Serious Men (2020 Netflix Original) Movie Review: The Angst of India’s Voiceless

Serious Men releases at a time, when the Uttar Pradesh state machinery has gone all out and try to cover up the Hathras tragedy that has been in the headlines of late. It is also interesting that it comes at a time when filmmakers like Pa. Ranjith and Nagaraj Manjule are giving voice to the Dalits of India. 

Serious Men is based on the novel of the same name by Manu Joseph. It tracks the journey of resourceful Ayyan Mani (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) who works at a prestigious scientific organisation in Mumbai as a PA for his boss Acharya (Naseer). Both come from different class and different caste while Ayan is from the lower caste, his boss belongs to the uppermost caste.Continue reading “Serious Men (2020 Netflix Original) Movie Review: The Angst of India’s Voiceless”

Class of ’83 Movie Review: A Misfired Shot!

Netflix India has garnered a reputation for churning out one after another boring series and films, I am sure that their recent original film, Class Of ’83 can firmly get a place in the walk of shame. And with this being the of the third collaboration of Netflix with Red Chilies Entertainment after Bard of Blood and Betaal,  should lead them to introspect on the quality of their output. Or may be there is an aim to get the audience to unsubscribe from Netflix, if that is the aim they are on their path.Continue reading “Class of ’83 Movie Review: A Misfired Shot!”

GHAR (1978): Finding Home

I have been watching a lot of old Hindi films on Amazon Prime of late, given the lockdown it is strange that Bollywood is giving me solace, it is my comfort zone. I must say that I was surprised by Ghar, a pleasant departure for a film that talks about rape and rape victims and the people close to them. After the horrific Nirbhaya Delhi case there have been many films where rape has been a pivotal point only to take the narrative arc of having a male hero or even films like MOM where the only retribution is the killing of the preparators of crime.Continue reading “GHAR (1978): Finding Home”

GULABO SITABO movie review: A Meandering Tale of Greed!

Gulabo Sitabo on the surface may look like the usual banter comedy between a landlord and his tenant, a relationship often thrown in movies as a side note to generate some easy laughs. But here, it is not all laugh and fun. Because deep beneath the surface, the film reveals itself as a introspective look at the futility of all the greed, and what one really stands to gain at the end of it all.  Kya Leke Aayo Jagme , Kya Leke Jaayega croons Vinod Dubey in one of the songs in the movie.

In one scene, the main character asks an expert on what is the value of the prize that they are after. “Priceless” comes the reply.  As in life, the characters here too only learn the true value  when the thing they are after is truly gone. As the film winds down, we find one of the character finds himself losing his past, everything that he held on to all his life, while the other helplessly watches his potential future disappear into thin air as his girlfriend moves on.

In Shoojit Sircar’s world of Gulabo Sitabo, the prize referred earlier here is that of  Fatima Mahal. As glorious and majestic it the name may sound, the real condition of this age-old mansion is deplorable. And yet, everyone seems to be after a piece of this  almost-in-ruins rundown ‘haveli’.  The caretaker of the mansion is the grouchy Mirza (Amitabh) who is handling the things for the real owner of the property, his wife, the Begum (Farrukh Jaffar), who is seventeen years older to him. Ayushmann Khurrana plays Baankey Rastogi, one of the tenants,who has been living with his family for years,  and one who is  hardly able to cough up the paltry rents of Rs 30-70 that is being asked. So, Mirza is determined to get rid of Baankey and hence the two is constantly at loggerheads with each other.

However, with the archaeology department swooping in in the form of Gyanesh (Vijay Raaz) and on the other end, a property specialist lawyer Christopher Clark (Brijendra Kala) coming into the picture, the race for the claims to the dilapidated mansion literally gets out of hands.

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Unfortunately, this game of one-upmanship between the parties involved takes too long to set up. And once in, we keep going in circles for long lengths making its mere 120 mins seem much longer than it actually is. The plot, like the ‘haveli’ in question, is certainly not going anywhere but writer Juhi Chaturvedi uses the space and time to give broader strokes to her characters. It isn’t until the fag end of things when things finally get a move on. But by then, one feel it maybe a little too late.

