Review: Prem works. Rest is just rah-rah!

Prem Ratan Dhan PayoLong live comfort zone.

Few minutes into Sooraj R Barjatya’s Prem Ratan Dhan Payo and it’s obvious where this out-dated melodrama set amidst farfetched royalty is heading.

Barjatya, the soft-spoken, immensely likeable filmmaker, isn’t looking to jab a pin in his reality-proof bubble inhabited by noble, gracious folk and its most popular citizen Prem, played by Salman Khan.

It’s not merely a name but a title exclusively held by the superstar, wherein he ceases to be the shirt-ripping Bhai and transforms into an epitome of sanskar and virtue whose gleaming eyes alone, among many other myths, are sufficient proof of his unquestionable integrity and loyalty.

Except he achieved this feat, not too long ago, more memorably than ever in and as Bajrangi Bhaijaan. Salman’s latest avatar as Prem falls pale in comparison.

But he’s not the one at fault. If anything, Salman is the dazzling star and entertainer of this archaic, tedious script that should’ve never left the ‘defunct Bollywood formulas’ file –think The Prince and the Pauper meets Kasme Vaade or Jhootha Sach where brain injuries show on the back, people change into forty costumes in four days and childhood accidents are replayed as adults too.

Be it as the sprightly nautanki star or a solemn Prince or somewhere in between after Salman goes through his My Fair Lady transition and scoffs at aristocracy with characteristic charm and spunk — its moments like these, when Prem acquires a mocking tone towards everything, including this underdeveloped drama that it truly takes off.

Mostly though PRDP is saddled with Barjatya’s penchant for throwing in one song after another. Even if resplendent to look at, there are just too many of them and barring the title track, not particularly catchy either. Speaking of music, think I caught a hint of the Game of Thrones theme performed by a wedding band in the background. Cannot imagine the genteel Barjatya is a fan of the famously violent TV series.

Back to Prem, if Salman’s presence is a boon for the movie, his enormous charisma, which receives a lion’s share of the screen space, leaves precious little for his co-stars to do. While Sonam Kapoor is luminous in Anamika Khanna’s dreamy creations, looks appropriately besotted by her hero and shows noticeable restraint in her dialogue delivery, her Maithali is so blandly written, it makes Bhagyashree’s Suman look like a vixen.

As Salman’s respective bhai and bahen, Neil Nitin Mukesh and Swara Bhaskar are limited to tearful scowls and tearful smiles whereas a smug Arman Kohli reprises his snake-man performance from Jaani Dushman: Ek Anokhi Kahani sans the costume.

Like all Barjatya movies, PRDP sticks to its beliefs on sibling affection, family values and coy courtship and takes a lengthy (nearly three hours running time) route to assert so. Yet it’s not the predictability but the lop-sided sentimentality of his narrative that hurts PRDP’s intentions the most.

Prem Ratan Dhan PayoWithout ever establishing the bonhomie, it jumps to demonstrate the bitterness and reconciliation between bickering brethren depriving the viewer of any emotional connect whatsoever.

Plainly put, phony tears. Quite a let down, given Barjatya’s greatest strength is the warmth his characters exude. Instead they’re pursuing prudish objectives, speaking clunky, soap star lines like “suhag ki raksha” and facilitating clumsy albeit blatant product placement of brands like Haldiram and Croma.

Grandeur has its limitations too. It can render photographic freshness but it’s no substitute for charm or frolic. A lot of visible effort has gone in designing Prem Ratan Dhan Payo’s opulence and scale but ultimately it’s just lacklustre, recycled fare from a man stuck on men versus women sporting contests, midnight kitchen rendezvous and the pristine aura of Prem.

The last one still holds good. Rest is just rah-rah.

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Review: Shaandaar is fun, fun, fun!

ShaandaarWhere cheer is indispensable and cynicism is undesirable — the world is viewed through rose-coloured glasses in Vikas Bahl’s Shaandaar.

How else does a story about a dysfunctional family involving a domineering matriarch, her oppressed descendants, an adopted insomniac and a plump heiress all set to marry a gun-totting tycoon’s narcissistic brother as part of a mutually beneficial business deal spring into a visually sumptuous, deliciously whimsical fairy tale?

In most ways, Shaandaar is dramatically different from Bahl’s breakthrough directorial debut, Queen. Yet, much like the Kangana Ranaut starrer, it too encourages the quality of finding courage to move away from social pressures and follow one’s inner conviction. Also, it takes a pretty compelling stand on body shaming.

Except, there’s much fancy and enchantment in Shaandaar’s universe to trifle in intense stuff like reality and convention. If life’s moments were but an endless session of think out loud and each scene a comic book panel expressed in stickers and speech balloons where trouble is at worst a smiley wearing a frown.

It’s the kind of experience that thrives not on story but telling. Shaandaar’s charm lies in Bahl’s treatment, employing SFX and animation in abundance, which is perfectly timed and enhances ordinary seconds into attractive ones.

