Review: Rangoon is a grand hotchpotch!

‘Aurat,’ he scoffs at her apparent naiveté. 

‘Aurat,’ she reminds him, seconds after demonstrating her fruit ninja moves, like a woman who’ll make him regret what he said. 

Except, ‘tukka,’ he mumbles like a bad loser. 

She’s no fluke, of course. Jaanbaaz Julia is a shining stunt queen whose action-packed antics, modeled on the unrivaled Fearless Nadia, are the toast of Bombay’s blossoming film industry in the 1940s.   

The above scene from Rangoon is a lovely vignette affirming Vishal Bhardwaj’s gift to build characters through fluid synergy instead of designed camaraderie. The free will and flexibility the director assigns them in charting the course of his story, even when adapting another’s, is what makes his filmmaking cutting-edge and dangerous. Sadly, it’s only an occasional glimpse into his sparkling craft in a film that’s much too fuzzy and half-hearted to invest in at any juncture.

In Rangoon, Bhardwaj abandons his hallmark whimsicality and relevant effrontery for big scale chaos and bloated showmanship. His romanticized if meticulous take on history of the country and its cinema would feel a lot less inadequate if it could actually decide what it has on its mind. 

The year is 1943.

Between its aspirations to be an epic love triangle, a forbidden romance in the time of war, a meet cute of brat and brave, a complicated tale of dependency between a manipulative mentor and maudlin muse and Bose’s Indian National Army’s efforts to collaborate with the Japanese and liberate India from British Raj following the ‘enemy’s enemy is friend’ policy, Rangoon is a hotchpotch of conflicts that don’t mix well. 

It’s not just the tonal shift. That its scenarios are filled with jaded tropes and derivative imagery add to the fatigue of enduring them in this nearly three-hour slog. In one, Julia dances before three Japanese soldiers just like Ann Darrow did for a certain ape of Skull Island under a filmmaker whose understanding of Tolkien reminds me of VB’s for Shakespeare.  

The world is still a stage and busy parodying Hitler or displaying Julia’s talent as a live performer for the gratification of its audience in military uniforms. Off it, there’s a Ghalib-quoting British army chief (Richard McCabe) whose insistence to speak in singsong Hindi made me miss Bob Cristo. 

Rangoon has a wonderful line-up of actors but their interplay is devoid of passion or power play. 

Shahid Kapoor’s steady, simmering portrayal of a man on a mission is at odds with his overwhelming desire for Julia. His restraint is solid but a tad too guarded to evolve into someone striking. 

Kangana Ranaut is a captivating actress but Julia fluctuates between spunk and soppy. Too often her identity is pinned to the men in her life when she’s already achieved so much on her own. When she does exemplify the Nike logo shaped scar on her back — just do it — it appears prodded not spontaneous.

There’s Saif Ali Khan as the sophisticated studio baron flattering the British for raw stock and exploiting Julia in exchange of conditional, conservative love — most intriguing yet most problematic. Also, please refrain from using ‘kiddo’ if you’re not Bogie. 

As in the case of Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s 1942: A Love Story, the well heeled do not consider freedom fight their concern till they know better. Unlike 1942 though, the ideology of Rangoon isn’t rooted in Gandhi’s pacifist methods but driven by Bose’s active aggression. 

Bhardwaj’s exquisite rendering of the Azad Hind Fauj version of Jana Gana Mana,which can also be heard in the charged opening credits of Ashok Kumar’s Samadhi,makes a stirring case for this hasty transformation. 

Still, nothing sublime about the over-the-top spectacle and phony martyrdom he puts together in its climatic moments and strips Rangoon of whatever dignity its heroes and heroines are striving for. 

It’s depressing when a man known for creating his own language of cinema speaks street.   

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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Review: Akshay Kumar does complete justice to Jolly LLB 2

Saddled by bureaucracy, corruption and apathy, no fight for justice is prompt or pleasant. But when formulated for mainstream Hindi films, it acquires the personality of a ham revelling in its inflated sentimentality or silliness till it hits the point of parody or propaganda. If clever, the upshot is sure-fire applause. 

