Alia is Sehmat and we are Raazi

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India seriously lacks some good quality spy stories. They are either too laden with forced patriotism or harp on one-note formulaic good and evil side narrative more often than not. Raazi is none of that. Directed by Meghna Gulzar, the movie is an adaptation of the book Calling Sehmat which was based on a real life account of an Indian spy who married a Pakistani official to pass intel across the border in times leading up to the Ghazi attack. And it is so beautifully done. It is this understated story of a girl who is not a professional spy but is trained to ace the art because ‘watan ke aage kuch nahin, khud bhi nahin‘. As an audience member, you are brought onto this journey with this girl who is sweet, innocent, passionate and mission oriented all at the same time. The tension is palpable, not for the implication to the impending war between the two countries but because of what those situations might do for our protagonist that we have grown to care for minutes into the movie.

The movie never dramatises the narrative beyond what is needed and that is the reason why it might seem simplistic in some parts. It plays out as a spy thriller without taking sides. It is not about infiltrating a terrorist group planning an attack from the other side- it is as much a story of Pakistani Army officials doing their jobs as it is about Sehmat doing hers. During one of the sequences entailing a miraculous singing transformation for some kids at an annual day celebration in Pakistan, you see both Sehmat and the kids singing Ae Watan– the essential patriotic addition to the album. It means exactly the same for both the sides, albeit intended for countries at loggerheads with each other.

Coming to the star of the show, Alia Bhat. She is amazing in this one. She has gained so much control over her face, her reactions and every nod of her head that you cannot but marvel at the growth she has shown as an actor in almost every frame. Although one can debate that she has almost mastered the act of that ‘one breakdown scene’ at the end, that she repeats in almost each one of her performance. Regardless, it is her movie and she is aware of it. This is not to take away from the supporting cast including Vicky Kaushal, playing Sehmat’s compassionate husband, Rajit Kapoor as the father, Shishir Sharma as the father in law and Jaideep Ahlawat playing Sehmat’s handler who impresses the most.

The movie is shot so realistically with pretty Kashmiri landscapes, intricate markets in Pakistan or the matter of factly cold Delhi training camp. The music with three songs plays beautifully with the screenplay throughout the movie. Ae Watan will inspire the patriotism while Dilbaro will get you emotional playing on the father-daughter relationship. The first half is more impressive than the second and some elements of the climax might seem a little too convenient and avoidable. I mean, if the dumbo sitting next to you can guess what happens next, you know these are ‘too much in your face’ moments.

A definite recommendation.

Hits- Alia Bhat, subtle storytelling, direction, realism
Misses- Simplistic, drags slightly in the second half, checks off some ‘must to do’ patriotic moves

(Picture credits- Wikicommons)

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Avengers are here and we are ‘infinitely’ happy

Whoa! It’s time. With a decade of our lives leading up to these 2 hours 40 minutes of blissful excitement, we just all hoped for it to be awesome. And guess what, it is more than that, in most parts. This is not a movie, this is an event; and you definitely will want to be a part of it. Fitting more than two dozens of superheroes, one ominous villain that we have been getting terrifying glimpses of till now and a mandatory cameo by Stan Lee in one movie is no lean task. The Russo brothers knew that they were up for this challenge and boy oh boy they succeeded with flying colours.

In a movie like this, it is bound to happen that some characters get more to do than others. So while Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man is being a star, Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow is left with running in the background for most of the film. That being said, what the movie really aces is chartering new chemistry territories with characters who have not been on screen together till now. As a product of that, you have Doctor Strange smacking Iron Man’s back with his cape, Thor and Peter Quill (Star Lord) bantering endlessly and the new age Spidey throwing in all pop culture references that they could fit in. Just reiterates what Marvel excels at- its light hearted humor which has been the lifeline of these movies since the beginning. And why poor DC has to face so much of flak for their dark tone. Marvel has spoilt us and we are not even complaining.

Not to forget, this is an out and out action film. The set pieces, the fights, the CGI- all just come together so seamlessly that you are bound to just sit in amazement and stare at the screen almost forgetting the big bucket of popcorn that you got along. While all that is taken care of, the movie also is surprisingly emotional. What is interesting is how they have humanised the plot which almost becomes a commentary on our existence. There is always a human connect between the characters and why they are doing what they are doing. (Yeah, try writing about this without spoiling anything!)

