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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.

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'

***

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.