Finding Fanny is a joy to discover!

Finding FannyFinding Fanny opens to the sound of a loud sob and barking dogs.

Somewhere in fictitious Pocolim of real Goa, an old postmaster Ferdie (Naseeruddin Shah) is wailing like a baby because he’s discovered a 46-year-old proposal he wrote to ladylove Fanny (Anjali Patil) slipped underneath his door. Regretfully, it never reached her.

One never grows old enough to stop feeling the pinch of heartbreak and his much younger best friend Angie (Deepika Padukone) duly sympathizes. Ferdie is too much of an introvert, passive personality to do something about anything till he’s persuaded and accompanied by Angie to seek Fanny and the ‘what ifs’ concerning such a scenario.

A fervid painter Don Pedro (Pankaj Kapur) facing somewhat of a artistic block till he lays his eyes on Angie’s cheeky mum-in-law Rosie’s (Dimple Kapadia) conspicuous rear and a grumpy mechanic Savio (Arjun Kapoor) along with Rosie’s cat Nareus are their involuntary companions on this purposeful road trip.

That’s all you really need to know about Homi Adajania’s Finding Fanny, which is the kind of happy-go-lucky trip where the joy of journey is greater than the arrival at destination.

Its free-flowing narrative isn’t a slave to structure, synopsis or introspection but a whimsical expedition where pretty much everything is allegorical or comical and dialogues brim with wry humour, “If you stay alive long enough people forget you were born stupid.”

The slowly disintegrating aqua blue Dodge Kingsway carrying the idiosyncratic quintet, the unreliable, confusing road, the cat Nareus, the middle-finger shoving boy from the feast procession and the eponymous lady they’re pursuing – they all represent bittersweet metaphors of that hysterical adventure called life and how it is best enjoyed when traveling in company.

Even at its funniest, Finding Fanny is not so much about seeking a person as it is about wanting closure. And because life, like love, has no rules, it’s conveyed here in a manner most strange, silly albeit cinematically inspiring.

All five are looking for some sort of a presence or breakthrough to fill in the void they tend to supress yet safeguard by way of imprudence, reticence, exuberance, petulance or enigma alternately. Angie, Ferdie, Savio, Rosie and Don are a peculiar lot, even surreal, but not so far-flung that I would dub them outlandish.

Finding FannyWritten with infectious relish by Adajania and Kersi Khambatta, the key protagonists of Pocolim are wonderfully divergent and attractive. Even under its two hours running time, I grew rather fond of them and snapping out of their zany world wasn’t all that easy.

It could be because Finding Fanny pays a gorgeous ode to a Goa that’s still not known to the average tourist — the sleepy, magical Goa that will let you in if you’re worthy and share its taste for blithe enchantment over sensory pleasure.

Anil Mehta’s Goa is stunning to look at but not overwhelmingly so. Though he shoots outdoors for most part, the interiors, marked with vintage props and art pieces, unfailingly capture the dedicated production design (Manisha Khandelwal).

All of this, it must be said, would feel empty if not occupied by the vibrant traits of Pocolim’s central inhabitants.

And what a terrifically acted one at that. While the younger actors seem understandably chuffed about realising their possible potential, it’s the seasoned ones who make no attempt to conceal their outward imperfections, often pointing them out in our direction, displaying a confidence that renders aging as powerful and blemishes as beautiful.

Pankaj Kapur’s wanton energy lends Don Pedro a rhythm that finds a kindred spirit in Finding Fanny’s unpredictable vibe, Deepika Padukone’s relaxed warmth lights up every frame as mightily as Goa’s golden sun, Dimple Kapadia is a beauty to behold even in the gaudiest of dresses but that’s secondary to how magnificently she plays the most opaque character of this story and Naseeruddin Shah exudes an innocence that’s rare for an actor who’s spent decades peeling off in front of the camera whereas Arjun Kapoor does what olive oil does to Spaghetti Aglio E Olio, he holds the flavours.

Finding FannyHearing these characters converse in English takes a few minutes of getting used to, but the veterans know their pauses and emphasis and so sail smooth.

