Poster Boys review: Low-IQ comedy

There’s an episode of Friends where Joey Tribbiani is barred from entering his family’s Thanksgiving celebration because he is the unwitting face of a sexually transmitted disease’s awareness programme. As a minor joke in a 20-minute episode of a sitcom, it is fairly funny.

But when debutant director Shreyas Talpade takes on a similar premise and stretches the skit into a 131-minutes long farce, the kind that resorts to comedic sound effects punctuating desi sitcoms and stand-up comics, the result is as memorable as a pair of orangutans gambolling to Sheila Ki Jawani in Yamla Pagla Deewana 2.

Poster Boys, which stars the Deol brothers minus dad Dharmendra, is not as obnoxious in its humour if not any less puerile.

Bhains ko ultiyan ho rahi hai. Bhains bhi aurat hai — anyone?

A remake of Poshter Boyz –Talpade’s 2014 home production in Marathi, it aspires to do for vasectomy what Shubh Mangal Savdhan did for erectile dysfunctionwithout any zing in its pen or the ingenuity of an ensemble cast.

Where the calibre of supporting actors can elevate scripts to a higher degree of excellence, a second-rate one is sure to bring it down a notch or two.

Nobody outside the Poster Boys troika adds up to anything beyond a shrill or overdone caricature straight out of a dummy’s guide in how to amuse.

Daler Mehndi’s energetic singing and Eli Avram’s acrobatic thighs flag off the proceedings even as its three unsuspecting protagonists hailing from Jangheti village pose at a photo booth unprepared for the embarrassment to follow.

Sunny Deol plays a retired armyman happy to shove a selfie stick in everyone’s face. The sight of him pouting is the very definition of awkward but seeing him do a Marilyn Monroe pose goes right up there with the orangutans.

Bobby Deol’s mousy, scatter-brained schoolteacher goes for a Suri Uncle vibe, which hits the drollest notes in an otherwise clunky comedy. You’ll almost forget he’s the same guy who made tinted glasses fashionable as he picks up and puts back dropped bits of his painfully-cooked lunch box off the ground.

Shreyas Talpade pitches in as a blustering recovery agent always bashing a guy who resembles a malnourished, scar-free version of Sandor Clegane.

The three men join forces after learning about their involuntary endorsement on a nasbandi poster as part of the government’s public health service announcement.

With the babus of bureaucracy shrugging responsibility, the trio use muscle and media to seek justice and prove their innocence in a conservative society.

It’s funny how much trouble they go through for the sake of a family that has no value for their word nor seems worthy.

Also, Poster Boys never really establishes its insular milieu to convince us of the overblown nature of everyone’s reaction to the poster — as though they are Most Wanted criminals in the country.

What it does is play for laughs by inserting innuendo, recycling gags, poking fun at physical handicaps, throwing in a neurotic Bharti Achrekar and hyper Ashwini Kalsekar for the sake of senseless clamour, asserting Sunny’s superhuman vigour as he lifts and dangles men, breaks locks, yanks fences or needless butchery of the English language.

‘Vasectomy — kaun Tommy,’ quizzes the government official. ‘I telled you,’ grumbles Bobby’s cantankerous wife. And even Sunny, suddenly, decides to pronounce photo with a phhh instead of fo.

It’s only when the silliness is self-referential and parodying their body of work, there’s something to chuckle about — J P Dutta ka khud ka border hai? Or Bobby Deol’s ringtone — Soldier Soldier — works both as a reminder and double entendre.

Some unintended hilarity is triggered by Poster Boy‘s misplaced bouts of sentimentality when they liken their struggle to that of freedom fighters like Shaheed Bhagat Singh and Chandrashekhar Azad or maybe it’s just a humourless nod to the Deols’ 2002 ill-fated biopic on the same.

Either way, the film’s hastily served social cause around a ridiculously overdone climax refuses to be taken seriously. Especially when the slogan declares — Na le panga. Andolan nanga.

