Finding Fanny (2014 India): Review

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A lovely little movie to stumble upon. That sweet find. It brings to mind the old movies that had a Parsi family set up that are so much fun to watch.

This is a hilarious movie. Again, the way I want to be made to laugh. No stunts here, with dogs, or fart jokes or belittling of anyone (except themselves perhaps! and each other of course).

Some excellent performances by Pankaj Kapur, Naseeruddin Shah, Dimple Kapadia, Deepika Padukone & Arjun Kapoor. In short, everyone.  Pankaj Kapoor especially, one tends to forget that he worked in both Maqbool and Office Office. His diction is delicious, and he nails the character superbly. He is Don Pedro.

Dimple Kapadia, similarly does a commendable job on Rosie. With her performances one always feels like it can dip and dim, there is no saying when she might falter, especially in not heavily written / dense movies such as this one.  She keeps the thread very well in this one though.

Naseeruddin Shah, is quite surprising, and for him, after so many excellent movies to his credit, is something of a rare thing. By now we have seen him in almost every role or that is what it feels like. We have seen him as the blind man, as the joker, as a bohemian photographer, as a rickshaw driver, as a main villian, a poet, as a common man. I mean, it feels like he has played so many people in our world. And yet, he comes in again here, in a completely new persona, let us pray that fatigue never touches him.

Deepika Padukone is a surprise in the beginning of the movie, she is so completely calm. I love particularly the scene where she casually cuts of a rooster’s head and walks with it. Or the time she stops Ferdie from crying. Many gems of scene to be found. Calm she may be, but I missed the vulnerability a little. Too confident perhaps? Her scenes with Savio were the weakest of the lot.

Arjun Kapoor is fine. Really, that is it. He is there but not quite so, and it is always fun when he decides to talk.

Now, lets get to the story, it is a road trip movie, well written with lovely characters. A Story!!! Finally there is a story. And there is some hilarious repartee.  There are some exceptional places to see, this is always great. The small town in Goa is very similar to all the coastal small towns that I have seen.

There are some experiments that have been carried out with imagery. Such work was seen in ‘Being Cyrus’ as well, the first movie of director Homi Adjania. And in this movie as well, it is fun. It doesn’t nail anything, and remains quirky at best, but still, it is something fun to see. The costumes are great. It could have been shot better. It could have been visually tighter. The direction is great.

The whole movie is in english by the way! But never for a moment does it feel strange. Imagine that!

What a what a fun movie to watch.

 

 

 

Review of ‘Shaadi Ke Side Effects’

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A highly average movie with very low production values. The dialogue which is also average fare keeps the movie going.

The movie has been produced by Pritish Nandy Communications and Balaji Films. The writer/director is Saket Choudhary who has also made the Part one of this movie, Pyar Ke Side Effects. Pyar Ke Side Effects was a quirky, funny rom-com which was quite satisfactory and even nice. However this sequel doesn’t quite add up.

The story of the sequel begins with a married couple, and moves on to how they cope with the arrival of a child and how this affects them, and in particular the husband. I imagine the movie is about that. As ultimately it does feel like the movie is about nothing, definitely nothing more than an episodic adventure of a married couple. A deeply flawed married couple at that, or maybe just badly written.

I do think that films with a low budget can still have excellent production values. Many films come to mind here. And the sub-standard visuals of this movie that add to our pain aren’t very forgivable.

The story itself leaves one dissatisfied. None of the narratives are explored to any extent, and after a point one would have started to get annoyed with the continued, consistent and frankly boring angst of the husband, which is what is explored throughout the movie, if it was not for the unassuming and earnest performance put in by Farhan Akhtar. You do stay with him throughout the movie. However much you want to sock him in the eye for his lack of any kind of relationship with his child!

The commitment phobic male unsure of being a father is a great plot for a movie and it has been used often enough with great success. ‘Nine Months’ of Hugh Grant comes immediately to mind. ‘He Is Just Not That Into You’, ‘Juno’ are some other movies that come to mind. Although there must be hundreds more! And for one of the very beautiful, deeply delved into exploration, there is ‘The Hours’ albeit from a female perspective. A reluctance however to delve into the characters except as caricatures of urban myths, lets us down quite badly in this movie.