Now let’s talk about the big baddie- Thanos. Oh my god! They got it so so right. The motion capture performance by Josh Brolin (Cable from Deadpool 2 coming next month) is just perfect. Every reaction, every nuance and emotion is captured so effectively that you are compelled to be scared of him and feel for him with the same intensity at different points in the movie. Trust me, there are points in the film where you forget that he is a completely CGI character.

Serious props to the director duo for getting all of this together and present a cinematic experience that you might not have seen in the superhero universe till now. The movie is long. There is no doubt about the fact that it is also kind of manipulative in the end to give us a hook that we are going to cling onto till the next year when this Marvel Extended Universe chapter wraps up. But on the whole, it is quite entertaining for fans and for peer pressured folks alike. Although, if you have been a fan of the series, you will enjoy it more because of how self referential the script is. To top it all, go to the theatre near you for the palpable energy in the crowd and join in for a collective round of cheer and applause at multiple points.

A definite recommendation with 4 thumbs up (toes included).

Hits- Direction, superhero overload, CGI, Thanos
Misses- Maybe the butt-soaring length, pace in some parts, underutilisation of some characters

Picture credit- Wikicommons

October in April ‘smells’ good!

OctoberTime and again, cinema emerges out as one of the strongest mediums to invoke emotions that are not even apparent in most cases. October is one such example. A movie that revolves around relationships which are fluid, undefined yet strong. The lack of structured definition to the story, characters and their meaning to each other is maybe the most empowering components of this acquired taste.

The story starts with a group of 20-something hotel management trainees dealing with the grueling training days at a five star in Delhi NCR that soon takes a turn for the worse. During a Christmas party, one of the trainees Shiuli slips and falls from the third floor to experience a handful of near-fatal injuries. Here begins the endless waiting (for the characters and audiences alike) for her to get better and how that journey impacts her family, the other trainees and especially Varun Dhawan’s Dan.

Why I didn’t mention the nature of Dan and Shiuli’s relationship is because it is never defined in the film. Still, Dan becomes the last leaf to Shiuli and her recovery propels Dan to come of age in the span of four seasons and two hours of screen time. And it turns into a story of many feelings- unselfish love, duty, patience, longing, ambiguity and the overwhelming helplessness of life and death. Why he is so involved is anybody’s guess and is open to many interpretations.

The movie is shot so organically. Every frame is real, every beat of the background music hits hard and all seasons play out as the most effective storytellers. You will feel every bit of pain and bliss that the characters feel and the closure at the end of the movie is almost cathartic. It is not one of Shoojit Sircar’s movies that you have seen in the past including Piku and Vicky Donor but has the brand of cinema making for sure.

Varun Dhawan has been getting a lot of praise for his performance and he totally deserves it except for some scenes where his ‘acting’ might be the weakest link. I am left to wonder what would have become of this movie if someone else were cast in the same role. He makes some of the scenes which are supposed to be awkward unintentionally comical- and that did not work for me personally. The new comer Banita Sandhu has a huge task laid out for her to act with almost no dialogues in her first major break. And she does a brilliant job. The mother’s, played by Gitanjali Rao, is another brilliantly acted out role.

I would definitely recommend you watch this one. Maybe not in a theatre but at home on one of those lazy days in bed. It is not the first time that a story like this has been played out on screen- the latest one being Waiting starring Naseeruddin Shah and Kalki Koechlin but obviously it never got that attention because it did not have the youngistan’s heartthrob Varun Dhawan! *slight eye roll*

BTW the title and the flower in it have some relevance. Wait till the end of the movie.

Hits- Acting, The way the movie is shot, real characters, background score
Misses- Varun in some scenes, Screenplay

(Picture Credits- Wikicommons)

 

Padmavati: “Nuh huh Khilji!”

Padmaavat-9

The movie that the entire country has obsessed over for 4 months now is finally here. And what a visual treat it is. Every frame painstakingly crafted, every movement imitating poetry and every second dialogue-a one liner mic drop. But. What after that? Now I don’t think, even for a second, that it is a bad movie or even an average one but it is not what is expected out of the biggest magnum opus that the country has seen. Let’s start from the beginning.