The real problem is the distance audience have with the characters. Juhi is content letting the characters be as they want to be, not confined to black and whites with no one judging anyone. There is no coloring to make the characters likeable or appealing. So, we are not connected or emotionally invested in that sense to neither Mirza’s or Baankey’s struggles.  Certainly, by design. And yet, when the whole purpose of their rather purposeless tiffs disappears, one is left with a melancholic wave.

Set in the old-world charm of Lucknow, director Sircar draws out a love letter of sorts to the city, with the non-intrusive cinematography of Avik Mukopadhyay, letting us slip into the locales. And writer Juhi takes advantage by bringing in the flavor of the locality and language alive. So many people unfamiliar with the lingo may lose out some of the fun. And the official subtitles certainly do no justice here.

Besides the dialogues, the real strength is in the cast and how seamlessly they get into the skin of the characters. Amitabh spearheads that department with one of his most remarkable of characters in Mirza. Under a prosthetic nose and those thick glasses, hunched, he is hardly the tall, deep baritone voiced superstar that we are used to. He literally becomes the character and is undoubtedly the life of the movie. And surprisingly one with no bones of goodness to him.

Ayushmann puts in a good effort but he never really gets much from the script to chew on. So much so that he has to add something like a lisp to keep things interesting which keeps coming and going. Unfortunately, just did not feel the chemistry required between the lead duo. As always, Vijay Raaz and Brijendra Kala are pitch perfect in their respective roles making them a delightful addition to the proceedings.

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Special mention to the women in the film and the way they are written even though not in major roles. They are not sitting around and waiting for incompetent men to make decisions for them and are more in charge of their own destinies. Farrukh Jaffar as Fatima Begum is a riot with her wit and humour while Srishti Shrivastava puts in a scene stealing act as Baankey’s sister Guddo, one that breaks the stereotypical idea of a ‘hero’s sister’ role in Bollywood.

Gulabo Sitabo works better as a social satire when it is dealing with the citizens vs the govt battle, with the haveli being a stand-in for the nation. We have tenants who are paying rents for 70 years, but still complain of the raw deal they are getting and being denied of basic rights.  The ‘caretaker’ meanwhile is happy selling off assets from the property or even ripping off the tenants for a quick buck.  So much so the tenants are taking about revolting against the ruthless demands and conditions put by the caretaker. And in one of the most hilarious bits, when Mirza is asked why he is hated this much, he states he is oblivious of any ill-feelings whatsoever.

Unfortunately, all of these positives that the movie holds are buried in a rather meandering screenplay. The small fleeting moments have some charm to it (and some even work better the second time around), but it never really comes together as a whole. And that is a pity.

With neither the charm of PIKU, the emotions of OCTOBER, nor the fun of VICKY DONOR, this turns out to be easily the weakest from the Sircar-Juhi partnership.

 

Cast:  Amitabh Bachchan, Ayushmann Khurrana, Vijay Raaz, Brijendra Kala, Srishti Shrivastava and Farrukh Jaffar

Directed by Shoojit Sircar

Music  Shantanu Moitra, Abhishek Arora, Anuj Garg

Now streaming on AMAZON PRIME

CHOKED movie review: Drainage Story!

Choked is Anurag Kashyap bringing his trademark styles into more relatable scenarios. The normal Kashyap fans might be disappointed that there are no bodies falling here, gaalis thrown around, or with the auteur hardly going into the dark gritty side of things that he is usually known to indulge in.

But that does not mean you do not see Kashyap at all in his latest Netflix exclusive.

Fine example is this fabulous scene where the couple is fighting over who said what as they wind down for the day. The husband and wife decide to let their respective ego take over the situation, with both not willing to back down on their version of the ‘truth’. And in between the two is their young son who is having a sound sleep. So, it starts off on that note, with the two whispering not wanting to wake up the kid.

But not for long. Because soon, the parents decide that it is best to drag their sleeping child into this tussle.  And they keep arguing, whispers now turned to full blown shouting, and amidst all this a child that keeps screaming that he wants to go back to sleep!

This scene is Kashyap at his best, except now he is exploring it in a relatable middle-class family setting. New territories for the maker, but fresher perspectives for the audience.  This time it is a middle-class Marathi residential area where their lives are closely interwoven.

And that is what Kashyap ventures into – part thriller, part satire territory. Choked, is Anurag Kashyap’s exploration into a bad marriage and an equally troublesome drainage, political or otherwise.

