2 States

There have been many films in recent memory on sub-cultures clashing in Hindi cinema (Vicky Donor and, er, Chennai Express). So we can be forgiven then for feeling a sinking sense of deja vu when 2 States takes us down that familiar path of ostentatious Punjabis vs non-Punjabis. But thankfully, there are two saving graces in 2 States (well, maybe more than two but we all love a soundbite, na?) – the first was the storyline of the estranged father-son relationship which slowly comes to the fore in the second half and makes for some gripping viewing. I thought the relationship depicted was genuinely engaging and gave the film a strong emotional core which it badly needed.

The second is in minimizing the dependency on the book – 2 States is at its most successful when it uses Bhaghat’s novel as a starting point and allows the on screen action to take on a life of its own and to reach a natural conclusion with seemingly minimal force. So it is a shame then when the screenplay tries to shoehorn in some lip service to the book or exhausts the clash of cultures to ad nauseam.  There was also a song too many for my liking  (yes Punjabi chicken dance wedding song, I mean you) which could easily have been trimmed out to make for a leaner film.

The cast bring their A-game to the table to great effect – Kapoor is likeable and unforced, almost a little too comfortable but by no means bad. Alia is very good too, bringing a freshness and gravitas to a very straightforward character. I also thought Amrita Singh and Revathy were very good in their roles, carefully managing to endear the audience without compromising the integrity of their characters. However, it is Ronit Roy as Krish’s father who gives a wonderfully nuanced and understated performance that evokes a gamut of emotions and makes his character come to life.

I do wish 2 States had spent less time on playing to the gallery as this would have made for a stronger film. Having said that though, when I was connected to 2 States, I found it to be a charming and thoroughly modern rom-com with a very broad appeal that is at once its trump card and Achilles heel. This is one of those films you will either be on board with or won’t be able to stand – strange then that I found myself liking and irritated by it simaltaneously but it will be interesting to see if it improves or sinks upon repeat viewing. Give it a try – not the game changer we may have wanted but certainly not unwatchable either.

Bhoothnath Returns

I’ll be honest, I had no intention of catching Bhootnath Returns (BR) at the cinema but that would have been my loss as this lovely film proved to be quite entertaining. The main USP is a heightened sense of social awareness and call to action for the public of India to exercise their right to vote. At times, there is a smug feeling of self righteous permeating and in those moments, BR feels more like a public announcement message than a commercial Hindi film. This is a shame as the point BR makes is an intelligent and well thought out one.

This is not to say BR misses the mark entirely- one thing this film does rather eloquently is to make complicated premises seem very simple as well as an emotional track that allows the audience to get invested without overwhelming the screenplay. The songs are fun and rather well placed, carrying the story forward as well as providing a moment to reflect. Tiwari achieves an uneasy balance with his direction that thankfully veers towards engaging rather than unwatchable.

Thank god also for Amitabh Bachchan, Parth Bhalerao and Boman Irani who perfectly chime in with their respective performances. Bachchan has fun reprising the protagonist role whilst Boman goes for full on entertainment as the corrupt Bhau. But it is the freshness and energy that the young Bhalerao brings that is the soul of BR. Uninhibited, unprocessed and played straight, Bhalerao brings out an interesting chemistry with both Bachchan and Irani that encompasses many different dimensions that is watchable and unique.

I haven’t actually seen the first Bhootnath but didn’t feel that hampered my enjoyment of BR. If anything, it made the Shah Rukh Khan cameo and the flashback to the first film seem like a totally separate volume. One other likeable aspect of BR is that it sets out to be a family film and succeeds in that respect with plenty to keep children watching and enough in-jokes (pleasingly of a non-salacious nature) to amuse adults. A pleasant film then with something important and relevant to say, this may not be everyone’s first choice of film to watch but a rewarding experience for those who do choose it. Liked!

Bollywood Quarterly: Jan-Mar 2014

Overview

Perhaps those of us in the industry who are still foolishly clinging to the idea that female films with women at the centre are niche experiences. They are not. Audiences want to see them and, in fact, they earn money. The world is round, people.

Cate Blanchett, Best Actress Oscar acceptance speech, March 2014.