Vidya Balan is not someone I have enjoyed watching a lot. And the same continues with this movie. But the one factor that binds both the lead actors is that they are what we have today as an alternative to the star system that exists in Indian movies. These guys are able to or are given the opportunity to become just the characters. They have become synonymous with, and champions of, the half-commercial/half-independent movies.  They aren’t great substitutes for Amol Palekar, Deepti Naval, the charming Farooque Sheikh, Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri, Smita Patil, Shabana Azmi and so on. And so to expect anything more spectacular than what they give us here is a wasteful exercise.

However, the ultimate downer in this movie remains to be the story and writing. A very mediocre effort. More than that this was not a very needed sequel to the original Pyar Ke Side Effects. It comes a few years too late and isn’t that funny.

This can be a big time miss. Better to wait for it come on TV.  Even then, only if you want to.

Highway is just plain wrong and Imtiaz Ali has lost the plot!

Review of Highway, movie 2014

There are many choice words that come to mind while sitting down to write this review for ‘Highway’, Imtiaz Ali’s latest movie. You can find my review for his last film Rockstar here.

He continues to pile up the mistakes! The story premises of both these movies are absurd, weirdly heroic and utterly nonsensical. Not enough good writing on either!

A young girl is kidnapped by a rough villager and a petty criminal. Alia Bhatt doesn’t have the depth as an actor that is required to potray the multiple complexities of what she has to deal with. Her potrayal is that of a typical Bollywood heroine, who is cute and bubbly, just in a different & strange circumstance. For those who don’t watch Telugu and Tamil movies, this particular type of characterization of a female lead is common place. Really.Most of the tamil/telugu heroines are slightly mad/off and take strange decisions in their screen lives with the sole intention of helping their directors/writers make their movie stranger/more different from any other movie. So first let’s establish the fact that what Imtiaz Ali does is not any different from these film makers in that regard. He is definitely not avante garde, honestly he should just stop trying. Give us and himself a break. He should try and be a bit more happy. Take a leaf from his own heros/heroines’ stories. Take a road trip by himself. Liberate himself off these expectations that he saddles himself with. Something.

Alia Bhatt and Randeep Hooda both have stilted dialogue delivery. They appear great in wide angle shots with no dialogue but the minute they have to open their mouths they become what they probably are in real life because they definitely do not become the characters they are supposed to potray. A haryanvi/delhi accent does not make you authentic. While Alia gives a one note dialogue delivery of madness and cuteness, Randeep gives a one note dialogue delivery of anger and whatever else (always sticking to that one note, one can’t find a layer if one digs even a hundred meters deep!).

The problems of the actors are far more forgivable however, than the problems of the story. Imtiaz Ali thinks he is delving into deep social economic problems (which are forced into the script) while he is not. In fact, this movie was a bit like watching ‘Guru’ where one came face to face with Mani Ratnam’s lack of any real grasp of the idea of capitalism. This film similarly gives a taste of Imtiaz Ali’s incomprehension of any deep/dark psyche of human nature  along with his complete lack of any socio-political understanding of society.

The story combines elements of ‘Lady Chatterly’s lover’ (for those of whom who haven’t read this, it is about a repressed lady in classist England finding love and sex with her gardener on the estate who is from the lowest of the classes) and of course the Stockholm Syndrome. The casualness with which the latter is dealt with is baffling. Why would one take up such a complex matter as Stockholm syndrome and want to play ball with it? Alia’s character has a reasonably hard time for a day with the kidnapping, and then in a heartbeat is chipper like sunshine. What bullsh*t. One wonders where the part of the brain that warns you when you are in danger has gone. Does she even realize the graveness of the situation she is in? Does the director realize this? Are we all supposed to have this mindset towards criminal abductions? Charm your kidnapper, be cute as kitten and hope for the best? We are supposed to believe this? To add insult to injury, Alia after the first day of abduction, starts saying things to her abductors like – ‘I want to come out in the open with you and don’t want to be in a closed room, I want to see more. Are holidays supposed to be like this? For me they have always have been about hotel rooms’ etc (one wonders if she just couldn’t have taken a euro train like Kajol in DDLJ and gotten it over with, but this is too sane a choice for the mad cap, strange character played by Alia). Liberation, for a rich kid, who has gone through abuse as a child. My god! Who sits around decides the stories for these movies? Imbeciles? They must have added abuse to give it depth. Definitely felt like a forced plot intervention!

