Review: Ajay Devgn doesn’t clobber a single soul in Raid

When Ajay Devgn promises to wring out ‘poora‘ Rs 420 crore from a sordid politician, there will be fireworks. But to my surprise, Devgn doesn’t clobber a single soul in Raid — not when his wife is hurt, not when his job is in jeopardy, not when a mad mob is thirsty for his blood.

There is plenty of Singham-like bait thrown at him, but Devgn simply refuses to take it.

On one particularly challenging occasion, he bolts the door and blocks it using bulky trunks and cartons choosing common sense over confrontation.

As someone who has grown tired of the actor’s relentless wham-bam, it is refreshing to see his toughness stem out of his beliefs and not brawn.

His portrayal of Income Tax Commissioner Amay Patnaik in Rajkumar Gupta’s fourth film as director (Aamir, No One Killed Jessica, Ghanchakkar) relies on his firm footing as a man of consequence to pitch itself as a tribute to the IT department’s unsung heroes.

On first glance, the character is deceptively similar to the khaki-clad, transfer-prone hotshots he has essayed before, what with the moustache, the deadpan eyes, the serious demeanour, the right-wingness.

Except in the absence of cynicism, virtue sheds a new light.

This Ajay Devgn doesn’t thwack a lackey’s head when he is forbidden from entering an elite club without formal shoes. This Ajay Devgn gets featured on Dharmyugmagazine’s cover, draws analogies from Munshi Premchand and contends ‘Main wohi peeta hoon jo khareed sakoon (I drink only what I can afford).’

Based on a script by Ritesh Shah, Raid is buoyed by a classic right versus wrong theme.

Although it is set in 1981’s Lucknow, the schadenfreude of every honest taxpayer in watching tax defaulters, evaders and hoarders go down is timeless and universal.

Gupta mines it frantically to stage an elaborate game of hide-and-seek across the meticulously conducted raid, which constitutes bulk of its 128-minutes running time.

The antagonist, a sooty-eyed, contemptuous MP called Tauji played with contained peevishness by Saurabh Shukla, is a character that never gets to step outside its bubble of conceit.

As the raid spans various stages of disbelief, resistance, pride, deceit, revelation, distress, in fighting, violence, more than Tauji it is his extended family that inject novelty into an unsurprising faceoff and monotonous mission.

Raids are messy and lead to eye-popping disclosures, but the thrill of seeing heaps and heaps of money and gold wears off after a while, more like watching Aladdin’s lamp breakthrough in a loop.

Gupta goes overboard confiscating the unaccounted wealth, but the disarming spontaneity of the ‘Amma’ (a noteworthy Pushpa Joshi) character, as Shukla’s wacky, unthinkingly yapping octogenarian mother is a neat touch.

As is the presence of a mysterious mole causing believable scenes of internal conflict within the household — Raid takes a clear moral stand yet views its greedy offenders as hopeless and human.

Part of its tongue-in-cheek approach nudges at then-in-power prime minister Indira Gandhi. She seems more of a school principal really, continuously fidgeting her pen and mindlessly ticking off pages of a file.

Raid refuses to engage beyond her side profile. Amidst the hilarity of this imagery, Gupta is blunt enough to suggest her tolerance for corruption in lure of political clout but spares her conscience to do the right thing.

Despite its glowing sense of purpose and imaginative manipulations, Raid is staggeringly inconsistent.

Other than the tired tropes of a corrupt colleague redeeming himself, hooligans attacking the wife to intimidate the hero and a phony period setting whose detailing is limited to trunk call woes and retro time pieces, it is the sloppy editing, tame camerawork and ghastly background score that hurt Raid the most.

Ileana D’Cruz as Devgn’s wife bears the brunt of these inadequacies. Her supportive, sari-clad significant other is clumsily forced into the narrative to underscore Devgn’s blissful personal life.

In one scene, she shows up with a lunch dabba in the middle of an official operation. That is relatively less absurd than what ensues when Raid digresses for a romantic song interlude.

Did someone doze off on the editing table?