Bollywood’s allegiance to this method may not be above predictability but when armed with dollops of sarcasm, eloquence and last minute bombshells, courtroom trials provide a great source of gratification if not a guarantee of reform. 

Director Subhash Kapoor’s Jolly LLB did well with its droll depiction of a small-time lawyer (played by Arshad Warsi) and how his guilty conscience encourages him in emancipating the downtrodden.

But his quick-witted sequel starring a standout Akshay Kumar does it even better.   

New faces, bigger scale, greater stakes notwithstanding, the story, which travels from Kanpur to Kashmir, is more or less the same.

If Warsi’s willful Jagdish Tyagi aka Jolly hailed from Meerut and proved his worth in Delhi’s District and Sessions Court, Akshay’s Jagdishwar Mishra aka Jolly is a sharp-tongued, short-fused Kanpuriya making a dishonest living in Lucknow’s dusty courthouse. Also, he’s much too cunning to be running measly errands for a haughty senior and knows it too. 

Ambition gets the better of Jolly. Filled with a strong sense of remorse, he insists on setting things straight by putting the cops (Kumud Mishra, sneering away to perfection) behind a fake terrorist encounter behind bars. 

If the original Jolly builds its quarrels around a raw, rude newcomer from small town tackling the condescension of a crooked albeit elite, veteran legal eagle, the new one pits Akshay against a lawyer (Annu Kapoor) who may be older, richer and popular but is, ultimately, a kindred spirit, a product of the same sly, stagy sensibility and regional flavour. 

Flavour, after all, is the soul of Jolly LLB 2’s banter. Somewhere Arshad Warsi’s tendency to become Circuit would often surface and drown out his Meerut origins in a splash but Akshay holds on to his lippy Kanpur roots as dedicatedly as the janaeu he wears and reveres.   

That he’s locking horns with a Lucknow lawyer only adds to the relish of watching them bicker. Subtlety no longer a requirement, Annu Kapoor brings out the entitlement, ego and drive of an established advocate with wicked vigour, a hilarious rate card and an utterly catchy motto — Pepsi or Pramod kabhi apna formula nahi batate.

Jolly and Pramod may be at the centre of this war of words but the man extracting the humour in it most effectively is, once again, Saurabh Shukla as the scene stealing Judge Tripathi.

The hysterical dharna scene simply reiterates his invaluable presence both as a character and actor. Shukla conveys dignity even in moments of complete mockery and points out at the larger troubles of his profession in the pithiest ways. I’d watch a third Jolly movie simply for him. 

Another member from the first one shows up fleetingly, a reliably bizarre Sanjay Mishra hosting a strange game of cricket between team Ghoongat and Burkha.  Sadly, the joke never quite hits home. 

What’s nice though that even when Jolly LLB 2 relaxes its fun side to venture into serious terrain, it retains its spunk and irony. Once again, Akshay Kumar leaps into the dramatic space of verbal volleys and paan-stained pearlies with ease never allowing the robust Khiladi to override the rustic Jolly.  Though it is relegated to side-lines, the evolved equation he shares with his tough, supportive wife (a zippy Huma Qureshi) is duly noticed.     

All these superlative actors and their chuckle-worthy zingers penned by writer and director Subhash Kapoor makes it easy to ignore the problems in Jolly LLB 2. The needless song and dances, the somewhat preachy lessons in secularism and a lumbering episode featuring a stiff Sayani Gupta are first to come to mind.   

Except it’s a criticism that’s gladly forgotten by the pungency at which Jolly LLB 2 scorns at the intense rot eating up a noble profession without compromising on the inherent rascality of its titular character.  

Stars: 3.5

This review was first published on rediff.com

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Super filmi week: Rishi Kapoor’s page-turning debut!

Read about Rishi Kapoor’s page-turning debut, SRK’s shrewd turn in Raees, Sridevi as a potential Dhoom vamp, Sanjay Dutt’s contribution to Andaz Apna Apna and more in my super-filmi week.

Monday

Week after week, in a process that is terribly mechanical and monotonous, movie stars dash from one city to another in trendy attire and publicise their big Friday release. 