Based on the poem of the same name (yeah now the name is the same because we have definitely stopped calling it by its former name! DUH!), the story revolves around the Rajput’s quest for honor and Khilji’s quest for lust for everything ‘nayab’. The story is simple. One ruthless barbaric king is attracted to the idea of the most beautiful queen in the world, defeats the king that the queen ‘belongs’ to but the queen, the most savage of them of all, throws a trump card, and be like- NUH HUH bro! I would rather barbecue myself. (More like Shiela, Shiela ki Jawani- I am too sexy for you, main tere haath naa aani!) Anyway, I digress.

The problem with the movie is its first half which has too many inconsequential set up scenes one after the other not moving the story or the characters at all. And the problem is the quick 2 minutes noodles love that Bhansali’s characters develop to have life long implications in all his movies. One Holi sequence in Ram-Leela, one battle together in Bajirao Mastani and one fateful arrow in this one. Side characters are all caricatures and throw in wooden dialogues with glaring eyes like nobody’s business but with no real effect. There is so much that could have been done with themes of love, loyalty, second wife drama, Alauddin’s relationship with Malik Kafur, etc. etc. but it just falls short. The second half of the movie is much better and the climax is goosebumpy. It is also because the latter half of the move is shorter, crisper and with movement.

In retrospect if you think of it, this movie could have been easily called Alauddin because it definitely belongs to him and Ranveer for playing it like a seasoned actor. (However, Bajirao hangover lingers on slightly.) He is on point with most of his scenes, even the ones which are unintentionally comic. Shahid is good in the mellow scenes but hamming away to glory in the scenes where he has to preach about Rajputana valor. Deepika is a beauty and Bhansali knows exactly how to present her- with gold make up, eye lenses and glycerin doses just enough to water those eyes in almost every scene. And she does not blink. Why Deepika, why? But that is not just her in the movie so I would give it to her.

The movie is a beautiful piece of art. The eye for detail is incomparable. It moves swiftly from one frame to another like an opera and you are transported into the world it aims to create almost instantaneously. But I couldn’t figure out if it was because of 3D rendering or visual effects that a lot of scenes featured patchy frames and shaky camera transitions. So, I guess I will have to watch it in 2D too. 🙂 Coming to the effects. NO Bhansali NO. Why would you not have better VFX? It is a 200 crore film. And if those effects looked pretty on the computer screens of the designers- you should have tested it on a theatre screen. Or they should all start doing a focused test screening for cynical observationists. Music was a let down too. I love Ghoomar and how it was picturised but rest of the other songs were not at all impactful or even required at the points they came in. What compensated for that was the background score. Especially the climax, you will know when you watch the movie.

All in all, I would strongly recommend watching it once to see what cinematic power is and the direction that the film world should move in to provide us with good quality content. And also because this is probably the last time we are going to watch a historical drama in a long long time.

Hits- Scale, Direction, Ghoomar (I have a soft corner!), Acting, Ranveer (Exclusive mention required)
Misses- Story, Screenplay, Side Characters, VFX, Music, Length of the movie- so editing, I would still prefer Bajirao Mastani over this one.

Call Me by Your Name

This post might not be for everyone. And you will see why. Some emotions are bigger than the stories that they drive and some stories are bigger than the lives they chronicle. And where these two intersect, you find pieces like Call Me by Your Name. Written by André Achiman, the novel has been a favourite in the romantic drama genre since it was first published in 2007 and the movie, which has now been recognised on every affluent film festival, does not disappoint either.

Set in 1983, where a 17 year old Elio finds love for the first time in an older Oliver, an American Jewish graduate student who comes to live with the family for that summer to assist Elio’s father with his academic paperwork. It is about just that one summer and how those days define what love means for the both of them. The novel or the movie does not titillate or make its gender roles dominant on the story- it simply takes you on this journey with these two characters. And that is the beauty of it all. You might not agree with the kind of love that the piece has to offer but you will not think even twice before accepting that the emotion is so raw, so palpable and so universal.

