Review: Gold is let down by Akshay Kumar

A national hockey team captain (Vineet Kumar Singh) forced to leave his town and team after Partition and play for its newly created neighbour.

An aristocrat (Amit Sadh), who excels at the game but is too smug to realise why he must not exert his privileges on the field.

A hot-tempered Sardar (Sunny Kaushal) lad blessed with extraordinary talent frustrated by his under-utilisation and internal politics.

Gold has three noteworthy stories to tell. Yet, it sidelines their potential to say something pertinent about a freshly freed country, its hopes and uncertainties, to focus on a drunkard manager’s flimsy contribution in Independent India’s victory at the 1948 Olympics.  

Tapan Das or Tuppen, as he likes to pronounce it, is nursing a dream since 1936 after his hockey team got gold for British India before an elated crowd that includes a world-famous German tyrant (more like Bertie Wooster with a toothbrush moustache).

A decade goes by as India becomes free from British rule, Pakistan is born and World War II cancels the 1940 and 1944 Olympics. In this time, a disappointed Tapan has taken to the bottle and bets against wrestlers.When he finally lands an opportunity to put together his dream hockey team with star player-turned-coach (Kunal Kapoor), a surly senior creates problems for no legitimate reason.

Director Reema Kagti, who put together a quirky ensemble in Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd and combined sorrow and supernatural so sublimely in Talaash, struggles to give her distinct voice to Gold‘s wishy-washy complexity. As a consequence, Tapan’s disillusionment feels exaggerated and grating.

Nationalistic fervour is pretty much thrust upon him after the tricolored flag fortuitously lands in his hands. But since those hands belong to Akshay Kumar, rest assured, it shall not be taken lightly.

Bollywood’s go-to crusader reminds us repeatedly of his plans to avenge ‘Do sau saal ki ghulami‘ by speaking in a jarring accent that is clearly more Bollywood than Bangla, breaking into a dhoti-clad bhangra as though he’s confused Gold for Singh is Bling while being a hockey hero from the sidelines. It is a sloppily written role performed with equal ineptitude, a rare misstep from the actor, who hardly gets it wrong anymore no matter how partisan or embarrassing the contents.

As Gold grows into a timeworn underdog tale, the British emerge as the unanimous bad guys having changed their objective from divide and rule to divide and defeat.

It is nice to see Kagti remembers that India and Pakistan break up is too recent to view its common enemy differently. It gives the climatic scene’s communal cheer a heartrending unity, years before it would be looked upon as romantic idealism in Bajrangi Bhaijaan

Barring these little details, her recreation of the era feels more postcard than living. Gold‘s glossy, sepia toned rendition of retro revelries is fancy, but the contemporary energy they betray is telling of how accurate the endeavour is. Characters are dressed in vintage, set designs throws in the decade appropriate props and knick-knacks, but one never gets a sense of those times or the wave of patriotism it so conveniently whips up to suit its purpose.

Gold‘s other issue is the game it builds itself around. Hockey isn’t a visually exciting game for everybody. Unless its stakes and soul are smartly and shrewdly woven into the narrative like Chak De! India, viewers are unlikely to invest.

Half-hearted depiction of the sport, a moment of epiphany to showcase barefoot bravado and starstruck fan following of a former legend among Buddhist monks do very little to promote its cause. The only thing Gold borrows from Shimit Amin’s deeply layered classic is the Sabharwal-Chautala rivalry.

Luckily for Kagti, her supporting cast stands her in good stead and does well in bringing out the vulnerability and ambition of their characters. If only they’d get a little more screen time.

At 150 minutes though, Gold digresses too often to accommodate a bizarre episode of Amit Sadh’s philanthropy, Mouni Roy’s domestic chatter and heavy-handed federation politics.

It is only when Gold moves away from Akshay Kumar’s blundering Bangla and hockey humbug to become a story of grace among go-getters that it comes close to becoming the movie it should have been.

And then the national anthem plays and manipulation wins once again.

Rating: 2

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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Satyamev Jayate review: John tests your threshold of pain

A mysterious man in a hoodie drags an unconscious fella towards a wooden pyre. As soon as the latter regains senses, he discovers he is tied to the logs, loud sounds of Sanskrit shlokas are booming all around and the tall hunk is going on and on about some matchstick analogy.

Meet serial corrupt cop killer John Abraham, a character born out of Aakhri Raasta and Shahenshah‘s leftovers that strains to evoke Deewar and Shakti-reminiscent sentiments out of Manoj Bajpayee, the only decent policeman in all of Satyameva Jayate.

