and hilarious five-minute monologue in the first Pyaar ka Punchnama depicted the level of male frustration, the eight-minute monologue in the second bursts out of the Indian male waiting to bash the female. And yes, it’s funny in some parts. But way too one sided — like a half fried egg, dripping all over the faces of pretty women.

Basically, the concept is just another version of the marriage jokes that we’ve all heard a hundred times over. There is one thing thread running through all the punchlines: the joke is on the women. PKP2  uses this well in the context of today’s youth and relationships. The fundamental misogynist principle remains the same.

Pyaar Ka Punchnama. Screengrab from YouTube

For instance, the monologue of frustration starts with, “Problem yeh hai ki woh ladki hai.” Gogo (Kartik Aryan) launches into the hate speech for which the audience has been eagerly waiting since Pyaar ka Punchnama. His back literally against a wall — it has on it a sign that reads “Dead End” — Gogo raves, rants and holds up the baton for Team FUB. Well done, boys (aka the writers Rahul Modi, Tarun Jain and Luv Ranjan). Only, are these ‘problems’ really real? It seems that the monologue had more truth than the script that supports the hate speech.

So, yes Gogo, Chauka (Sunny Singh) and Thakur (Omkar Kapoor) find girlfriends and lose their peace of mind. Chiku (Nushrat  Bharucha), Supriya (Sonali Sehgali) and Kusum (Ishita Raj) are women and of course, no one understands women. So why even bother? Let them just do illogical things since they’re from Venus.

So Boy 1 (Thakur) meets Girl 1 (Kusum) in a gym. She squats; he stares at her derriere; they end up in the girl’s bedroom. Here, the boy says something about the girl being from the ’70s. Then, he promptly puts on a cassette player (belonging to the ’70s) and the two of them do some exotic dancing for each other. Soon enough, the boy is wearing a Tshirt that says: ”In the end, it’s all about s*x.” Point taken. He’s a clever Engineer who can prove his prowess in the boardroom and the bedroom, while Girl 1 only shakes her booty, earns less than him and eyes his gold card.

Boy 2 (Gogo) meets Girl 2 (Chiku). He goes beyond veg or non-veg jokes and instead delivers some fruit talk as pick-up lines. She giggles. Love strikes. For all his flirting, he is a really good boy who is ready to go to any extent to please his girl. She doesn’t think beyond shades of blues and pinks, talks in a baby voice and shops till he drops.

Boy 3 (Chauka) meets Girl 3 (Supriya).The two dance to “Didi tera dewar deewana” at a wedding. She lets him drop her home. Next, they are having wine in his home. Lusty glances replace conversations. Love strikes. He is the sincere sort who wants to marry the girl. She has some unexplained fears regarding her parents, but no qualms about flirting with Boy 3.

It’s that easy to fall in love.

But not that simple to sustain the relationship because women are demanding creatures and men are suckers. He’s got to love her, love her best friends, which include irritating bimbos and a childhood male buddy who sleeps in her bed. Loving her means loving her parents, who want her to marry someone else and just pretend to be her brother instead. Love is handing her your wallet when she claims to want to split the dinner bill.

The ‘problem’ is that while such women may exist in fact or fiction, it all feels rather forced, superficial and designed to play to the frustrated men in the crowd. As Pyaar ka Punchnama 2 continues, the women get dafter. Chiku doesn’t know Sachin Tendulkar has retired. Kusum gets more greedy and manipulative. Supriya becomes more and more coy.

It’s rather convenient that all the boys are simply wonderful people while the women are bimbos or bitches.

The men curse their own weakness, which is not such a ‘problem’ here. It brings out the best in the bromance scenes, both in terms of dialogues and performances. The way Sunny Singh’s Gogo says “beta..beta..beta..” while aping his girlfriend’s father, is applause worthy. So are innumerous one liners, including one on Sooraj Barjatya and his take on love, friendship and saying sorry.

Men, be ready to relate. At times. Women, be ready to hate. All the time. Hopefully, you can laugh it all off. Together.