It is weird that Cate behen was talking about Hollywood when she could easily have been talking about Hindi cinema which seems to be in the grip of a similarly regressive mind set. Those naysayers would do well to observe the happenings of the first quarter of 2014  – our talented ladies are changing the same ol’ same ol’ For-Mula with a chutzpah and class that looks set to write the next chapter of Hindi cinema. Following the era of the rise and fall of Heroine No 1 (thankfully not a Madhur Bhandarkar film – oh wait), get ready for the Premiere League (Humblebrag alert: I predicted this years ago!) where we have not one but an actual group of actresses, all of differing abilities able to command critical acclaim and box office openings plus endorsements and other swag.

 

What the Premiere League AGM might look like. Courtesy of: www.glamsham.com

What the Premiere League AGM might look like. Courtesy of: http://www.glamsham.com

 

The first quarter hosted some interesting examples of the Premiere League in action. Pleasingly, one doesn’t need a 100 crore to enter this league – instead talent, spirit and a desire to challenge norms are all that are needed. This is why a Sonam Kapoor who feels Kangana Ranut needs English lessons has yet to gain entry (nepotism will only get you so far) whilst Kangana runs things like a queen (and is better dressed in my opinion). But I digress! If there is posturing and bitching in this club, then it is on the downlow – the Premiere League of heroines keeps the cattiness to after school as this is all about the sisterhood supporting one another (see how DPad praised Kangana for Queen or Parineeti commended Alia for Highway – for those under 25, this is called camaraderie) and promoting a new and exciting brand of film.

Raise your right hand if you are in the Premiere League! Courtesy of: www.glamsham.com

Raise your right hand if you are in the Premiere League! Courtesy of: http://www.glamsham.com

So what next for the Premiere League?  Here’s a few pointers from an ardent well wisher:

Take a creative risk: Push the boundaries further for the quintessential Hindi film heroine – she doesn’t need the hero to get shit done, the hero needs her and that’s exactly how we like it.

- Bring money to the kitty: Once those sexist producers see how much money a good female centric film makes, this should see a seismic shift of sorts where the budget set aside for yet ANOTHER 100 crore debacle with a willy waving bracelet wearing laconic macho man actually goes to an intelligent and entertaining film with a strong woman at its heart.

Dedication to the cause – No turning back to how things were please; what worked back then was of its time but the world has changed and so should what we see on screen. If anyone can bring about this long overdue change, it is our current crop of actresses – good night and good luck ladies!

Catch Up

So here are the films of the first quarter that you should have seen – and no, you can’t be in the cool kids club until you have seen them!

Dedh Ishqiya – Sisters are doing it for themselves! No literally, Mads and Huma brought sass and class (say class to rhyme with glass to get the full effect) to the follow up to Ishqiya and in doing so, set the agenda for 2014: Sisterhood > Bromance. Plus Madhuri’s dancing was worth the admission price alone. See here for my review.

Gunday – Yes, Ranveer and Arjun need to get a room. Yes, there are historical abominations galore and a script that took Throwback Thursday far too seriously. And yet this was a fun watch with a wicked soundtrack plus Priyanka Chopra was rather good. See here for my review.

Hasee Toh Phasee – Stupid title, brilliant film. I almost avoided this because of the cucking frazy marketing spiel but the Universe knew otherwise and I’m glad I saw this delightfully offbeat offering. A smart film wandering around in designer clothes with a bitching soundtrack, we saw Parineeti steal the show and the strongest case yet for Siddharth to not wear a shirt ever and  not to dance in his films. See here for my review.

Highway – This had more expectation heaped on it than an exam results day but Imtiaz stuck to his guns and gave us a beautiful film to look at and to think about. Randeep Hooda was superb and gave an earthy gravitas but the real revelation here was Alia Bhatt who seemed to undergo a metamorphosis of sorts in front of us – already one of my favourites of the year. See here for my review.

Gulaab Gang – Two screen legends brought together was always going to be a must watch despite a weak script. Mads also seemed disconnected but came to life when face to face with Juhi who gave one of the best performances of her career as the ruthless politician. In fact, watch this just to see Juhi as you have never seen her before. See here for my review.

Queen – The must see film of 2014 which demonstrates why heroines are awesome and deserve far more than the eye candy roles they are assigned. A powerhouse performance, fabulous script and a desire to watch endlessly – do not miss! See here for my review.