Deepika and Arjun aren’t exactly known for their dialogue delivery but they too steer clear of affectations and don’t try to sound like Oprah is interviewing them. This lack of rehearsed refinement when they go “I toh don’t know” and “Stingy bugger” only makes them endearing.

Finding Fanny is a fine blend of soulful musings and nuanced filmmaking. And I welcome this clutter breaking space, the First Lady of Pocolim and the Casanova of Konkan with all my heart.

Stars: 4

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Mary Kom: Mediocre account of a magnificent reality

Mary KomLook at it from any angle and it’s an inspiring story of an individual overcoming a series of odds to triumph.

Hailing from an underprivileged background of India’s most neglected regions, wanting to excel in a sport considered inappropriate for women by her prejudiced surrounding, trying to succeed in a world full of discrimination, juggling motherhood with a physically demanding career — Indian boxing champion Mangte Chungneijang Mary Kom’s achievements are so big; anyone trying to emulate her is bound to appear significant.

Pretty much what Priyanka Chopra and her debutant director Omung Kumar aim for with this calculated biopic, Mary Kom.

Taking dramatic liberties with real life personalities is a given in the genre. And so the stylish slow-motion frames and an adrenalin pumping background score playing against Chopra’s striking training sessions at scenic landscapes I was prepared for and willing to put up with. But its continuous onslaught of a fabricated accent, since there’s nothing like Manipuri Hindi and inflated responses reduces a genuinely poignant premise into a run-of-the-mill exercise.

If you are a religious movie buff, you will instinctively see through the soul of a script, its motivations. Mary Kom, the film, is so consumed by its greed for greatness that it completely misses the point.

When making a film about someone who’s given the nation and its people numerous occasions to feel proud of, the purpose of telling her story should be to acquaint us with her intimately, the struggler behind the sports star, Omung Kumar manages it only superficially.

As commendable her physical transformation is, Chopra fails to bring forth the person within. In the beginning, she’s overtly high-strung, almost a madder version of Sweety Bhope, as if unable to contain her excitement over what she would hope to be the “Mother India of her career.”

It’s distracting on screen and it muddles her performance. There’s a scene where Mary returns to her village after a victorious tournament and joins in a folk dance organized in her honor. Far from a local in her comfort zone, her body language is that of poised dignitary on a diplomatic visit. She’s better at translating the maternal facet of Mary Kom – the scene where she learns about her son’s surgery involves no words or theatrics but renders more heft than her clumsily executed fits of rage.

The spirited actress needed a more self-assured filmmaker than first-timer Omung Kumar and a script more disciplined and upfront than Saiwyn Quadras’s to amaze.

Mary KomInstead what you get are the usual clichés – estranged father watches a match daughter wins; the opponent is always a surly-faced dragon, the heroine has to stand up to a oversized villain to prove she’s got what it takes, in this case a Ghajini-inspired wrestler and that humiliating apology scene with an annoying fella on the selection committee reeks of a sensibility synonymous with 1990s action flicks.

Mary Kom half-heartedly depicts the boxer’s relationship with her parents, spouse (Darshan Kumar does well as the benevolent better half), coach, federation and colleagues but one never gets a sense of what goes on in her mind or theirs.

The second half gets a tad more personal when Mary finds it hard to let go of her illustrious career and nurse her twin sons while seeking a job – her frustration at constantly feeding the babies –“am I some dairy farm?” is heartfelt and one of the few occasions when the film lets its guard down but turns priggish moments later.

I would have liked to see more of her incredible multitasking skills and hear her speak about the bias she faces because she’s from North East. I would have liked to see more of Manipur’s lovely lifestyle and culture, the darkness that overshadows it and how these blessings and obstacles shaped her personality. I would have liked if the film didn’t so shamelessly exploit my patriotic sentiments to afford it respect in its final scene. I would have liked something much more concrete than this mediocre account of a magnificent reality.

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Revisiting the angst and fury of Sunny Deol’s Arjun

A poster of ArjunThe angst and frustration of Arjun Malvankar resonated with an entire generation of youngsters.