Poster Boys‘s school play enthusiasm never aims above a low IQ comedy expecting us to guffaw at the sight of Bobby, his wife and kids wearing the same set of bright yellow, Hello Kitty-print pyjama suits.

I half-smiled to that, will you?

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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Lucknow Central: Farhan & Co power predictable prison drama

Just last month, Habib Faisal’s Qaidi Band harped on foolhardy undertrials setting up a musical orchestra. Lucknow Central builds on an identical premise, but makes fewer mistakes and has superior music. 

First-time director Ranjit Tiwari’s undemanding fairy tale ambles around an innocent convict discovering fame and friendship within high-security prison walls. Writer Aseem Arora’s low-hanging ambitions and straightforward conflict between negotiators of harm and reform renders Lucknow Central a surprising watchability.

A good portion of Lucknow Central, its most languid too, is dedicated to the set up triggered by a Moradabad native (Farhan Akhtar) and music band aspirant’s life sentence for the murder of an IAS officer.

A year-and-a-half later he is moved to Lucknow jail, facing the likelihood of the death penalty — only neither the magnitude of the indictment nor his trauma comes through in its gloomily lit frames and sluggishly paced environment as he braves bullying inmates and ill-tempered wardens (Ronit Roy).

If there’s a Bachchan-sized conviction in his quiet brooding and imminent camaraderie around the classic foes-turned-friends narrative, a giant screen running Agneepath reiterates it most dramatically.

Its scant pop culture suggestions for effect and schmaltzy climax befitting retro sensibilities aside, Lucknow Central is mostly undemonstrative.

There is a strange disregard for details in Tiwari’s filmmaking, a relentless atmosphere of interactions that seems to transpire outside the screen or sneakily manifested conspiracies the viewer isn’t privy to. If the goal is subtlety, it backfires; the upshot is sloppy and vague.

It is only post-interval Lucknow Central shakes off its sleepy momentum and cryptic musings to lighten up and chronicle how Farhan and his band of accomplices brush up on music to perform during the upcoming Independence Day celebrations, alongside bands hailing from various prisons of Uttar Pradesh and boosting its chief minister’s (an excellent Ravi Kishen) image as part of an elaborate PR exercise.

Farhan’s choice of band mates — engineer (Deepak Dobriyal), cleaner (Inaamulhaq), tailor (Rajesh Sharma), key maker (Gippy Grewal) — suggests there is more to this collaboration than making music under NGO activist Diana Penty’s provision and top cop’s (Virendra Saxena) indulgences even if the ever disapproving jailor sees through their plot.

Ronit Roy’s snark overload is already in stereotype territory yet his suave menace and dark misogyny never misses the mark.

As the target of his constant barbs, Penty is ten shades too glamorous for the part but when she comes down on him in the ‘that was petty’ scene, she stands tall.

The performances, never hitting a false note, work even when the characters are steeped in filmi familiarity.

Farhan conveys a dignity and determination that is mild mannered but deeply effective whereas his cronies Deepak Dobriyal, Rajesh Sharma, Inaamulhaq and Gippy Grewal infuse a warmth and buoyancy that stands out and blends in, according to the requirement.

That the audience isn’t well versed in the background of their criminality contributes to their favourable imagery. Lucknow Central comes alive in their combined chemistry and culminates fruitfully in Jee Karda, a spectacular recreation of the Monsoon Wedding original.

The film doesn’t make any significant statements on the legal system or rehabilitation beyond tedious displays of violence or stray moments, like when the out-on-parole convicts realise they are unwelcome, unfit for the world that has moved on without them.

Of course the harmless temper and measured fervour of Lucknow Central‘s key players insists they are not all bad. And for a while, you believe it too!

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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Super filmi week: Kudos to Kangana!

Kangana Ranaut’s guts, Khuddar-triggered nostalgia and dark TV serials occupied Sukanya Verma’s Super-Filmi Week.

Monday
It’s a wrap for the penultimate season of HBO’s medieval fantasy drama Game of Thrones, but the wait for the eighth and last one has only just begun. And there’s a good chance it won’t hit our television screens before 2019.