The Taz Adarsh Star System

For those who don’t know, in a secret building in Bombay, one powerful man sits alone in an oversized butterfly chair, munching thoughtfully on a jelabi as he thinks about how to use his power to make and break careers overnight. His power is absolute, his desire knows of no boundaries and his side parted hair needs its own Twitter handle – can anyone stop him?

A candid shot from inside the lair.

A candid shot from inside the lair.

You can, dear reader, you can. After risking life and limb to bring you the true meaning of Taz’s box office terminology glossary last year, this franchise now has a sequel as we look to what Taz Uncle’s star ratings given to a film actually mean. That’s right – where a five star review can be a kiss of death and a no star could be a cruel barb against one of the greatest films of our time, Taz plays a wicked game with us all Chris Isaak style – until now. Read on for the truth…

* SoBa – South Bandra, the Beverly Hills of Bombay.

No star – Two things  could have happened here. First, the producers in all their excitement about making a film forgot to pay for a review (rate card available on request) and therefore, they must be punished. So whilst the hapless producer will find his first genuinely-deserving-of praise film will receive a no star review, when he sells his grandmother to pay for a review for a second film, suddenly, there is “buzz” around the project and the unnecessary item song/soujourn to Europe is praised as box office savvy . The rule here? Pay up or shut up.

For the second reason, we must go back in time to when Taz was a 15 year old teenager with a centre parting who wrote his weekly magazine (endearingly titled Trade Guide). Taz wanted to hang around with the boho crowd in school but those cool SoBa kids cruelly rejected his Normcore style (all the rage now FYI) his magazine and sadly, him. Fast forward to present times, anyone from SoBa taking a creative risk and committing to their vision gets their comeuppance with a no star review. That’s right, Taz IS Snape from Harry Potter.

One Star – All these star ratings have two meanings. With a one star, the first is, Taz wanted to HATE this film – he really did. It has unnecessary clutter like a strong script, well written roles and a powerhouse female performance. But gosh golly darnit, Taz was won over by the box of jellabis production sent charm of the film and kind of wants people to see this but not love it as this would mean Taz would actually have to watch decent films ALL THE TIME.

The other meaning? This is a good film. And inside Taz lurks a tortured artistic soul who is locked away with the ALL TIME RECORDS box. But every now and then (approx every Full moon), this side surfaces – and gives out a one star review. If Taz gives it one star, remember, this isn’t Taz but the artist trapped within calling for help…

Two Stars – Here come the crores! Two stars is serious business and is only given after full and final payment is received. It allows Taz to pretend to have credibility and pocket a nice little commission to get some hair gel and jellabis. Also, two stars is a film FOR THE PEOPLE. This means the fate of the film has nothing to do with the the review and for Taz, this is win-win – if the film flops, well he told you it was for the people  and if it does well, he told you it was for the people. Told you so.

Three Stars – No one likes to be ignored at parties, especially by a celebrity. So even though it hasn’t been paid for (don’t worry, Taz will recover lost profit through his TV work – phew!) Taz chucks in an extra star – this means said celebrity will retweet Taz’s tweet on Twitter, say hello to him at Soo-Ciety parties and make him feel included and even praise that avant-garde Govinda reject three piece suit he picked up from a Film City Wardrobe Clearance sale.

Even those SoBa snobs will throw a “whassup?” his way with a three star review. Best of all, Taz secretly hated the film but you wouldn’t know it and think he isn’t such a loser after all – more likes for his Facebook page then. Meanwhile you filmi types just got played.

Four Stars – This is the end of the road for the star system – Taz may have loathed with a passion the film being reviewed from the First Look he tweeted about a nano second before the stalkers fan-clubs but has to say nice things about it thanks to a significant remuneration package by the production powerhouse. Plus he got an invite to the premiere but has two outfit options he can’t decide between – what’s a girl to do? Easy – wear one to premiere and then one to the success party where he will also get the red carpet treatment for a generous review. Plus in true uncle style, he can claim he “helped” the film become successful. Wah Taz Uncle, tussi great ho.

Four stars could also mean he really loved the film. But if you believe that, you probably got paid to like the film too.

Five Stars – Taz rarely gives out five stars. First, it costs a s***load to purchase (price by consultation only) and isn’t really that much different to the four star review package. Secondly, it is rare for Taz to wholly like a film – if it satisfies the box office, then it isn’t creative enough. And if it is a creative masterpiece, it won’t satisfy the box office. And Taz needs to tell those SoBa mean girls they can’t have it all so the five star review will always point out a lack of something.