Written by Nihit Bhave, the film introduces us to the lives of a regular middle class lady Sarita (Saiyami Kher) who is the breadwinner to her family. Her husband Sushant (Roshan Mathews) is a musician who struggles to stick onto any job and spends his days almost doing nothing. She literally must slog it out and it does take the toll on the relationship. While Sarita she struggles out to make the ends meet, all her slacker husband welcomes her is with “why do we still have potatoes for dinner?”

Sarita, we find also dealing simultaneously with a trauma of a past event. One where the aspiring talent in her finds her wings of desire clipped thanks to a choke up at a talent show audition. The incident still haunts her to this day.

However, it all changes with the arrival of an unexpected night guest. Bundles of cash, rolled up and packed up, pops out of the clogged kitchen pipes much to the surprise of Sarita. She seems to have struck jackpot when the money keeps coming and she thankfully accepts them as a solution to the problems of her life. But she does not go on any spending spree. She uses it wisely and sparsely, saving up most of it for later.

Little does she know Modiji has other plans for her!

 

This is also where the structural shift happens. Kashyap brings the demonetisation into the mix and the movie halts down to make a social commentary on the ordinary lives and the immediate effects of the landmark decision on them. The woman who was too busy struggling to make a life to be bothered with politics until then, advises an aged customer at the bank much later that she should be seeking help and answers to all the troubles from the people who were voted into power.

You can’t help but laugh at the situation on how the demonetisation decision is received. On one hand, the husband, jobless and always shrugging his responsibilities at home, applaud the great leadership and the decision and the foresight of how the rich and corrupt will be affected oblivious to the faces of horror from his wife and neighbor whose lives and plans are crumbling down overnight.

The whole thing is structured right from the word go as a thriller, drawing you immediately into the narrative.

Kashyap uses music wonderfully to ramp up the scenes. It starts off adventurously with the ‘The Mark of Torro’ orchestral piece promising us an intriguing ride as we see the money being hidden intricately. This is followed with more jazzy percussion from Karsh Kale giving the sequences a distinct feel. Not much scope for songs , except for the chaos of the demonetisation set against a Nucleya-Benny Dayal tamil dance track ‘Nerungi’ and a ‘Achhe Din’ observation set to nursery rhymes in the track “500-1000”.

However, keeping the shift from thriller to social satire going on, Kashyap is unable to finally wrap it up with a convincing finale. For the free-wheeling, money dealing story fails to come with a fitting pay-off. It plays out more as one of convenience and makes the earlier issues we dealt with until then all seem irrelevant. Even the whole ‘Reddy’ angle all fails to contribute much to the final outcome.

So yes, as much as one has reasons to have some disappointments with the finale, there is still a lot this movie has going for it.  Like the screenplay and the acting that keeps you firmly engaged with the proceedings. And also some fine work by cinematographer Sylvester Fonseca with the framing of the tight interiors.

Saiyami Kher holds the fort with a wonderful performance in the lead role of Sarita. She embodies the character and sells it well.  Roshan Mathews, making his Hindi debut, does a decent job given the character that he was handed out to play. But the real scene stealer here is Amruta Subhash who hits it out of the park with her portrayal of the neighbor. Rajshri Deshpande chips in with a short role.

On a side note, it is surprising that it took until now for a movie to talk about demonetisation on celluloid in Bollywood. While other regional industries were bold enough to comment, joke or deal with this issue from 2016,  big brother Bollywood has only finally managed to even acknowledge the event. Thankfully, Kashyap is restrained and does not hijack the story to make it a propaganda film and is happy with the sly jabs every now and then.  But still again, it goes about to show how filmmakers are ‘choked’ into putting out their voices more freely out there.

As far as the film is concerned, Choked is more a film that deals with the strangles more than merely the struggles. It talks about the strangles money has on relationships, the strangles the government has on the lives of ordinary people, the strangles the corrupt few have on the general majority as the money flows from the top to the lower levels. Unfortunately, no plumber is going to fix the issue.  Neither will eating mushrooms. Unless of course, your idea of a leader is…Super Mario!

 

Cast: Saiyami Kher, Roshan Mathews, Amruta Subhash

Directed by Anurag Kashyap

Music score by Karsh Kale

Streaming now on NETFLIX

WHAT ARE THE ODDS? Movie Review: Bunty Aur Bubbly!