This is a bad story, that is badly or hardly written. There are possibilities with explorations of characters and situations that just don’t happen. And as an audience (with or without money) if I am investing my time and emotions in your film, then don’t be lazy about it. Think some things through. Do some homework on the story itself, get your dialogues written. This basic courtesy I expect. I am least interested in your inner angst and demons. Why should I be?

This is not Imtiaz Ali’s venturing into the darkness but him delivering his brand of lightness from a supposed darkness that he can’t comprehend. He is making a love story still, but just doesn’t want to admit to it. What this inner fight of his translates itself into, for us, movie goers is not a pretty image.

I would like to close this by mentioning my earlier words on Rockstar –

If Imtiaz Ali is bored by the kind of romance that he worked with initially, then we are in for some strange movie watching experience courtesy him in the future. “

With Highway he has proved me right, this movie is stranger than strange. And a lazy, dishonest effort on the part of the film maker. Can’t really say about awards (really who can!) but he is definitely collecting bad karma for this (and Rockstar).

Review of Hasee Toh Phasee

Hasee Toh Phasee

One wonders about the name of the movie. Why this name? But otherwise, this is a pretty damn perfect romantic comedy.

All good romantic comedies have some often used tropes –

1) The girl or boy is a bit off. By off I mean – nerdy, strange haircuts, irregular habits

2) The girl and the boy don’t immediately fall in love, or even if they do, they take a real long time to admit it to themselves

3) The boy and the girl, both help to realize each other’s dreams (I wanted to be a business manager but I have been a playboy because I was bored, or I have always wanted to be a doctor, but I was too busy being lazy, so on and so forth, which they all overcome after they fall in love)

4) There is something big that keeps the boy and the girl apart (a girl is pretending to be a boy so the boyfriend has to deal with being a homosexual, both are of the same sex and hence face a lot of issues, one is much elder than the other and other such things)

If you have watched as many Korean Romantic Comedy movies as I have, you would realize that these are pretty much constant in every good romantic comedy. And also, how easy it is to achieve this on some level (or it should be easy).

Coming to Indian movies, it has always baffled me as to why these simple things could not be achieved so easily. Why it took such great effort for us to achieve such simple story telling. Why we always had girls and boys who are perfect, who dress extravagantly and have perfect hair at all points of time. Unreal sets and unreal characters. Where is the fun!!

But this film has hit the nail on its head. With the astounding supporting cast who come with perfect comic timing, to the simple telling of a story, to capturing the romance so well. It has done it all. This is how I want to laugh in a movie. This is how I want to be made to laugh. Let’s not even mention the unmentionables who are giving us questionable comedy at this point of time.

The humor in this movie is subtle, dramatic, so well crafted and so utterly delicious. The writing is excellent. Often people assume that comedies, and romantic ones at that are easy to pen. But in fact I find that romantic comedy is one of the hardest genres to write for and even make. Yes ,even act in. So to fall across this gem is truly delightful. It doesn’t happen often in Indian movies, and one often has to settle for something as inane as ‘Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani’ (also from the same production house)

The direction, and all other technical departments are spot on. And a special mention has to be made about the cinematography, because here we see the meeting of Karan Johar and Anurag Kashyap streams of Indian Cinema (Yeh Jawani… meets Aamir). And it’s good, nothing to fear. No harm is done. Phew. And we in turn get to see some lovely visuals, Indian cities that look like Indian cities, and still are so beautiful, especially in the early morning and early evening light. We see sets that are true to life, even people. Unlike a polished gang of Kal Ho Na Ho, and other such tripe.