So the next time you read a Taz uncle review, remember, the rating he has given it has f*** all to do with the actual content of the film.

Watch your back Bogey... #ghettotaz. Courtesy of: www.glamsham.com

Watch your back Bogey… #ghettotaz. Courtesy of: http://www.glamsham.com

My advice? Go see the film yourself and make up your own mind – if a film is worth seeing, you’ll know it.

Fashion Round Up

Fashionista of Quarter 1: 2014 – Sushmita Sen

I would wear those.Just not together... Courtesy of: www.highheelconfidential.com

I would wear those.Just not together… Courtesy of: http://www.highheelconfidential.com

Now before you call the Fashion Police on my ass and accuse me of favouritism, stop and read this first, THEN overreact or I’ll taser gun you. Yes, Sush does not always get it right with her fashion choices. Sometimes, the woman has left me huddled in a corner shaking with horror as I wonder which stylist needs a slap and a Kool Aid for allowing her to wear that unflattering cowl neck high hemline jersey mesh thingy.

BUT.

 

You were saying Bogey...? Courtesy of: www.dnaindia.com

You were saying Bogey…? Courtesy of: http://www.dnaindia.com

That poise. That grace. That confidence. That I don’t care  what you think of what I am wearing attitude. Can you imagine being the centre of attention, all eyes on you, critiquing you, demanding you behave in a certain way to appease a certain way of thinking? Be honest, it is not easy and  it takes industrial strength guts to be true to yourself and be strong in such circumstances. Yet this is the vibe Sush gives us time and time again and it is a wonderful quality to behold.

And when she does get it right, you better put a cushion under your jaw because yowzah!

 

Can't type, jaw hurts from when it hit the floor. Courtesy of: www.glamsham.com

Can’t type, jaw hurts from when it hit the floor. Courtesy of: http://www.glamsham.com

BTW – I am now going to watch this video from 0.16 onwards before a night out on the tiles or an important meeting or just everyday. See also Angrezi Beat from Cocktail.

Fabulous.

Others of note this quarter include:

Amazebombs. Courtesy of: www.indiaopines.com

Amazebombs. That Vijay STILL hanging on yo… Courtesy of: http://www.indiaopines.com

 

Kangana Ranut – These Herve Leger dresses are soooooo over (I use mine as a headband in the gym since you ask) but K-Ran makes me want to wear it for evening once more as she looks gorgeous with fine fresh fierce on lock. Lovely colour, worn with the correct attitude and event appropriate. LIKE.

We can all pull that off, na? Nope. Courtesy of: www.pinterest.com

We can all pull that off, na? Nope. Courtesy of: http://www.pinterest.com

 

Deepika Padukone – Holy headpiece Batman, as if we need another excuse to gaze upon that beautiful mukhda, now we have head piece envy.

 

Hand on hip awesomeness. Courtesy of: www.fashioncirqle.com

Hand on hip awesomeness. Courtesy of: http://www.fashioncirqle.com

Sonakshi Sinha – Oh girl, why you so pretty?

 

Outlook on Quarter 2

So as we go on to Quarter 2, here is what to watch out for – sync those diaries up now yo….

2 States – Yes, I know – Chetan Bhagat is a chump etc. But I read this when on vacay in India in 2010 and thought it would make a good film (shut up, that is a valid reason to watch it). Plus Alia and Arjun were both good respectively in Highway and Gunday. Plus it’s a Dharma production and I need ideas for wedding season so I’ll be watching this.

Revolver Rani – K-Ran with a gun and queen in the title. Anyone who is not planning on watching this should just go live with Taz Uncle in his lair  paid for by his reviews of dhoom of doom and make his jelabis and tea for him. Cannot. Wait. For. This.

Dawaat-E-Ishq – This looks like it will have silly marketing phrases  but the cast are likeable and I love Urdu titles so I’m going to commit to this one.

Ungli – Great cast, this is either going to be a hot mess or a damn good film – here’s hoping for the latter.

The Villain/ Creature 3D – Ridiculous titles and ridiculously hot cast members. Let’s hope Sid doesn’t dance in Villain and gives washboard stomach inspiration once more instead. We’ll pretend Ritesh isn’t there (get chopping Censor Board!)