ShaandaarBe it the prologue about a Pixar-faced cutie and her caretaker, all those numerous plane-themed dreams doodled by a daddy for his sleepless baby or the daintily embroidered dragonflies on Alia Bhatt’s top spurting into life in her introduction scene to capture the impression she’s made on Shahid Kapoor at first sight, there are frequent such moments of wonder and drollery.

Amidst a destination wedding hosted at a majestic Yorkshire castle, the lavish program menu dishes out breakfast under a canopy of yellow wisteria, black and white ball dance, mehendi with Karan Johar and a funky, one-of-a-kind bachelor party for the bride. While we’re on the topic of revelry, loved how Bahl seamlessly introduces all the Amit Tridevi compositions into the narrative as well as their creative, kinetic choreography (Bosco-Caesar).

The purpose of this stylish shaadi (shot by Anil Mehta) is to bring Shahid’s dishy wedding planner close to Alia’s geeky sister of the bride, explore her reel dad Pankaj Kapoor’s apprehension over the same as well as expose the glaring lack of compatibility between his elder daughter (reel and real) Sanah (graceful, natural, promising) and son-in-law-to-be Vikas Verma (nails it as the misogynist moron) around a pack of daffy relatives on either side.

Because (and not despite) of these obviously gimmicky elements, there’s an eternally sunny vibe to Shaandaar, which contains the oddities of its kooky characters from going overboard. A huge credit for it goes to its winning ensemble of actors and the sprightly chemistry they generate on celluloid.

Alia and Shahid convey a brand of exuberance that’s unaffected by the ensuing grandeur, they’re both a bohemian product of melancholy concealed in madness. Alia translates it in her wardrobe too. At some point, she’s sporting a kitschy jacket sewn with utensils from a kitchen play-set.

Sushma Seth, with her glowering eyes and ruby red lips, is a scream. The ever-reliable Pankaj Kapoor finds the right balance for Shaandaar’s wit and warmth. But Sanjay Kapoor’s blingy flamboyance isn’t comic enough, even if some of the Sindhi jokes are, to shine against so much finesse.

ShaandaarAnvita Dutt’s zingy eloquence — every character speaks a tongue markedly distinct from another (OMG/FTB coexists alongside Badhiro ka samachar) – contributes to Shaandaar’s gaiety.

As one of the characters quizzes, why must we do every thing out of necessity, why can’t few things done for the fun of it, Shaandaar is simply fun, fun, fun and frothy enough to pull it off.

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Review: Little to cheer about Aishwarya’s Jazbaa!

JazbaaAishwarya Rai Bachchan is a grim woman on a mission. She’s back on screen portraying the pains of motherhood after a five-year hiatus to enjoy its pleasures, off it.

In Sanjay Gupta’s remake of 2007 South Korean flick, Seven Days, the star, credited as one of Jazbaa’s many producers, plays the devil’s advocate to rescue her kidnapped daughter from unidentified blackmailers.

Aiding her is scruffy school pal and suspended cop Irrfan Khan as they go about town in their gleaming transport and all-black wardrobe gathering evidence that’ll prove her client not guilty -not something any character inhabiting this story can boast of. Like Aishwarya’s legal eagle defends evil because only they can afford her hefty fee and allow her the luxury of round-cut solitaires and Gucci totes.

Now if only the courtroom scenes weren’t so embarrassingly executed. All she has to do is to put her best ‘pretty please’ face to ‘Your Honor’ and the man’s putty; while the not-so-privileged opposition’s (Atul Kulkarni) objections fall on deaf ears. At one point, she proudly beams, “the police is on my side” like some classroom monitor whose back just got patted by the schoolteacher.

I wasn’t impressed by the original, which I found alternately dull and jumbled-up in its objective and treatment. Jazbaa doesn’t retain the gore but is just as sketchy and cardboard in its characterizations.

Except a superficial attempt to root its crime around the growing percentage of rape in the country and the anger it elicits, it’s near identical to Seven Days’ screenplay. 

Also South Koreans don’t spew weary life philosophy like Irrfan and Shabana Azmi (playing the deceased’s mother) are made to in Jazbaa. Luckily, these two are master artists and can say a lot many lousy lines without making us cringe. Although I found Azmi a tad distracted, Khan is potent even when lurking in the background doing nothing of particular consequence.

JazbaaAishwarya is not as exaggerated as she is carried away at the prospect of conveying a mother’s anguish. This is a role she understands if not entirely identifies with. Under better direction, her enthusiasm wouldn’t get the better of her and those blood-shot eyes and shrieking frustration would find a better expression.

A mostly watchable thriller marred by its director Sanjay Gupta’s penchant for excesses — a greenish yellow filter that renders the frames more sickly than stylish unless it’s some sort of bizarre metaphor for Ash’s light eyes brimming in agony, a pounding background score that’s so commonplace it serves little purpose and terribly reckless use of slow-motion.

Technology’s purpose is to enhance the language of cinema not overwhelm or mock its character’s emotions like Gupta does. He used to be better at this, whiz kid they called him, but now he’s just a kid who’s bought all the add-on packs of a cool video app and is in a crazy rush to try out everything at once.

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