Loved the film and the entire cast. I never really expected to find Parineeti Chopra and Siddharth Malhotra so utterly charming. Happy to see Vikramaditya Motwane and Anurag Kashyap as the executive producers. I am not a big fan of Anurag Kashyap’s films, and not at all a fan of his writing which I find highly limiting. But the movies that he executive produces? they are all gold. Almost all such movies have been great experiences- Udaan and Aamir come to mind immediately. So it goes with this movie also, the visuals are a bit different, true to life, and lovely. Same as the characters.

Again, loved it. WATCH THIS! A great way to spend 2 and half hours of your time. A happy film.

Dedh Ishqiya is tricky and clever but little else.

A sequel is never a pleasant business. The expectations from the first film are very high, and the characters need to float away from the story to accommodate a new installment. All this happens and well in the new film from the Ishqiya franchise. But, to what end.

  

There is an immersion in the culture of bygone eras which is always nice to see, and although there are some interesting characters written into the movie which is hard to come by easily in Indian films, and although the language is music in itself throughout the movie, the movie eventually falls short of its first installment in many ways.

While the first one was a delicious slice of life movie, the second one aims at being a clever mystery. That the two main characters are jokers is told to us by the main villain who lisps, in a direct reference to the Batman franchise. The irreverence is obvious and unsubtle, and this sets the tone for the rest of the movie.  That everyone involved is self -conscious of making a part two version is brought forward to us in many scenes. Therefore we ourselves end up being conscious of watching a part two version a la Dhoom.

The narrative reminds one of Tarantino, his pulp fiction-esque sideways movement of a movie. Stylish gangsters and revengeful poets who land up with machine guns from a moving train, a Malayalee policeman in the center of northern India, makes us feel like we are watching a set of gags filled with quirky characters. Finally Ishqiya goes neither this way nor that. It tries to do many things instead of just saying the story.

    

The pathos of a grand old faded begum and her maid is lost in all the lushness of the scenery. The dialogues skim around the ridiculous to slap stick, loaded with innuendos. The first half almost feels like a peep show into Indian sexuality, a little uncomfortable, a little self-conscious and mostly awkward. A terrible waste considering the effortlessness displayed in the first Ishqiya.

Madhuri shows her ineptness in working in a non-commercial format of which Vidya Balan is the reigning queen. She looks a little lost with the kind of acting required in the movie. A dhak dhak girl pushed into being a begum. Huma Qureshi does a good job but this moo phat heroine routine is frankly getting a bit boring. Arshad Warsi is good, but he gets these insane lines this time to deliver. A lesser actor would have bungled it up. Naseeruddin Shah is all pervasive, and in some ways this movie is more about his character than anyone else’s, but the writing lets him down quite fantastically. The theme of the two clowns is made a bit too obvious, and there is none of the subtlety that was there with the original.

    

The writing is entirely lack luster, un-original and lacks an honesty that was there in the first movie. This was no better than a Dhoom 3. A lush mess of story, story-telling, writing and intentions. This one was a dud.  Have to mention Vijay Raaz though, he shone!

     

Review: David (2013)

David is a quick movie, you can watch it for 1 min, 5 or 30. It is all the same. The reversals are some of the quickest and they keep happening every 2 seconds. In that sense it is like taking a series of rides in Essel World or whatever new amusement park is in town.

Women mouth bad language as if there is no tomorrow, the men drink, kill, make love etc and all very fast. There must be a section of the audience which will get desensitized to violence with this film., desensitized to pacing in a movie along with getting desensitized to bad movies overall. This movie here is a reversal of movies such as Housefull2, except they call themselves independent, different etc.