Bunty – well, we will get to that later!

Bubbly, however is Vivek. The leading lady of this tale. Yes, that is right, Vivek is a ‘SHE’. And we have this freewheeling, socially awkward schoolgirl deciding to bunk her scholarship exam when we first meet her. However, her misadventures also cost the head boy Ashwin (Karanvir) to miss his exam as well.Continue reading “WHAT ARE THE ODDS? Movie Review: Bunty Aur Bubbly!”

Kaamyaab (2020) Movie Review: When the lights go off!

Oh, those faces!

Those familiar faces we have seen numerous times as we revisit the movie classics and hits from yesteryear. Faces that are very much part of the movies that we grew up with. Many of them without whom those iconic scenes are never complete. And yet unfortunately,  many of them remain faces with their names still unknown to many.Continue reading “Kaamyaab (2020) Movie Review: When the lights go off!”

Iss Raat Ki Subah Nahin (1996): Sleepless in the city of Bombay

There are some movies which get a cult following, but probably do not receive much adulation during its time of release. Though Sudhir Mishra’s Iss Raat Ki Subah Nahin is still talked about, I still feel that the film has not got the love it deserves. Even though I have watched the film in bits and parts earlier, now thanks to the lockdown I watched this film again on Amazon Prime. The noir film might seem normal now, but back in those days it was supposed to be path breaking.Continue reading “Iss Raat Ki Subah Nahin (1996): Sleepless in the city of Bombay”

Love Aaj Kal (2020)

***Spoilers galore

Love Aaj Kal is probably Imtiaz Ali’s most honest movie and hence his most vulnerable. It is naïve, but in an inquisitive way. It is so easy to dismiss the film and the characters as idiotic. The two lead characters don’t even feel like any real people we’ve met. They are foolish 20 somethings looking for eternal love. They are manifestations of the hopeless romantic (read IDIOT) deep down within Imtiaz Ali, who wants unconditional, uncompromising love forever and after. While Zoe (Sara Ali Khan) is the feisty exterior confidently facing the world, Veer (Kartik Aryan, present day) is the extremely under confident interior constantly in chaos, looking for answers which don’t exist. Together they go through intense turmoil trying to find ever-lasting, eventually settling for something transient but real.

I love the fact that Imtiaz Ali still prefers big narratives rather than small intimate ones. He is still a legitimate big screen film-maker. He structures this movie in a typical hindi pickchur way, with a big betrayal halfway. But the mechanics within are very fresh. Though the concept of two love stories influencing each other is reused from Love Aaj Kal (2009), it is much more potent here. The flashback serves as a romantic booster as well as a cautionary tale subverting our expectations dramatically. This narrative within a narrative gives a wonderful quality to the movie. It feels like watching a movie in a conversation with itself. Every argument for ‘LOVE’ has an equally strong rebuttal from ‘LIFE’. In the world of Imtiaz Ali, ‘LIFE’ is our reality, the never-ending, almost inescapable cycle of existence, while ‘LOVE’ is moksha/nirvana, the only thing that can redeem the gross human within us. Imtiaz has always been team ‘LOVE’. He has celebrated and romanticized it to crazy extremes (love can make your WBC count go up – Rockstar). He has always treated ‘LIFE’ as an irritating hurdle to be crossed (think of all his heroines and their ex-lovers), completely inconsequential in the larger scheme of things. But first time, he has given ‘LIFE’ its due. He sincerely accepts that there is nothing permanent about ‘LOVE’, and ‘LIFE’ is a reality to be dealt with, not escape. His pain and grief in accepting this is visible in the broken characters, who undergo intense turmoil within and in case of Veer (Kartik Aryan, present day), he is almost dysfunctional in the real world.

