Batti Gul Meter Chalu review: No light at the end of this never-ending drab

After nearly three hours of a bogus love triangle and half-hearted championing of social issues, the only thing Batti Gul Meter Chalu ascertains is there is no light at the end of this never-ending drab.

It’s a harrowing experience to sit through Director Shree Narayan Singh’s latest that yammers reams of gyaan on the common man’s woes but doesn’t think twice before doling out this dreary, dragging and annoying piece of cinema at a ticket-paying audience.

Singh takes the same fast-forward revolution route as his previous Toilet: Ek Prem Katha to shed some light on Uttarakhand’s frequent power outages and inflated electricity bill scam.

But while Toilet did well in rooting genuine sentiment at its core, Batti Gul Meter Chalu falters the minute it opens its mouth.

Every single sentence uttered (even texted) by every single character for every single emotion at all times of the day is punctuated by two words — thehra and bal to establish the script’s Garhwal setting. It is like writers Siddharth-Garima are ruthlessly spamming us with this so-called authenticity.

Batti Gul Meter Chalu may peddle itself as a movie that has got change on its mind but it is as predictable as the bulls eye shot of Shahid Kapoor’s archery display obliging with a quintessential Bollywood hero entry.

More of a lout than lawyer by profession, he is best friends with Shraddha Kapoor, a fashion designer, and Divyendu Sharma (harmless but doesn’t stand out), a rookie businessman since childhood.

Both guys want to take their friendship to another level, but the outcome of her selection leaves one sulking like the inflamed witch who wasn’t invited to the party.

After spending a tedious half of the movie on their romantic circus — Shraddha even dresses as colourfully as a clown — Batti Gul Meter Chalu‘s alarm clock finally goes off and the film slips into its courtroom drama clothes.

As if the length isn’t problematic enough, Sharib Hashmi narrates all these afore-mentioned events and its various flashbacks to a nondescript curious soul in a black and white parallel timeline. 

There is no shortage of pointless interruptions in Batti Gul Meter Chalu‘s long-winded narrative. Fine actors are tossed in the mix to no avail. Like Sudhir Pandey, as Shahid’s father, keeps wife hunting in a silly wig. Loveable movie mommies Farida Jalal and Surpriya Pilgaonkar are reduced to murmuring sidekicks. Brijendra Kala shows up for a thankless cameo whereas Sushmita Mukerjee isn’t given enough room to flex her quirky judge beyond a two-expressions emoji.

Most of it is reserved for Shraddha Kapoor and her absurd, attention grabbing wardrobe wholeheartedly following her ostensible brief to annoy with abandon.

The other lady on board, Yami Gautam doesn’t get much to do. Her spunk is out of place around the script’s commitment to buffoonery, where everyone from the judge to her legal opponent addresses her Gulnar as Gullu.

The big twist up its sleeve is foreseeable to anyone who has watched Hindi movies long enough to know better.

Batti Gul Meter Chalu‘s final few minutes weepily rave and rant about the injustice meted out at the ‘sadharan aadmi.’ But the mockery that precedes it akin to watching Shahid Kapoor host a humourless awards show.

The actor gives his all to the part, smoothly swinging between the stand-up and speech-y tone of its courtroom scenes. Unfortunately, his comic ease and contagious energy are not enough to brighten up this dim-witted slog.

Rating: 1.5 

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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Manmarziyaan review: The Heart Has Its Reasons


A woman in love is only a little less irrepressible than a woman in two minds.

It sure holds true for Rumi (Taapsee Pannu) — the wilful, fiery, beguiling protagonist of Anurag Kashyap’s crackerjack love triangle — caught between a romance that has no future and a marriage that cannot shrug off the past.

It’s a story we know like the back of our hand. The rush of youth, the pangs of desire and the fickleness of first love has come a long way since it was righteously forsaken for mellow, magnanimous life partners (Woh Saat Din, Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi) covertly asserting the one-upmanship of stability over sex.

Kashyap doesn’t challenge the status quo as much as savour the process of indecision by favouring faltering human impulses over sanctimonious stereotypes in a way like only he can.

Much credit must go to writer Kanika Dhillon whose zesty imagination and full-bodied eloquence offers such an intimate view of foolhardy minds, fascinated is a foregone conclusion. Manmarziyaan is a meaty slice of Tinder-day relationships where love is a libidinous explosion that is unafraid of consequences and flies in the face of discretion.

More fornicating rabbits than puppy love, Rumi and Vicky (Vicky Kaushal) have a torrid thing going — they’ve even got a word for it — fyaar. Of course a lot more sexual, the screen hasn’t witnessed such marvellous display of unself-conscious affection since Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh.