Beloved for its escalated drama, gruesome deaths and thrilling cliffhangers, the show’s raging popularity is only intensified by our ridiculous desire for wild surprises all the time.

Season 7 threw up its share of ugly jolts and underwhelming deception in the form of more incestuous romance, family reunions, glorious battles, startling discoveries, long-due paybacks and shifting loyalties.

The first two episodes mull over political strategies, but once it picks up pace, Game of Thrones bolts towards its ‘no ifs ands or buts’ finale.

It’s a tricky stage in the series to pass a conclusive judgment — everything is up in the air. Where there is a sense of finality though, those arcs turn out nicely.

Like as lovely the pair looks, Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen’s track is embarrassingly rushed. Tyrion Lannister’s legendary wit and wisdom is criminally undermined. Cersei is badass as usual, but Jaime has gone completely soft. Theon Greyjoy continues to overstay his welcome as do a whole lot of other characters I am hoping to bid adieu in the final chapter. Olenna Tyrell, Littlefinger, Ellaria Sand meet a befitting fate. Bran Stark’s clairvoyance alternates between curious and comical while his sisters Sansa and Arya’s inconstant, intriguing equation adds heft.

But it’s the hellish White Walkers lending Game of Thrones its greatest wallop and villain.

Tuesday
Not everything you enjoyed once holds your fancy as time goes by.

An unexpected glimpse of Angrezi Mein Kehte Hain Ke I Love You from Amitabh Bachchan’s Khuddar only reiterates this sentiment.

For the longest time my family didn’t own a television set (Sorry ma, but eight years is a lifetime when you’re that young) and I did most of my VHS-watching during summer holidays at my grandmom’s in Delhi.

I could watch all the movies I wanted in the amount provided to me, but not more. Ditto for my big brother except he’d often trick me into watching something he liked by making me believe that’s what I’d like as well and make the best of mom’s deal.

Anyway, this one year, my VHS quota got over sooner than I expected and I was distraught since Khuddar was still on the wish list. Being a Big B fan, I pleaded with mom, but she just wouldn’t budge from her ‘rules are rules’ stance. My brother too refused to help. Truth is everyone had already seen the movie and didn’t want to suffer it again.

Fortune favours the brave and bull-headed. Thanks to the Gods of Good Timing, I caught the flu.

Nothing melts a mother’s heart like a child with just-enough-to-blackmail high temperature. And if all those movies had taught me anything, it’s the power of guilt tripping.

Having recently discovered the concept of ‘marne se pehle koi aakhri ichha.’ Desperate times call for desperate measures and I immediately used my fever to test its power on mom. Like that corny Bollywood saying goes, Bhagwan ke ghar mein der hai andher nahi, it worked like a charm.

Needless to say, Khuddar was no classic. Rather like so many other serviceable potboilers piggybacking on Big B’s invincible stardom back then, it too made hay while the sun shone.

When I revisit that song today, I don’t find anything remotely funny about AB threatening to consume poison if Parveen Babi doesn’t yield to his romantic demands.

Wednesday
When one thinks of trendsetting costumes in Hindi movies, one imagines Mumtaz’s orange sari drape in Brahmachari, Amitabh Bachchan’s knotted shirt in Deewar, Madhuri Dixit’s crystal work seedha pallu in Hum Aapke Hain Koun..!, Shah Rukh Khan’s hip casuals in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai.

Not me.

Two of my most favourite outfits of all time are surprisingly unsung in pop culture. Funnily, both feature a common backdrop and co-star — haystack and Aamir Khan.

Pooja Bhatt’s white off-shouldered dress in Dil Hai Ki Manta Nahin highlighting a vine of pink flowers around the boat-shaped neckline exults in its princess vibe and pristine romance.

Juhi Chawla’s pairing of a red bandhni dupatta with a white chikan churidar in Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak is easily one of the most wearable and effortless styles ever.