Manish Rathore, a businessman in Lucknow and one of the greatest movie enthusiasts I know, holding a rich archive of magazine cuttings and yesteryear knowledge, calls it the ‘Zanjeer of my youth.’

He was 17 years old when Rahul Rawail’s 1985 offering, Arjun hit the screens and watched it more than half a dozen times at a Sion theatre during an extended stay in Mumbai. The teenager saw his own extension in leading man Sunny Deol’s simmering eyes and festering rage. It’s also the first time he appreciated the dynamics of filmmaking.

Rathore is not alone. Calling it the movie that “changed her life” choreographer-turned-filmmaker, Farah Khan credits the still slick, still gritty Arjun for her aspiration to get behind the camera.

Seeking justice single-handedly isn’t new but what sets Arjun apart is how shrewdly writer Javed Akhtar (post Salim-Javed split) constructs a specific milieu, its growing unrest and plays on the politics of it.

The film opens in a straightforward manner — black background, white font, zero sound, cuts to a rushing ambulance escorted by half a dozen police vehicles carrying a badly wounded Deol for an emergency operation.

Told in flashback, Akhtar’s story is woven around its titular character Arjun Malvankar, an unemployed graduate residing in a rundown chawl of a bustling basti with his gutless father (A K Hangal), cantankerous step mom (Shashikala) and sympathetic stepsister (Supriya Pathak).

A still from Arjun.Despite his mother’s relentless (somewhat exaggerated) derision, Arjun doesn’t harbour ill will. “Baat sagey ya sautele ki nahi hai, bekaar aadmi kisi ko bhi bojh lagne lagta hai,” he reasons with his close friend, the whistler Mohan (Satyajeet) who stars in the film’s most iconic, most thrilling sequence – the one with all the black umbrellas and sword-held charging goons in pouring rain against RD Burman’s frantic chant of Haw Haw Huh-Huh-Huh-Haw.

Arjun’s band of brothers comprises of four other equally down-on-luck cronies but other than Mohan only Chander (Raja Bundela) gets a few extra scenes to stand out.

What certainly does is Rawail’s depiction of Mumbai, its sturdy landmarks, congested town side, flourishing suburbs and disrupting monsoons with abundant scenes filmed on the streets lending the narrative a realism, a tangibility.

Always a city of crowd and corruption, Arjun is set in Bombay, not Mumbai, around a time when mills were functional and workers thronged to matka gambling centres even as power-hungry politicians collaborated with ambitious industrialists to demolish slums/mills and construct high rises – it’s disturbing to note how much success they achieved in the last three decades.

Hit by a strong urge to act on his impulses and vent the bubbling irritation triggered by society and strained family ties, Arjun beats up a bunch of ruffians roughing up a poor shopkeeper for failing to submit hafta. Here I must add how spontaneous his outburst is, precisely the reason why it is so effective too. (A spotting of Jackie Shroff’s Hero poster plastered on a rundown wall lends it a nice touch.)

A still from Arjun.The incident brings him in the eye of the lawmakers, breakers and observers. Cop (Jagdish Raj) warns him of dire consequences, the trounced party’s leader Ranga (Goga Kapoor) exercises good old intimidation tactics and a considerate schoolteacher (Dimple Kapadia) requests his assistance in rescuing her maid from a land-grabbing bully.

Ab tu is area ka registered dada ho gaya hai,” wisecracks Mohan. There’s no place for humour in Arjun’s bleak storytelling. Life is too difficult and messy in these parts and Arjun feels its greatest hit when he loses Mohan in the aforementioned umbrella-slaughter scene.

No histrionics, no dialogues, Deol’s Arjun broods in silence, staring endlessly at his deceased buddy’s chalked outline, slowly washed away by the deluge of unfeeling rains. He will not forget. I really love how Rawail carves out Arjun’s ‘alone’ moments. Like where he plays carrom board by himself after a fight at home – brief, stylish and potent.

Following a run-in with Ranga where he conducts a mock funeral, Arjun thrashes Mohan’s assassins in public view at Flora Fountain – filmed with seven concealed cameras at vantage points during the busy lunch hour to incorporate authentic bystander reaction, considering nobody knew a shooting was on – WHAT A SCENE. It may not have the poetic drama of black umbrellas but in its rawness lies its enduring appeal.