And then, there are some promotional strategies that make no sense at all. Like, why would someone watch a movie just because someone in it travelled by train? Perhaps I am not star-struck enough to see the appeal in Shah Rukh Khan journeying from Mumbai to Delhi by train to advertise Raees.

As things turned out, it’s not just a lacklustre idea but a foolish one as well when the news of a man dying in the disorderly crowd gathered to catch a glimpse of the Khan at Vadodara station spread like wildfire.  

Obviously, the actor did not mean for this unfortunate incident to happen but he has ample experience of overzealous fans and ill-equipped infrastructure to take such risks.

Tuesday

Could this be the inspiration behind Paresh Rawal’s iconic claim in Andaz Apna Apna — Teja main hoon, mark idhar hai?  

Four years before Rajkumar Santoshi’s cult comedy was released, Sanjay Dutt starred in and as Tejaa, an eminently forgettable, Western-rip off revenge flick. 

Besides bumping off his parents 20 years ago, evil Ranjeet is also responsible for a scar on Dutt’s neck caused by a noose. Right before the grown-up Tejaa is ready to punish Ranjeet for his sins, Dutt shows off the mark and reminds him of the same.  

Okay, okay, so it’s not really an Easter egg but if there’s one film that deserves to be dug deep into for the teeniest bit of trivia, it’s Andaz Apna Apna.

Wednesday

Sridevi can light up a room from inside a television set.

She may not be as active professionally these days, but I can’t think of anyone more electrifying — how skillfully she imbibes the character of a diva, a devil or a dimwit.

The idea of her as the antagonist in Dhoom 4 is simply irresistible to me. The franchise has only used male villains so far; now, how about focusing on a femme fatale? Even a mediocre action flick like Khiladiyon Ka Khiladi got its edge from Rekha’s sultry presence. Besides, Sri and Yashraj have such memorable history anyway.  

Dhoom baddies are all about disguises and deceit and we all know Sri’s mastery in the area. And she also knows how to have fun with it.

Thursday

This week at the movies felt a lot like time travel.

Both Kaabil and Raaes are old-school filmmaking overruled by a leading man who takes the law in his own hands and yet retains the entitlement of a hero. If one’s driven by revenge, the other is driven by ambition.

As I wrote in my review, ‘Kaabil is a done-to-death story — a shattered husband taking the law into his own hands to punish the men who hurt his wife’ and that ‘if we are still doing this, something as foreseeable needs skillful deception to engage.’

Hrithik Roshan’s earnestness is appreciable but Kaabil’s tendency to entertain preposterous notions of a woman’s honour and sacrifice for the sake of sentiment made me cringe.

And, while it had its share of problems, I enjoyed a good deal of Raees. Shah Rukh Khan puts a fresh spin on Bachchan’s Vijay and applies his intuitive charisma to demonstrate just how bad is bad enough.

But the film’s dimaag and daring lie in Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s winsome cunning. The cat and mouse between him and SRK felt like a spunky recall of Feroz Khan and Amjad Khan’s camaraderie in Qurbani.

Even though Pakistani actress Mahira Khan has a strictly supporting role, she’s terrific enough to create an impression that firmly states, ‘I know him better than anyone else.’ (Also, haven’t seen such gorgeous, bouncy tresses since Dimple Kapadia.)

Raees gets too busy in the latter chapters when sassy ambition makes way for a sudden burst of conscience. It feels heavy-handed. The climax disappointed me hugely. Still, it’s got enough wind in its moments to ensure the period masala leaves us high, not hanging.

Friday


It’s like the world has been taken over by control freaks.

A group of activists in Jaipur storm inside the sets of Padmavati and rough up its director Sanjay Leela Bhansali for allegedly distorting history.

I can’t wrap my head around such behaviour. In a country where there’s no dearth of real, serious problems, is this what activists strive to preserve? These are no archaeologists or historians but politically motivated protectors of filthy ideas that have no place in history.

Also, these guys need to watch television where pretty much everything from mythology to history to science is mangled to manufacture entertainment. The tragedy is that such activism is selective; the bigger name it attacks, the louder the noise it attracts. 