While Abraham’s fire-breathing dragon sends off few more bribe-taking officers to direct hell, Bajpayee gets cracking down on his case and reveal the initial reason the film is called Satyameva Jayate.

The individual letters of the title signify the location of the incinerated cops — something Bajpayee miraculously deduces on the basis of a homophone. Of course there are just too many letters to prolong the ploy in a script that cannot even pretend to be clever. It’s not long before Satyameva Jayate completely abandons the idea and brings on board good old baap ka badla

Director Milan Milap Zaveri’s dreadful lack of originality would be a little more bearable if it wasn’t so tedious about its nostalgia. Every single phone call between a duty-bound cop and self-appointed vigilante is a gabby round of steal a march versus rain on your parade. It’s only marginally less laughable than John Abraham attempts to look sly.

The film labours to paint him as this model citizen volunteering at cleanliness drives and rescuing stray puppies yet his mineral water-glugging, needless plastic amassing and flirting with the vet (Aisha Sharma who sounds like Suniel Shetty every time she opens her mouth) has a different story to tell.

Satyameva Jayate is so committed to Abraham’s pyromania it happily overlooks all the damage his irresponsible justice seeking leads to. From blowing off petrol pumps to causing stampedes in public places, his so-called valour reeks of hypocrisy.

It’s foolhardy to expect nuance from a jaded action drama that not only recycles 80s clich├ęs, but also expects to pull off a reckless revenge in the absence of Amitabh Bachchan’s charisma and Sunny Deol’s fury. 

Only Satyameva Jayate‘s predictable twists and superficial emotions have absolutely nothing new to offer. What it does is test your threshold of pain. Zaveri’s energy-sapping hysterics pitting Islamophobic cops and Abraham’s saviour act (‘Patil ho ya Qadri, sabki ek biradri‘) during a bombastic, blood-soaked Muharram ritual is where I threw in the towel.

John Abraham has Popeye’s muscles and Bluto’s scowl, but how many times can you watch a deadpan Hulk pull out a van door or burst forth from a truck tyre? And if Manoj Bajpayee chitchats on one more phone call as the gyaan spewing, exasperated, righteous law enforcer with a soft spot for his outwitting adversary, it qualifies as stock character.

If the anti-corruption baloney isn’t agonising enough, the writer in Zaveri over-rides the film-maker and stuffs the scenes with excessive verbosity. After 141 exhausting minutes of unending appeals, phony revelations and long-winded dying words, the only satya I cared about is there is a cab outside the theatre waiting to take me home.

Rating: 1.5

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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Revisiting Chaalbaaz: Sridevi, TWICE as good!

A goddess in a transparent raincoat, a mouse in a sari and pure electric as both, Sridevi dives from one extreme to another as easily as turning the pages of a book.

The star’s unswerving charisma, emotional agility and flair for humorous touches in Chaalbaaz highlight how two Sridevis are even better than one.

When Chaalbaaz released in 1989, audiences knew what to expect from the twins-separated-at-birth formula, thanks to Dilip Kumar’s hijinks in Ram Aur Shyamand Hema Malini’s mood swings in Seeta Aur Geeta. Yet, Sridevi’s flamboyance as Manju and jitters as Anju steeped in the 1980s kitschy vigour lent Chaalbaaz abundant appeal and inimitable individuality.

Already riding high on the success of Yash Chopra’s Chandni, which came out a couple of months before, Chaalbaaz‘s double role cemented her superstardom for good.The idea to do the remake came about just like that. After Producer A Purnachandra Rao promised to get Sridevi on board and quizzed Director Pankuj Parashar about the subject, ‘I just blabbered we would remake Seeta Aur Geeta. He agreed. That was it,’ Parashar told Rediff in 2003.

Parashar’s buddy and actor Kamal Haasan gave him a lot of tips during the filming. One of them was to stick to the tried-and-tested tropes of the original.

So, a pair of orphaned twin sisters is raised in different households oblivious to one another’s existence — one is a brutally treated Cinderella living in a bungalow, the other a beer-glugging slum gal proficient at getting in and out of trouble. 

Anju shudders and squeals at the continuous abuse doled out at her by greedy uncle (Anupam Kher), his wily aide (Rohini Hattangady) and her creepy nephew (Shakti Kapoor). Her kid nephew (Aftab Shivdasani) and domestic help (Annu Kapoor) are Anju’s only sympathisers after her protective Pomeranian Moti meets the same fate as a horse in The Godfather.