A still from Arjun.It’s only a matter of time before Arjun lands behind bars for his frequent displays of aggression. His pride and punches make him a perfect candidate to serve the gentle-mannered politician Chowgule (Anupam Kher) against ace rival, a visibly crooked Chief Minister Trivedi (Prem Chopra) – both trying to secure a place in the impending elections.

Taken in by Chowgule’s warmth and generosity and guided by his smooth talking assistant Baburam (Annu Kapoor), Arjun begins to weaken Trivedi’s links. He tackles the foxy Matka operator (Paresh Rawal making a sparkling debut) and sneakily garners wealthy sponsor and drunkard Anand Patkar’s (Shafi Inamdar) support. Notice how most of the characters are Maharashtrian but there’s none of the mandatory let’s-make-characters-utter-a-line-in-feeble Marathi for effect witnessed as recently as Singham Returns.

What the trusting Arjun probably doesn’t realise is politics and personal equations have nothing to do with each other. The scene after some slums are burnt down and the sights of desolate destitute, at first, seem exploitative but that’s intentional. Arjun isn’t aware he’s being emotionally manipulated for his benefactor’s self-seeking purposes.

His access to Chowgule has allowed him a comfortable existence to date an ebullient Dimple Kapadia, a purpose to serve the society and the courage to teach his father’s boss a lesson in civility. But a nasty shocker — one nobody saw coming — opens his eyes leading to Arjun’s nail-biting finish. Since the wonderful Anupam Kher conveys this twist with absolute smoothness, it punctuates the unpleasantness even better.
A still from Arjun.Perhaps Arjun left a strong impression on director Rajiv Rai – the Naseeruddin Shah-Suniel Shetty arc in Mohra seems to be hugely influenced by the Chowgule-Arjun camaraderie. There’s even a dialogue to back my observation — Aapne ek chhota sa *mohra* aage badhaya.

I watched Arjun much later but its key song – Mammaya Kero Kero Kero Mamma was nothing short of an anthem in my childhood. No antakshri session, group singing at school picnics or hangouts with colony friends was complete without piping out the defiant, rebellious Rahul Dev Burman slogan. Even today, the Shailendra Singh-performed chartbuster is among the 30 RD songs constant on my playlist.

What does Mammaya Kero Kero Kero Mamma mean? The catchy phrase appears to be a somewhat distorted version of Mamãe Eu Quero in Portuguese, also a song performed by Brazilian artist Carmen Miranda, translated as Mom I want. Presumably, Javed Akhtar uses it as an exotic substitute for ‘Ma Kasam’ before pronouncing its more mutinous attitude – Duniya bura maane toh goli maaro/Dushman ko yeh bata do dushmani hai kya.

A still from Arjun.Unlike its spunky background score, judiciously used to stress on the ensuing drama (later featured as stock music in numerous films), Arjun’s three other songs fail to match in charisma. Bhoori Bhoori Aankhonwala Ek Ladka is tuneful but average and the riddle ditty Munni Pappu is introduced to underline Arjun’s desperation since he responds to every brainteaser with “Naukri?” Whereas the lust-ridden Dhadkan Pal Pal outlives its welcome.

Rawail’s Arjun opened to acclaim and attracted attention at award-ceremonies but lost out to his mentor Raj Kapoor’s social drama, Ram Teri Ganga Maili and Ramesh Sippy’s visually stunning romance, Saagar.

Easily one of the best Hindi action films with a persuasive ensemble of actors (except Shashikala who hit a jarring note) and tough dialogues (Yeh kya pee rahe hain aap? Aap jaise neta garibon ke khoon ke sivah kuch aur peeyein acha nahi lagta), Arjun’s daredevilry is rooted in deglam heroics.

A still from Arjun.One eagerly anticipates Mohan Baggad’s action pieces, which engage both physical dishoom-dishoom and edge-of-the-seat chases involving cycles and buses.