The movie is filled with such characters – a cool musician type, a cool fisherman type, a cool gangster, a cool gangster’s mol, a cool massage parlor owner, a cool fisherman’s cool mother, a cool everything. And whose idea of cool this? Bejoy Nambiar’s. Read the review of his first movie here. Bejoy Nambiar continues his bad film making sensibilities.

If one doesn’t have stories to tell, it is better if they pick up stories other’s have told, after all there is no dearth of either stories or literature in India.

Bejoy Nambiar continues to ride the gangster wave and coolness wave of Anurag Kashyap, albeit in a very unsure way, and gives us all something to run away from. What would an ideal response to this be for him I wonder? ‘Whoa! it is so cool dude. Awesome m**f**r’ – would this be it?

Review: Heroine. 2012

I haven’t watched too many movies of Madhur Bhandarkar. His credits include, Chandni Bar, Page 3, Fashion, Corporate, Jail etc. He is most known for getting his actresses the coveted National award (Tabu, Priyanka Chopra, Kangna Ranaut). And his tryst with the law courtesy of a small time actress who filed a case against him for rape.

Heroine is like reading the back issues of Stardust (as mentioned in the Rediff review that trashes the movie). It is a story that touches on the gory side of film making. Capturing the gory side of things, their underbelly of politics seems like a favorite pastime of Madhur Bhandarkar. Cases in point, Chandni Bar, Fashion, Corporate etc. Heroine is a heaven sent movie for people who religiously read the Bollywood section of Mid Day Mumbai.

Sure, it’s gossipy, trashy (some scenes are downright titillating) but I found a thread of honesty here. And frankly I probably liked this movie better after having watched the breezy to the point of non-existence ‘Barfee’.

This is a terrifically woman centric movie. Your sympathies are always with the lead actress. The men come and go. But you know who the hero, rather the heroine is.

I have always complained about Kareena Kapoor on this blog. Her choice of movies (Ra One, Bodyguard etc) and her waxing and waning presence on screen. With this role, I am satisfied (ha ha). She completely holds the thread of the character. Makes one realize that she has amazing potential, but is probably let down by the script/directors everytime. In this movie she comes into her own. I can see why she would do this movie, a full screen time is probably hard to come by. I am also extremely grateful to the Gods for Aishwarya Rai not being in the movie. I am not a complete hater but still she almost always manages to brutally murder every role in every movie bar a few. Kareena Kapoor however manages to bring in a certain Chutzpah, certain strength and a certain vulnerability to her character which is very nice to watch. Apart from the fact that she looks gorgeous, especially in her scenes with minimal make up and often dark circles under her eyes.

I am yet to watch a movie where women smoke as much as they do in this movie and never get morally beaten down with imaginary sticks. It is commonplace and treated as such.

I have a feeling the older women will appreciate this movie much more. Why? Because they probably have faced many situations in society with men as the main players and with similarly inherent politics of society.

The comparisons are many, who is who in this movie. And during the entire movie one is second guessing the identities of the actors in real life. This is of primary importance in a Madhur Bhandarkar movie, where he gives a behind the scene picture of the current things in vogue. Fashion, movies, the high flying corporate lives. For a middle class family sitting in an obscure town, this is heavy information. A cinematic tabloid perhaps filled with sensationalism. Stories about their favorite actors and their lives. Of course this movie could have gone deeper, probed harder and definitely given more thought to the aesthetics. But this has to be understood about Madhur Bhandarkar films, he isn’t an auteur, he is a smart guy who is able to get his movies done, even managing to secure national awards in the process.

His movie making sensibilities are minimal, never rising above the story in hand and often rely heavily on sensationalism. But he is true to his sensibilities, and has very few pretensions. This was refreshing in the movie, a lack of pretension. Almost always his movies are dialogue and story driven. To the point that his casting of character actors is often touch and go, bending towards caricature.

You don’t come out of the movie with your picture of actresses, the movie industry changed. You don’t come out with new empathy towards the industry but emerge with your suspicions confirmed. And this is probably the same with all his movies. He goes in with popular perceptions and solidifies them thoroughly through the movie.