Saturday

Within minutes of watching journalist Rajeev Masand’s delightful interview with Rishi Kapoor, discussing his autobiography, I am signed into Amazon buying the Khullam Khulla ebook.

I devote the whole night to reading this extremely entertaining, unputdownable memoir of an actor who doesn’t hold back or mince words. There’s no style, structure or fancy words but there’s honesty and pluck, pages and pages full of it as he rattles off about his family, friends, films and fraternity.

I liked the frankness with which he spoke about the women in his father Raj Kapoor’s life or Amitabh Bachchan’s lack of acknowledgement for the part his co-heroes played in his phenomenal success. I was happy to know his grandfather Prithviraj Kapoor and director Yash Chopra, also two of my favourite people, a little more closely through his fond recollections.

I laughed loudly at the bits from his childhood, all those hilarious episodes starring Shammi Kapoor and what he thought Amar Akbar Anthony would originally be about.

I admired the detached attitude of his self-assessments. As proud he is of his performances, he’s quick to make light of his blunders or even those of his co-stars — be it Urmila Matondkar’s dancing, Kumar Sanu’s singing or Ranbir Kapoor’s choice of films.

It was bittersweet reading about his altered equation with best friends Rakesh Roshan and Jeetendra.

I enjoyed Neetu Singh’s equally candid afterword that makes up for Ranbir’s somewhat stiff, impersonal foreword. 

Rishi Kapoor reveals his fears, foibles, follies, flamboyance, passion, conservatism, regrets, candour and indulgence in Khullam Khulla without ever sounding defensive or delusional. Truly fascinating.

Sunday

 

A photo posted by Star World (@starworldindia) on


Koffee With Karan is at its least gossipy when Karan Johar chats up the dashing father-son pair Jackie and Tiger Shroff.

The duo is a character study in contrasts. Where body language goes, Tiger’s composure brims with grace even as Jackie is fidgety and playful. But the latter’s lack of affectations, the trademark ‘Bhidu’ vibe lends this episode of KFK a unique humour and charm.

All through the episode, Jackie doesn’t shy from loving demonstrations, gently rubbing his son’s arm or defending him — ‘It’s not ego.’ It’s an endearing sight that prompts KJo to admit just how wonderfully affectionate his late Papa (Yash Johar) was as well.

My favourite moments from the show:

When Tiger compares working with Amrita Singh in Flying Jatt to having his dad around because of how freakily alike their temperaments are.

When Jackie discloses that his late-night conversations with neighbour Aamir Khan include topics like water harvesting, seeds and plants.

When filmmaker Vidhu Vinod Chopra reveals how Jackie offered to pay for some of the sets on 1942: A Love Story because of his commitment to the authenticity of a scene.

When we caught a glimpse of his co-star Meenakshi Seshadri, looking ravishing as ever, lovingly speak of her Hero after decades.

This column was first published on rediff.com

Previously:
Picking Jedi skills from Amitabh Bachchan
Mera wala Shah Rukh
Ranbir-Ranveer, sigh sigh!
When Tabu struggled with a 500 rupee note
Of post-festival blues and toilet titles!
Finding links of life in Dhoni’s Ranchi and Madhuri’s Mujrim!
Inside Dharmendra-Hema’s intensely private world
Power of Pink
The irrepressible cuteness of Pooja Bhatt
Indradhanush was our Stranger Things
When Saif Ali Khan wore Rishi Kapoor’s sweater
Getting nostalgic about the 1980s, Winona Ryder & Kishore Kumar
Rediscovering Gulzar’s Ghalib & finding Free Love
Applauding NTR’s Superman on screen!
Tripping on A R Rahman
A millipede and Kimi Katkar’s monsoon romance
Udta Punjab, worst casting decisions, and naheeee…!
Of warring Khan bhakts and meeting Mogambo!
Ranbir’s forgotten romance in Bachna Ae Haseeno
Funnier than Aishwarya’s lips
Clashing superheroes and crying Khans
OCDing on Neetu Singh’s LPs!
Garam Dharam, Mantrik Origins, Rockstar Cruise

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