The man holding it all – Arjun, Arjun Malvankar, played by Sunny Deol, wears vulnerability like a weapon. Baba Azmi’s warm orange-brown frames and close-ups of his wounded gaze showcase it impressively. If Deol’s performance here shows promise of things to come, his contained wrath in Dacait (also under Rawail) and Yateem (J P Dutta) intensifies it. But it would be Rajkumar Santoshi’s Ghayal, where he almost explodes through the screen that every single person would acknowledge it.

Approaching its 30th anniversary, Arjun ends with on screen cop Raj Kiran signalling thumbs up at our guy. I’d make that two.

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Rani Mukerji turns into Liam Neeson for Mardaani!

A still from Mardaani.Jis duniya mein maa-behne rishte nahi gaali hain. Uss duniya se maryada ke rishte saare todungi,” screams an eye-catching tagline of Mardaani’s poster.

You’d think there’s a point behind this relatable sentiment? But no, five minutes into the film and Rani Mukerji barges into a goon’s house and hurls a no-holds-barred expletive at the concerned. Sometime later, she cusses at another in the same vein.

The words ‘Maa’ and ‘bahen’ feature alternately. I don’t need to elaborate in what context.

Director Pradeep Sarkar’s latest offering is keen to project itself as a thought-provoking woman-oriented subject sensitive to the escalating rate of human trafficking by centring its entire story around a lady cop.

What it really is though but a middling action thriller engaging a cat-and-mouse game between a shrewd crime branch officer (who happens to be a woman) and a demented young man running a vast sex trafficking business. Just imagine a bland version of Liam Neeson’s Taken starring a screwy villain who conveys a disturbing degree of both calm and quirk fashioned in the mould of another Hollywood script.

Mardaani travels between Mumbai and Delhi to unravel a kidnapping case assigned to senior inspector Shivani Shivaji Roy (Mukerji) who discovers some potentially whistleblowing information.

Shivani doesn’t completely fit the standard ‘no-nonsense cop’ description. When her superior reprimands her on the phone for conducting a reckless raid, she jokes, “Arre koi boss ki biwi ko shopping karwao.

She’s not much for subtlety either – not batting an eyelid before reminding a flower-seller girl she rescued, how her uncle would have sold her off if it weren’t for Lady Singham.

And like last week’s Rohit Shetty sequel, this too has a scene featuring a evildoer getting thrashed while the cop rattles off a list of Indian penal codes. This time, the background score isn’t as ear splitting but amply indicative of the sequence’s crowd-pleasing tone.

When the aforementioned girl goes missing, Shivani goes on a wide scale hunt/trail while communicating with the offender (Tahir Bhasin) on the phone.

The moment where she challenges to catch him within 30 days holds up a genuine opportunity for a fascinating dialogue between good versus evil. But it is wasted for juvenile sledging and clunky dialogues (Gopi Puthran) like, ‘Under-19 team ka baarvhaa khiladi/Kya ada kya jalwe tere Paro?’

The A-certificate is accounted for unsettling glimpses of life in the flesh trade and liberal use of swearwords by Rani but Mardaani like most so-called realistic films fails to convince it’s not for effect. Case in point –a minor is forced into intercourse by an aged foreigner and a close-up of her misery cuts to a lingering shot of a symbolic white lily.

At its crisp pace (Sanjib Datta) of less than two hours, Mardaani is harmless if not hard-hitting viewing and tries to cram up as many elements – political-criminal nexus, Nigerian drug mafia, flesh-auction clubs and an Abbas-Mastan-inspired twist till its arrives to its convenient finish.

Figuring in most scenes from start to finish, this is Rani’s show. It’s not her best performance but the actress exudes unfazed toughness and refrains from making the same mistakes she committed in No One Killed Jessica.

Mardaani poster.Underplaying her gutsy, rough-talking Shivani gives her character a slyness, which is not enough to distract us from her perfectly falling bangs (Rangeela’s Steven Kapoor would approve), salon-ready plaits and curled-up eyelashes but ceases to matter if you view Mardaani like a glamorous not gritty thriller.

Jisshu Sengupta who plays Rani’s doctor husband has two lines (Happy Birthday, Chhodna mat saalon ko) and one important scene where you can barely see his face. Bottom-line, he doesn’t register.