The story is about a lazy summer and that is exactly the tone that the director Luca Guadagnino picks up. The direction is so persuasive, in control and human that you will become a part of the story at some point without even realising. There are scenes and scenes where there is no movement in the story but there is so much happening between the unsaid words and the ever on point expressions of brilliant actors- Armie Hammer (the twins from The Social Network, remember?) and Timothée Chalamat.

What is striking is how the much explicit material from the novel is reduced to representative moments in the film. There is a deep understanding that the visual medium does not require over exposition- that sometimes less is more. Many people who have read the novel or heard about the movie keep wondering what the title really means. And that is one thing you either understand or you don’t. It strikes you in the moment and you are left numb with how romantic that thought of absolute oneness with the love of your life can be. A scene between Elio and his father near the end and the last scene of the movie with Elio will seep into your soul. It is inexplicable for the most part. #Feels

The movie is shot on location in various parts of Italy– the enchanting Crema being the primary one. And if nothing else you will fall in love with the place. I don’t even like to walk and I felt like riding that bicycle through those cobbled lanes. If that does not give you a case in point, what will! Another feather in the cap is the film’s music and background score. Mystery of Love by Sufjan Stevens is hauntingly going to stay with you for a long time.

And if you finally realised that this post might be your thing because you are essentially a romantic at heart, you should definitely check out the other two entries I Am Love and A Bigger Splash from Guadagnino’s Desire trilogy of which Call Me by Your Name is the last instalment. I don’t generally talk of the accolades but it is essential here to represent the sheer beauty and power of this movie. The film has received unanimous acclaim. It was chosen by the National Board of Review and the American Film Institute as one of their top 10 films of the year. At the 75th Golden Globe Awards, it was nominated for Best Motion Picture – Drama, Best Actor – Drama for Chalamet, and Best Supporting Actor for Hammer. At the 24th Screen Actors Guild Awards, Chalamet was nominated for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role. So yeah!

Hits- Everything

Misses- You might still be homophobic (I wish tickets were up for you to time travel to the last century); It might never get released in India; I don’t support piracy 🙂

Picture credits- Wikicommons

‘Apple’ of Bollywood’s eye: Newton!

Newton

Let’s get something out of the way- this is not a film for everyone. But this is definitely a film that everyone should watch. Directed by Amit V Masurkar, whose debut- Sulemani Keeda was widely appreciated, Newton is a story that will make you nod in agreement with what it is trying to say at several occasions. The story of a righteous government clerk sent to a Naxalite conflicted area to monitor voting and facing all odds in the process including the security services (which are ironically stationed there to protect him) will make you think. It is a slow film that takes its own time to grow on you but when it does, it has an impact.

The film raises a lot many issues that are prevalent around us- in our own country. The lack of information/knowledge, the total disregard to areas and most importantly people who do not matter to the larger scheme of things, what is wrong with democracy and its projection in a particular light, bureaucracy and the ease with which everyone- including the government officials and security forces- has accepted the state of affairs. It is normal to call a Naxalite area- Pakistan; it is okay to blatantly lie on air to a ‘foreign’ journalist; it is acceptable for the presiding election commission officer to not even conduct voting in an area because it might be ‘challenging’ and because ‘aisa hi hota hai!’ But the reason why Newton works is because it never becomes preachy. It does not have monologues on how everything is wrong, it does not exaggerate a situation in terms of violence, action or even emotions and maintains a ‘straight face’ while presenting the situation from the main character’s perspective.  And mind you, it is not a dark film at all. It has its moments of humour, wit and intelligence.

Now we come to the star of the film- Rajkumar Rao. Oh my God! That man. He does not miss one note. He gets into the skin of the character and never ‘acts’. He has the pulse of the situation, works on the energy of the co-actors and improvises his reactions to perfection. He is one actor who is slowly establishing himself just through his immense talent- he can deliver a mass entertainer like Bareily ki Barfi and a film like Newton with equal ease. And that is commendable. Talking of his co-actors, we have Pankaj Tripathi as the anti-hero security head who is another gem that Bollywood should leverage more. He has such calm about his performance. We know that he is going to be against our hero- but we don’t dislike him- not even for a second.