Thursday
Anyone who remembers Bees Saal Baad or Woh Kaun Thi won’t have any trouble predicting the suspense in Yeh Raat Phir Na Aayegi.

Still, there’s plenty to admire about this Biswajeet-Sharmila Tagore black and white mystery, most significantly cinematographer Keki Mistry’s marvellous chiaroscuro.

It’s what David Lynch, director of black and white classics like Eraserhead and The Elephant Man once said, ‘Black and White is so pure. And because it’s pure, everything is heightened in a way, it just has more power.’

Seconded.

Friday
‘With its fine zingers and feisty acknowledgement, Shubh Mangal Saavdhan does more for sex, both noun and verb, than any Hindi film can claim to in a long, long time.’

‘The concluding 20 minutes of Baadshaho are so hazy and dusty, I found myself mentally vacuum cleaning the screen. I wish to do the same to the memory of this movie.’

My feelings for this Friday’s two big releases are best summed up in the concluding lines of my reviews.

If Shubh Mangal Saavdhan sparkled with its wit and clarity on how it wants to treat a tender complication relating to sex, Baadshaho doled out out-dated ideas of bravado and machismo as entertainment.

Saturday
After consuming one entire season of Charlie Brooker’s dark satire Black Mirror in one go, I feel tormented to the core.

This is NOT binge material.

Its violence is subtle, shrewd and psychological and ten times more brutal than Game of Thrones.

Anybody who actively engages with technology and social media, has embraced its disturbingly deep reach within our daily lives is bound to feel uneasy (or even responsible) about its dangerous suggestions and ruthless outcome.

To make things worse, everyone I talk to, is freaking me out with words that sound like warnings, ‘Wait till you reach the episode where…’ Brr.

Sunday
Spent the entire evening watching Kangana Ranaut’s spate of tell-all interviews — the actress spoke to journalists like Rajeev Masand, Rajat Sharma and Barkha Dutt.

Watching her speak is akin to an episode of Black Mirror — sensational yet coming from a place of stark realities.

A lot of people feel she’s making spurious claims about Hrithik and Rakesh Roshan, Karan Johar, Aditya Pancholi, Adhyayan Suman, Ketan Mehta, phony award functions, slave journalists, women’s commission to increase the buzz for her upcoming release, Simran.

After Rangoon‘s debacle, Simran‘s success is crucial for her career.

I am not sure if Kangana is playing the media or getting played by the media. On Sharma’s prodding, she jokes, ‘aur aap ghee daalne ka kaam kar rahe hain.’ To Dutt’s assertion, she protests, ‘you’re putting words in my mouth.’

I don’t agree with everything she says, I don’t believe everything she says yet I can’t help admiring the woman’s guts. To stand up for your beliefs at the risk of losing face, fame, fortune, knowing well that every single person harbours an opinion about you, gossips about you is not comfortable knowledge to live with.

Rajat Sharma used the word ‘mistress’ in her context. Barkha Dutt added ‘whore’ to the list of labels attributed to her. They did it to her face. She took it on the chin.

The film industry is a cold, unwelcoming, place for anyone who won’t bow down to entitlement or those wielding power. It may condone movie stars who cheat, abuse or guilty of other misdemeanours. It may hail snarky think pieces on small fish, but not someone at the heart of the fraternity.

Kangana may be doing it all for publicity, but then whose conscience is squeaky clean anyway?

This column was first published on rediff.com.

Previously:
Gulzar’s gussa, Tendukar’s tears
When Akshay met his scientist fan
John Wick’s Amar Akbar Anthony moment
When the bride cried Sallu
Imagining Ranbir Kapoor as Balraj Sahni
Long live Aamir’s Model School Pajamachaaps
King’s Speech by SRK
Getting ready for the Baahubali juggernaut 
Super filmi week with Hit Girl Asha Parekh
Feasting on Achari Alia, Mastani Papdi!
Grace under fire
More power to Anushka Sharma
Rishi Kapoor’s page-turning debut!
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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