There’s no reason for the cruelty to go on for as long as it has, but Chaalbaaz‘s busy schemes insist you buy into the contrivances and Anju’s curious compulsions to break into feverish Bharata Natyam at the drop of a hat.Everyone loves a bully tamer. Manju’s whiplashing payback is tailor-made for whistles and applause. But it’s the defiant soul in her spirit loving ways that awes and amuses.
It’s how she explains in her sloshed state and slurred speech, ‘Seeta, Salma ya Suzy, naam se kya farak padta hai? Main toh bas ek aurat hoon jo mardon ki banayi is duniya main apne shart se jeena chahti hoon.’

Aur doosron ki beer peena chahti hoon,’ the bartender adds his bit.

Chaalbaaz is full of such delightfully droll add-ons.

Sridevi has a ball moving between the two ends of a spectrum. Her expressive face changes its view to convey feelings of fear, mischief, madness, vivacity, trickery, seduction, despair, disbelief, nerve, coolness and daredevilry. Chaalbaaz is testament to her showmanship.There are a great many scene-stealing moments. But I just love how movingly she distinguishes between the two sisters, especially in the scene where they finally reunite and Anju tells Manju she’s poisoned. They may look alike, but they are two different people. Sri never forgets that.

Compared to the flamboyant one, the timid twin is bound to come out looking like a complete bore, but the submissive Sridevi uses her character traits to generate laughs with co-star Rajnikanth. His exasperation over the swapped sisters provides as much mirth as his ‘Aaj Sunday hai daru peene ka din hai’ maxim. The duo share excellent timing and it’s a joy to see them engage in a Tom and Jerry-ish banter.

Sri’s equally reciprocating of Sunny Deol’s romantic overtures over imaginatively choreographed dance numbers like Najane Kahan Se and Tera Bimaar Mere Dil.Often, she mocks the stereotypical Hindi film heroine and leaves us chuckling with her quirky interjections. Like the scene where she’s coquettishly cooing, ‘Chhodo na, Chhodo na‘ to her affectionate beau and when he does let go, a surprised Sri wryly notes, ‘Chhod diya?

But there’s something unbecoming about how the boys react to the lookalike confusion and presume infidelity. Rajni’s boorish tongue finds a match in Sunny Deol’s sudden aggression, both revealing an inherent chauvinism that believes it’s okay to hit a woman. It may be characteristic of the films of that decade, but problematic in retrospect.Sridevi’s flogging the bad guys takes precedence over everything.

Anupam Kher and his prosthetic nose, Rohini Hattangady’s hideous hair and fashion and Shakti Kapoor with his Main ek nanha sa, pyaara sa, chhota sa bachcha hoon/Ceeti baja ke/Balma catchphrases dedicate themselves to wholehearted villainy.

Moments like Sri and her stoned enemies in the picnic ditty, Gadbad Ho Gayi, Sri uglify Hattangady’s face while doing a take-off on Raaj Kumar come to mind.

‘Pankaj told me to put on some really bad make-up for the scene. I did some things like a black tooth, made one eye big… but Pankaj was not happy with it. I was wondering what else I could do when Sridevi asked if she could try. She asked her make-up artist to bring her old wig and gelled it and then did the make-up on my face. When Pankaj saw it, he loved it,’ says Hattangady.

Although the plot is full of loopholes and prides itself on caricatures, Parashar’s stylish packaging gives it a distinct look and feel.

Monsoon, exorcism, ad world aesthetics, cannabis induced shenanigans, Michael Jackson-meets-Madonna concert — every single Laxmikant Pyarelal chartbuster penned by Anand Bakshi is crafted to an exquisite mood and function. Where Viju Shah’s background score lends spunk, Manmohan Singh’s brightly-lit choreography and saturated frames capture the over the top trends and glamour of the 1980s in Sridevi’s candy-coloured costumes and cosmetics.  

As I revisit the late star in those denim pedal pushers and lace socks, whirling her see-through umbrella, fluttering her big, beautiful eyelashes, flashing her impish smile while dancing away to glory, her words, ‘Badi chhoti hai mulakaat. Bade afsos ki hai baat. Kisi ke haath na aayegi yeh ladki,’ are a sad reminder of how quickly, suddenly she went away.

I don’t know if the world remembers All India Star Manju Michaeli Jacksoni, but Sridevi is forever.

This column was first published on rediff.com.

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