No Villain image available so guess I'll have to use this placeholder... Courtesy: www.ibnlive.in.com

No Villain image available so guess I’ll have to use this placeholder… Courtesy: http://www.ibnlive.in.com

Meanwhile, Creature has Bipasha Basu in 3D  and is from the Bhatts (so awesome soundtrack/minimal wardrobe assured)- that’s all anyone needs to know and quite frankly, I would have funded this film myself had I been aware of the Kickstarter campaign for it.

And that’s your lot for this quarterly – feel free to chime in with your thoughts below!

Queen

Sometimes, you’ll read about people saying that their creative efforts take on a life of their own after they leave the production process and enter the general realm of consciousness . Queen is one of those magical films. It was a struggle trying to find a legitimate means of watching this film thanks to an unexplained limited release but I am very glad I made the effort to see it for Queen is one of those films that has turned up at the right place at the right time for me. Both entertaining and inspiring, the journey Rani undertakes in the film had me laughing, cringing and rooting for her throughout and very satisfied when we are left wanting to know more not just about what happens to Rani next but all the other characters too.

It is rather impressive how Bahl creates a likeable ensemble and allows everyone to shine without letting one element overwhelm the whole film. Furthermore, I liked how Queen works on lots of different levels – whether it is a small moment captured here and there or the bigger picture where Rani learns something new about herself, this is one film with plenty of repeat viewing value. Writing this a few days after seeing it, I had initially thought there were a few wobbly moments but on reflection, none immediately come to mind as in my mind, the good ultimately overpowers any perceived flaws.

Without a doubt, this is a career best from Kangana – whilst we know she can play the small town girl well, the mark of a great performer is the ability to play a character similar to one that is closely associated with their persona but to reinvent it so that the portrayal is at once fresh and immediate – something Kangana pulls off with elaan. Also to be commended are Lisa Haydon’s delightfully bohemian Vijaylaxmi (who steals the show at times) and the trio of non-Indian actors in the Amsterdam portion who are understated but stand out for all the right reasons.

Without a doubt, Queen is a must see film and very deserving of the love and support it has received upon release. Indeed, the success of the film both critically and commercially bodes well for everyone as this is the kind of film I would like to see more of – a film that can challenge conventions of the genre, allow its audience to get emotionally involved (and keep them connected to proceedings) and above all, be entertaining. It takes a special kind of film to make multitasking seem easy but as I previously mentioned, Queen has a individual spirit of its own that permeates every frame and encourages the viewer to join in. One of the best of 2014 so far and certainly my favourite by a long way too.

Gulaab Gang

images

There is always a guaranteed frisson of excitement anytime two talented female actors are on screen and Gulaab Gang (GG) does not fail in this respect. Just take the first time Madhuri and Juhi meet on screen to see the power this film has in its hands; carefully creating a delightful cat and mouse power play which is steered carefully and is satisfying to watch. Sadly, it seems power corrupts or in this case overwhelms the weak screenplay so that what should have been an edge of the seat political thriller becomes an everything to everyone vehicle which ultimately ends up pleasing no one.

This is a shame as GG could have been so much more – from illiteracy to corruption, there is a huge range of subjects that are skimmed over and one wishes the screenplay had either picked one area and explored it fully or better still,  entirely focused on Rajjo and Sumitra’s respective journeys as these are two formidable characters who are at once similar and different. It has to be said, the better parts of the film are when out of nowhere, everything comes together and hits the right chord. Sadly, the songs and action seem out of place with the former jarring the momentum and the latter more a concession to what the screenplay supposes the box office wants.

In terms of performance, I felt Madhuri was disconnected from Rajjo – though she is perfunctory and gives great dialogue delivery, it is only in the physical scenes like dancing and fighting where Madhuri really becomes at one with Rajjo. Meanwhile, Juhi delivers a career best as the politician who has nothing to redeem her heartless actions but thanks to Juhi’s controlled account, is very watchable and even adds an element of likeability with a determined and rather persuasive effort. Both also excel in joint scenes where the energy is off the charts – if only the director had been able to contain and channel this, GG would have been a classic.