The direction is layered. The storytelling is simple. You are thrown into the world of a these characters who have their individual ideologies, perspectives, motivations in some cases and hence tactics to deal with the situation. It is nothing but elating to see such films garnering much attention among all kinds of audiences despite not featuring the Khans or the Kapoors. At least a part of the Indian audiences is maturing. Finally!

Having said all of that, if the film was worthy of being the official entry to Oscars or not remains debatable. Even though being compared to an Iranian film- Secret Ballot for its story and characters- Newton remains a top contender for your watchlist. Do give it a shot!

Hits- Acting, Direction, Runtime
Not so Hit- Pacing (not a miss definitely)

Picture Credits- Wikicommons

Sweety ka sweet drama- Bareilly ki Barfi

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This year hasn’t been the greatest for movie lovers or even the general audiences who yearn plain simple ‘fun times’ at the movies. And thank God, this one comes as a breath of fresh air for everyone who was just getting disappointed with movies one after the other. This IS essentially a small town flavoured Dum Laga ke Haisha brand of a movie which talks to everyone sitting in that theatre. It has some amazing writing, on-point acting and great texture and not to miss a runtime of just 2 hours which makes it an ideal watch. The plot is quite far fetched but still seems plausible because of the way it is treated. You never get the time to question the on goings because almost every scene has that one note that you admire. A lot of it has to be credited to the director- Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari who picks up the flavour with much ease. Female directors be awesome!

This is a story of Bitty who is rejected in marriage proposals again and again because of her personality. She is outspoken, she drinks, she smokes, she watches English films (doesn’t understand them completely though!), does not sit with both legs on one side on a bike, has endless night outs and never reveals if she is actually a virgin or not. The question that the character asks is something we all should- does any of it really matter? In an initial scene- sharing a smoke with her father, played beautifully by Pankaj Tripathi, she questions all of this and refreshingly her father does not tell her that thinking on those lines is incorrect. He almost only informs her “hum ye sab nahin maante par samaaj maanta hai, aur jo bhi ho, rehna toh isi samaaj mein hai“. While Bitty is the son to her father, she remains a daughter to her mother- played by Seema Pahwa (again a very very fine actress). Her mother is so concerned about getting her daughter married that she literally questions the marital status of every boy who enters her home.

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Then there are the two boys. One of them is Ayushman Khurana as Chirag Dubey who has by now almost moulded himself in these characters. At so many points in the movie, you will feel that you have seen him do this so many times, wearing the same clothes so many times and that he needs to maybe act one notch down or just experiment a little with his roles. And the other one is the star performer of the film- Rajkumar Rao as Pritam Vidrohi- a nearly apt amalgamation of his two sides in the film- soft spoken Pritam and the Rangbaaz Vidrohi. He does not miss one beat in the film. Sometimes in one shot of his face, he is able to transform himself from one character into another and it is a treat to watch him. Really.

Talking of beats, the music of the film is pleasant and is aptly placed except for the last song in the film which has a montage of brooding Ayushman Khurana. Sweety tera drama is very very catchy and will make you want to dance except for you will be worried for Ayushman Khurana’s shoulder on the verge of getting dislocated. Why so much energy for no reason bro! Take it slow and shut your gaping mouth when you are not lip syncing.

All of this will pack you up with a good dose of entertainment. But there will be some hindrances too. Although, this is Kriti Sanon’s most fleshed out character and role, she will look like a misfit in the set up of the film with her nicely done hair, her designer clothes (especially that wedding lehenga) and her on-point make up. She keeps picking and dropping the leheza of Bareilly throughout the film, which is distracting. Another thing that would look unrealistic is the transformation of Rajkumar’s character. It is only his acting that saves the under cooked and too abrupt a transition.

A special mention to the voice over narration by Javed Akhtar that is effective in most parts and slightly pushed too hard in others with a compulsive need to rhyme the lines.

All in all, watch this one for sure. It is totally worth your bucks.

Hits- Acting, Direction, Dialogues, Supporting Cast
Misses- Repetition by Ayushman, Slightly inconsistent Kriti, predictable plotline

(Picture Credits- Wikicommons)