The background music sounds as though it took its cues from Inception and ruins many a scenes with its misplaced ardour confusing persistence for panic.

The informer subplot is curiously introduced, but offers little by the way of payoff.

Gupta’s love for realism also takes an inexplicable beating when Devgn permits Shukla to scoot off just to jam in some out-dated sher/kutta sledging.

As disappointing that is, Raid does have its moments of compelling optimism and unexpected wit.

It’s also the most I’ve enjoyed watching Ajay Devgn in a while.

Rating: 3

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Super Filmi Week: Sridevi, Shammi and the smiling faces of Hrishida’s cinema

There’s no reaching closure from Sridevi’s untimely death. Not so soon anyway.

The last few days have been engulfed in denial and nostalgia.

Every time I write a tribute for a recently deceased film personality, a tiny piece of my heart crumbles and collapses. I’ve had to write so many in the last few years that even the mention of the word ‘loss’ horrifies me.

Most of us, who admired her, are finding solace in revisiting Sri’s classic movies and moments.

As am I when suddenly I stumble upon a brief interview, conducted at the audio launch of Roop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja, by an extremely callous anchorperson.

This is her idea of an icebreaker.

“You take injections to keep yourself young?”

“Beg your pardon? No, no, not at all,” replies a dumbfounded Sridevi wondering what just hit her.

Blind to her discomfort, the interviewer persists, “You’ve been working in the industry for a long time now. What prompted you to come into movies?”

Facepalm, right?

I can’t even begin to explain how embarrassed I feel as a journalist, especially when Sridevi responds to her daft question with, “I’m sorry, I am just thinking about the injection. How do people get (such ideas)?”

Invasive journalism existed then. It exists now.

The way everyone in the media and outside it speculated over the cause of her demise is a miserable reflection of how we’re losing the plot as a civil society.

And that we’re doing the exact same thing again with the ailing Irrfan Khan even after he’s explicitly asked not to is further proof of this unhealthy trend.

What is this extreme curiosity that turns people into pathetic stickybeaks?

Veteran actress Shammi passes into the ages.

Always so boisterous and chatty, she was reliably animated before the camera no matter how big or small the role.

I am glad I had the opportunity to express my appreciation of her work in films like Half Ticket, Ittefaq and Shirin Aur Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi.

Yet the first memory to pop up in mind is a fleeting role in Dil Hai Ki Manta Nahin, where she gives Aamir Khan and Pooja Bhatt a lift in her yellow Beetle and gets super excited about what they plan to name their fake baby and the banter that follows.

Shammi Aunty had this effortless exuberance and goodness about her, one that director Mahesh Bhatt uses pithily to highlight Aamir and Pooja’s headstrong chemistry.

What happened to the iconic shiny suit worn by Mithun Chakraborty in Disco Dancer‘s title song from 1982?

Not sure about its current location but the costume resurfaced five years later on a junior artist in another Mithun starrer, Dance Dance.

Spot it on the keyboardist performing next to Mandakini once you’re done gawking at the amazing acrobatic skills of its background dancers.

Bechdel test be damned, where would feminism be without Saawan Kumar Tak’s fixation with bigamy and adultery?

Jaya Prada and Rekha are arguing before my eyes over women’s rights in a way that’s only possible in a Saawan Kumar Tak creation.

Remember Souten, Saajan Ki Saheli, Saajan Bina Suhagan, Bewaffa Se Wafa, the ilk?

This one’s called Souten Ki Beti.

So Rekha has a kid out of wedlock. Jaya Prada demands to hold the father accountable. The father in question turns out to be Jaya’s husband, Jeetendra. After brief melodrama, Jeetu is happily married to both.

Wait, we’ve only reached interval point.

It has a song whose lyrics go something like Main toh bas patni hoon uski tu saajan ka pyaar hai.

I won’t be surprised if the words ‘suhaag‘ and ‘samaj‘ are uttered more frequently than the F-word in Goodfellas.

Happy Women’s Day to you too.

My Friday begins on an awful note with Dil Juunglee.