Even though GG misses the mark, it has a spirit and intent that is to be applauded and encouraged – we need more films like this with interesting female protagonists who do not need a hero in the film to validate their intentions or journeys and give scope for entertainment and inspiration. Furthermore, bringing Madhuri and Juhi together in one film is one pairing which still needs plenty more exploring and hopefully will pave the way for lots more actress collaborations which in turn will lead to some very watchable films being made. Not to be dismissed outright, give GG a watch in support of the tide turning for a new and interesting chapter in Hindi cinema.

Highway

I’ll admit that when it comes to an Imtiaz Ali film, I find it hard to be objective. Because to me, all of his work seems to make perfect sense in terms of what he wants to say, satisfies the critic and film fan within and always turns out to be more than a one time watch. And pleasingly, Highway is no exception to this rule; now that we are familiar with Ali’s visual vocabulary and aware of what he is capable of, it only seems fair that he is able to experiment and let his creativity run wild, creating an accomplished piece of work in the process.

Yes, there are flaws but there is too much good to see here to dwell on the negative – whether  it is the story of Veera and Mahabir, the beautiful cinematography that makes the viewer feel like they are on a road trip or even the sound design which has a narrative of its own – each layer is rich and thoughtfully crafted and certainly merits a few viewings to get the intended effect. Rahman’s spellbinding music is the perfect companion on the journey which takes the audience to a different world, especially in the second half.

I was also wowed by the two lead performances – Hooda is superb as Mahabir, with every growl and grimace pitch perfect. Even in the more emotional scenes, Hooda is firmly entrenched in character and never once drops the energy nor demeanor he carefully builds up – certainly a career best. Similarly, Bhatt is a revelation as Veera, giving her a rawness and fragility but also a likeability – I didn’t find her annoying and have to commend her for putting herself out of her comfort zone and largely succeeding in the risk she takes with such an interesting role.

Needless to say, Highway is one of those wonderful films that only come once every often and does not really allow indifference as a reaction – you will either love it or hate it. I obviously loved it and cannot wait to watch it again which I rarely want to do with most films. Highway also cements Ali’s reputation as one of the finest directors working in Hindi cinema today – this is a film I would be proud to show to any film lover and sincerely hope it finds the appreciative and encouraging audience that it truly deserves.

Destined to be one of the best films of 2014 and perhaps beyond – unmissable.

Gunday

So, at some point in time, the 80′s popped round to the YRF office for some macaroons and a latte (samosa and chai?Bitch, please) and Gunday was conceived. But it has to be said, this bursting at the seams homo-erotic homage to bromance and masala cinema entertains with a cracking chemistry, a devil may care drive and some very confused references all round. Best watched without applying too much logic (until instructed – a helpful guide is when shirts are buttoned up to hide oiled up heaving torsos), Gunday really takes its steam train motif powered by coal to the end of the line, with more concern for its destination than the journey itself.

Having said that, there is something very watchable about Gunday and this is largely down to the bromance between Singh and Kapoor which has a magnetism and intensity but seeks to include the audience rather than exclude. Whilst there are some clumsy stumbles  and silly twists in the screenplay and characterisation, these are soon forgotten as the next station of action/song/man bonding quickly takes centre stage and engulfs the viewer so that the moment might be lost but the momentum never is. I also have to praise the costume design which is incredibly distracting in a good way – that large canvas has to be filled somehow!

Performance wise, Kapoor and Singh play off each other’s energies very well with Singh’s physical posturing neatly synced with Kapoor’s more deranged and calculated composure. Both embrace their roles with attack and have a bloody good time mouthing quotable dialogues and grappling one another at regular intervals. Chopra is very watchable and shines in the songs and the few scenes she is allotted. I did feel that Khan and Chopra were under utilised and both sensibly underplay their roles, aware that they are but second fiddle to the true star of the show – the bromance.

Whilst I would have liked more grit and darkness in Gunday (yup, all those coal mine set ups were not enough for me), it is still a very enjoyable watch and manages to avoid melting into a hot mess. With the bromantic genre heavily oversubscribed to, Gunday needed to bring something to differentiate itself and it does in form of making the central relationship feel modern and approachable. When viewed as an affectionate tribute to the masala cinema that burned with anger at injustice and acted as an extended escape from misery, Gunday does no harm with anyone and is probably best watched with that mindset. Not exactly unmissable but not one to avoid or ignore either.