However like I said, I liked this better than a Barfee, a Kahani even. Because it is pretentionless and honest to a point with its intentions and is generally an engrossing tale. Even if it only confirms your worst fears about the movie industry. After the release of ‘The Dirty Picture’ one often heard of the life of Silk Smitha was romanticized. Here there is no romanticizing of anything.

Hmm interesting.

Barfee 2011

Barfee is directed by Anurag Basu, whose credits include the hugely popular and humongously long teleserial ‘Tara’, movies like ‘Murder’, ‘Gangster’, ‘Life in a Metro’ and the more recent ‘Kites’

Barfee is a very simple movie, with gags and charlie chaplin-esque humor that can wrangle a laugh out of the most cynical heart. It does start with a morose tone of impending doom, painting a larger than life character, who is so glorified right in the beginning, that surely this would be a burden. But something happens in between the movie that we entirely lose track of this angle about halfway into the film. There is a documentarish feel to the earlier proceedings, with people talking directly into the camera.

The narrative is part documentary and part multiple flashbacks. Add to this a significant part of suspense and you have Barfee. Suppose the story was linearly told, one could even comment on the story, plot, concept etc. But it is the manner of storytelling that really stays with you after this one. Not the story. Actually nothing stays with you except your desire to google autism.

The thing with Ranbir Kapoor’s performances is I begin to doubt very seriously if he is emotionally involved at all. He seems to be so capable, that he breezes through his roles. But it is hard to find an emotional connect with his characters. He appears way too self sufficient and in a way transient. I don’t really feel for his character ever, but I always think ‘a very thorough job of acting’ after I watch a character essayed by him. The most I felt for him was in Wake Up Sid and Rocketsingh Salesman. But this is not to take away from him as an actor, but just to quietly ponder about it by myself in a corner.

Illeana was so annoying. Priyanka was not really needed. It was just Anurag Basu and Ranbir Kapoor. The cinematography, art direction, costumes were incidentally very good. Anurag Basu directed his audience more than the movie, or maybe he equally directed them both. And his instrument in this endeavour was Illeana, the other lead actress (!) who told us what to feel and how to feel at all points of time. Not surprising since she was kind of an audience in the film itself and the film is told through her perspective. But this constant feeling of coming second (as an audience, to Illeana) was tiring. One of the other things that happens with Barfee is you can’t identify the film. Seemingly it is about Barfee. But then it is more about Jhilmil and Barfee. Everybody else except for Barfee’s one translator and the inspector (superbly played by Saurabh Shukla) end up as caricatures. Yes, even Illeana (indirectly that would be us, the audience). It is a love story between Barfee and Jhilmil. So the entire first half is really a time filling exercise (ably done by Basu with excellent physical timing, but still).

On an aside, I have to mention here that this happened with Rockstar as well. A love story was given the title of the main protagonist alone. Same with Barfee. As if Ranbir Kapoor makes film makers go mad enough through his performances to completely change the currents and titles of a film!

I never thought I would fondly reminisce about Black (I found it deplorably manipulative and over doctored) but I did after watching Barfee. I would say real life is between the spectrum of these two. One brings on the heavy and the other brings on the light. And both do it to such an extreme that both products remain unpalatable. Although, have to mention both were very successful, critically acclaimed etc (with Black at least a lot of people realized it was Citizen Kane, and I have a feeling about Barfee that this could be the case as well, an unknown Bangkok film perhaps, with Anurag Basu’s track record it is not entirely impossible. Amelie and Jackie Chan are immediately recognizable already)

I miss Vishal Bharadwaj. I miss Saat Khoon Maaf. Which was a slow one. But an entirely honest undertaking. Something engaging.

There was nothing for the mind in Barfee, nothing to be engaged with, just a few transient laughs. Like I already said, one just wants to google autism. Oh, and one also gets reminded of Sadma and one asks the people seated  next them if they remembered watching Sadma, and if so, how was it? would it have also made feel a bit brain dead?

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