Most people think that Imtiaz Ali has overstayed his welcome. His movies keep getting more and more difficult to relate with. Breezy romances have given way to traumatic love stories. His characters are getting more and more internalized. In his last movie – Jab Harry met Sejal – he shut out the audiences completely from the inner lives of the two lead characters.  Interestingly, in Love Aaj Kal (2020) he writes himself in the movie. Raghu (Randeep Hooda) is clearly a stand-in for the director himself. A man with a penchant of mythologizing true love through stories, but with no lasting relationships in real life. His breakdown towards the end while narrating the final parts of his doomed love story is Imtiaz’s most bare-naked moment on screen. When Raghu (Kartik Aryan, flashback) recounts how he kept staring at Leena’s picture for hours before going to sleep, I could imagine each and every male lead of previous Imtiaz’s films staring at the picture of their lover, in almost psychopathic fashion. In crude terms, all his male characters have been losers in love, and no points for guessing where it comes from. And this is true value of an auteur. The cringy, uncomfortable personal truths emerge out of narratives. Till date, though Imtiaz has always stayed true to himself, he never showed an awareness of his shortcomings. He in fact doubled down on romanticizing true love just to shield himself. But in Love Aaj Kal (2020), he has everything on display in spectacular fashion.

One aspect of the movie that instantly nagged me was the overbearing parent trope. Zoe’s mother emotionally blackmails her to stay away from relationships till she finds a financial footing (I know all Indian mothers do this). As a result Zoe is terrified of serious relationships. It reinforces that we are shaped not by of our experiences, but rather by domineering parents.  I’m not opposed to the idea completely, but the way movie uses it as a screenplay trope was troubling me. But since then thinking about the movie as a whole, it fit nicely with the movie’s running theme of Indian social conservatism vs modern liberalism. The characters in the modern India milieu are free-birds to seek love, but still held tightly on leash by their parent’s experiences and baggage. Should the young ones be left alone to explore the world and make mistakes OR is it the responsibility of the parent to influence them based on their past experiences? The movie makes a convincing argument either way. Both Zoe and Veer carry their parent’s experiences as baggage which is so heavy, that they are incapable of a stable relationship. On the other hand, the dramatic flashback story from their other father figure, helps them gain a perspective about love and relationships. It encourages a reality-check when looking for long-lasting relationships. So I guess the movie advocates for a sort of modern conservatism, the cool father figure.

Many of you might feel that all this analysis is just a pedantic way to cover up the fact that the movie doesn’t work emotionally. I have read many complaints that the movie is just not relatable and the characters are a bunch of bumbling idiots, behaving like confused trauma patients. I understand this completely, but there are many moments throughout which hit me viscerally and aligned me emotionally to the movie. Especially the flashback. We’ve seen movies like Alaipayuthey (Saathiya in Hindi) and Sairat, where things don’t remain rosy after a hard-fought union. But here, we see Raghu deserting his first-love in cold-blood. It reminded me of times when I sat hand in hand with a person, but not feeling an iota of affection. At that moment it felt natural to move on to greener pastures, but it doesn’t feel the same in retrospect. It brings an ache of a wrong-doing. It was the moment I lost my innocence, a part of me died there, and it was painless then, in fact a relief. But as the years passed by, a guilt and a shame stayed with me associated to the memory.  The movie of course turns it into a yearning for lost love, which I didn’t really mind in the context of the movie.

There are many ways to dismiss the current day characters of the movie, Veer and Zoya. They don’t feel like real people at all. Veer is pre-packaged damaged goods, too young to be looking for inner truths. Zoe’s single mindedness about career becomes laughable after a point. It feels she has already seen Marriage Story and has concluded that love, marriage and career cannot sail in the same boat. Left leaners will make them out to be privileged numbnuts. Right leaners will view them as overly mollycoddled youth unable to handle life situations. I am ready to concede all the dismissals, but still many scenes between them felt real and lived. The most memorable one was the scene when a drunk Zoe asks Veer to hold her, but he refuses because they are not ‘together’. It is heartbreaking to watch Zoe refused solace in a moment of weakness, but at the same time we see Veer too battling with himself and Zoe to earn respect. Ironically, the scene is preceded by one which has another man ditching Zoe in middle of nowhere because she wouldn’t submit herself to him. Sabko full Zoe chahiye!!

Maybe I’m overselling the movie here, and it’s possible that Imtiaz Ali doesn’t need art, but needs a therapist. But I’m so glad he has made an attempt here to face his incessant notions of ONE TRUE LOVE, head on, and in the process acknowledging impossibility of his desired utopia. The movie ends on a very humble note, not once suggesting a happy ending. For all we know, Veer and Zoe break up once again when back from Manali.