Like I wrote in my review, the movie’s ‘like going through a checklist of Bollywood’s oldest and lamest clichés recycled for the nth time to dispense yet another doggone boy-meets-girl baloney.’

The experience is so excruciating it takes me three phenomenal movies — Hail Caesar, Moneyball and Charade to recover.

I didn’t notice it when I first saw Prem Qaidi. Come to think of it, I didn’t notice anything except Karisma Kapoor’s eyebrows.

But, hey, that’s Shiva‘s bully and Satya‘s titular protagonist Chakravarthy getting a whack on his cheeks from 16-year-old Lolo in her debut movie during the customary 1990s campus eve-teasing scene.

Haven’t seen him in anything Bollywood since 2012’s Bhoot Returns.

Sundays and Hrishikesh Mukerjee are a match made in movie heaven.

Apart from their feel-good appeal, notice how his actors reserve their most spontaneous, unchecked, wholehearted smiles for his films?

I certainly do.

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Review: Dil Juunglee recycles rotten ideas of romance

Watching Dil Juunglee is like going through a checklist of Bollywood’s oldest and lamest clichés recycled for the nth time to dispense yet another doggone boy-meets-girl baloney.

In ad filmmaker Aleya Sen’s garbled feature film debut, we revisit all the agonising scenarios at their most lacklustre, beginning with Sumeet (Saqib Saleem), a regular Delhi lout juggling jobs as gym trainer and body double of dubious ads while seeking his fortune in showbiz.

In comes mousy Koroli aka Koro (Taapsee Pannu), the London-born, half-British daughter of a snobby industrialist incurring her daddy’s wrath for dropping out of business school to play English teacher to dummies.

She’s shy or what Dil Juunglee deems ‘different type ki ladki.

We know this type all too well.

Someone who sports glasses, frowzy hair, a dowdy wardrobe and is just a couple of tequila shots away from kicking her heels.

The hangover lasts pretty much until its last reel.

Soon she’s not only showing Sumeet how to pronounce ‘miraculous’ but also demonstrating it by promptly falling for him. ‘Pehli date mein tujhe ma ke kangan chahiye. Doorsi date main Gandhari ki tarah sau bache,’ remarks her disapproving best friend.

Yet such is the extent of Koro’s flimsy inferiority complex, the woman cannot tell between callous and charming and insists on Sumeet as Mr Right. Her desperation is all the more confounding given the hot potato treatment she receives after his over-the-top, old-fashioned mummy cries, ‘Manglik‘.

In the olden days, the conflict would arise from the glaring difference between the boy and girl’s economical backgrounds. In Dil Juunglee, astrology does the needful. Clearly, we’re not making any progress. But before I can scoff any more at this ridiculous development, the bizarrely edited drivel has shifted to a jungle trek that’s actually Koro and Sumeet eloping to marry in the company of their quarrelsome buddies.

What happens next is anyone’s good guess. The story jumps seven years ahead and still shows no signs of maturity. Unless we’re expected to find it in the inevitable Koro makeover — sparkling up the streets of London in all her sleek hair, stylish wardrobe, specs-are-history avatar.

Amidst phony board meetings, awkward family reunions, contrasting new love interests and an unnecessary gay caricature popping in and out, Dil Juunglee forces a reconciliation between happily moved on exes no one’s convinced about or rooting for.

Just when it looks our film-making is moving away from idolising toxic archetypes for the sake of romantic fulfillment, Aleya Sen’s Dil Juunglee comes along and squashes it in entirety. Surprising such disregard should come from a woman.

Here’s one worrying instance.

In her diary Koro writes, ‘He hasn’t changed one bit’ referring to Sumeet’s enduring insensitivity as though it’s a good thing.

She’s stupid. So is this amateurishly directed, unfunny, charmless rom-com.

It’s exasperating to watch the luminous Taapsee Pannu, with all her smarts and sensitivity, strong-armed into making googly eyes at a wishy-washy Saqib Saleem.

Dil Juunglee may reward his conceit for jumping into the water, but that won’t wash his sins away or make suffering fools a love story.

Rating: 1

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