Her on-screen nemesis fares much better. The eerie nonchalance of Tahir Bhasin’s voice and the gruesomeness it means to achieve compliments his equally loathsome smile. What makes him so real (and hence creepy) is how just-around-the-corner he seems.

Contrary to what its title suggests, gender is never brought up in Mardaani to make a point. There’s no verbal validation from Rani’s character to assert her strengths or her weakness because she’s of a certain sex.  If also the script weighed more in intensity of thoughts than stagy heroics and simplistic resolutions, it could do a lot more for women in the film industry if not society in general.

Stars: 2.5

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Singham Returns has its whistle-worthy moments!

Singham ReturnsAt some point, super cop Bajirao Singham takes off his shirt and smacks it on the chief minister’s palm.

That’s a Rohit Shettyism for resignation.

Without any second thought, his superior and subordinates in the room, building, neighbourhood and entire Mumbai city follow suit

That’s a Rohit Shettyism for, um, the force is strong with this one?

Even if unabashedly playing to the gallery and formulaic to its core, Singham Returns offers quite a bit to whistle about with its steady supply of straightforward action and a hot-headed hero who delivers a punch with a fist and a line.

It doesn’t hold up to its potential in entirety, tumbling drastically in the middle to incorporate recognizable tropes and clichés. The final pay off is a bit tame for my liking but as long as it doles out generous scoops of unpretentious masala and corn, it works just fine.

Only this time its titular hero Ajay Devgn doesn’t get to parade his bare, strapping torso like a glossy, egg-washed croissant to get our attention. On the contrary, his love interest (played by Kareena Kapoor Khan) pokes fun at his chestnut-dyed hair while his underlings quip about his growing umar.  Considering the filmmaker got Shah Rukh Khan to play a 40-year-old in Chennai Express, Shetty seems well-equipped in the art of embrace-your-age within Bollywood’s ageing superstars.

Regardless, Devgn’s power-packed slam bang is a lively reminder of his daredevil roots. Crafted along the lines of a 1990s no-holds-barred action, it’s a relief to watch the actor in a skin he’s most comfortable in. Except when bitten by the Satakhli bug, Devgn keeps it low key and reserves his stamina for moments of brute force, vigorous bang bang and swaggering in slow motion.

Its fairly uncomplicated plot pits the self-styled cop Bajirao Singham against yet another agent of crime and corruption. Amol Gupte’s sleazy, swindling, wiry-haired god man and Zakir Hussain’s jumpy politician play the wily twosome whereas Anupam Kher and Mahesh Manjrekar represent the fair face of politics.

As if to underline the distinction, the good guys are picture of composed grace whereas the baddies perform a cheesy romp of exaggerated notoriety.

Despite these excesses, the first hour goes off like a breeze primarily because Shetty keeps the events relating to one another compact and gripping. Not too many cars (by Shetty standards) toss into mid-air but there are enough explosions, shoot-outs, vans/trucks clashing into one another.

Singham ReturnsThough marginally better, Singham Returns is plagued by the same problem as the first one. It slows down in the middle to accommodate an obligatory romance with Kareena. For an actress whose presence comes through even when she’s a blurred out mute spectator in the background, this is hardly the film to be.

Cast as Devgn’s loud, glutton girlfriend, Kareena, to her credit, keeps it spunky till the script makes her jarring (calling a North Eastern boy selling chowmein ‘Made in China’ is not even remotely amusing). Her director seems unsure about how to use her here. There are scenes where she’s simply not required — Singham’s work place or encounter sites — but it’s like Shetty has to justify her inclusion at any rate.

What’s further grating is the raucous background score, alternating between clanking cymbals to loud Singham chants and the contrived usage of poorly rehearsed Marathi by its lead actors.

Ultimately, Shetty’s crowd pleaser antics boosted by Devgn’s blustering machismo and a hilarious hat-tip to CID make up for the earlier melodrama and a done-to-death twist concerning the all-important witness.

Is that good enough? Wrong question. Is it entertaining enough? Er, yeah.

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