A wannabe deejay ripping off style and songs from local rock stars, commitment is not Vicky’s strongest point. A casual reference to an abortion suggests Rumi doesn’t mind. She doesn’t admit to giving up hockey for his sake either. And if they wouldn’t look so darn made-for-each-other together you’d honestly wonder why.

Rumi is foolish by choice; her outbursts make sure to let us know lest we take her passion for pig-headedness. It doesn’t work, but Manmarziyaan feels all the more real for it.

The film’s sunny disposition, witty zingers and soaring soundtrack cannot betray the couple’s propensity for mischief and misdemeanour even after their not-so-clandestine meetings over cigarettes and chocolates becomes public knowledge.

Cue for Robbie (Abhishek Bachchan), a London-based banker to make his entry. In going along with his overexcited mum’s plans to marry him off through an unhappily married bloke’s (a fabulous Saurabh Sachdeva) ‘vyaah‘ agency that offers special discounts for NRIs, he signs up for more complication than a Facebook friendship request could ever anticipate.

But the business of arranged marriages is aggressive and Kashyap uses it as a ploy to remove Robbie and Rumi out of Amritsar’s heady sights and sounds and right into Kashmir’s snow-clad solitude.

The change of pace is not easy to adjust to, but that’s exactly Manmarziyaan‘s point.

Rumi’s heartbreak doesn’t have the strength of her pride and pragmatism. Robbie’s willingness to be a romantic ‘option’ is easier said than done and Vicky’s immaturity and ineptitude overpowers his regret.

Kashyap and Dhillon probe into their emotional conflicts with quirk and empathy while steering clear of melodrama.

Richly rooted in local flavours and ambience of everyday Amritsar, Manmarziyaancomes alive in the exasperation of a modest family running out of ways to make Rumi get her act together, the hilarious banter between Robbie’s curious mom and sharp-tongued domestic help, a stream of Amit Trivedi-Shelle’s breathtaking, narrative-enabling songs and the presence of dancing twins (Poonam and Priyanka Kaur) marking its many vibrant moments.

I don’t know if it is a stylistic device or something symbolic, I made my own theory about the recurring imagery of twins popping in between songs followed by lookalike bystanders in Kashmir. They reminded me of the Gemini twins and what I’d read in a Linda Goodman book of zodiac signs long ago, ‘Gemini is the sign of the twins, and there are two distinct sides to his changeable personality. Now you see it, now you don’t.’ Perhaps Rumi is one since these traits aptly explain her mercurial personality.

Expressing them ever so magnificently, Taapsee Pannu burns up the silver screen with her ruthless abandon and drive. It is a performance made on fire and completely devoid of filters.

Her Rumi is a tribute to writer Amrita Pritam, to whom Manmarziyaan is dedicated and whose ardour for the evasive Sahir Ludhianvi and unconditionally giving Imroz inspires its triangle. During one of its more poignant moments, Pannu recites a few lines of her poem, Main Tainu Phir Milangi.

Vicky Kaushal’s man-child portrayal of an essentially self-absorbed good-for-nothing turns on the charm and shows why Rumi overlooks his follies like we do. One wrong note and it could all fall apart, but Kaushal is knockout.

Abhishek Bachchan’s return to the screen doesn’t have the bluster of these two. It doesn’t aim for the sympathy of a Vanraj or Suri either.

Unlike Rumi or Vicky, Robbie is someone we are allowed to figure on our own. Just when you think he is a 40-something lonely guy with low self worth agreeing to shabby treatment because of his deep belief in nice guys finish last, he surprises you. Bachchan plays the underdog like he has known him all along.

Manmarziyaan explores the depths of Anurag Kashyap’s versatility. And the indulgence he is often accused of shows up only towards the end to provide answers of what should have ended at a request. 

But the heart has its reasons and in Manmarziyaan they are all over the place.

Rating: 4

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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Paltan review: This war drama is a bore!

Director J P Dutta’s distinction in grandiose sentiments, dramatic aggression and intensive star power led to many career highs as he shifted focus from Rajasthani feudalism to India’s war scene.

Of these, Border is certainly his most celebrated if not paramount.

The same self-indulgence that drove Dutta’s sophomore war drama LoC: Kargil revs his instincts in Paltan and yet again another Border it is not. While LoC still had some moments of craft and scene stealing turns from a star-studded cast, Paltan alternates between unintentionally hilarious and outright boring.

Dutta rakes up India and China’s history of territorial disputes with the 1967 Nathu La clash along the Sikkim border.

Following the Indian Army’s crushing defeat at the hands of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army in 1962 — documented most memorably in Chetan Anand’s Haqeeqat — this victory was viewed as a reassuring comeback. But Dutta’s clownish treatment of history and hard-earned triumph demeans the efforts and sacrifices of real-life martyrs and bravehearts with its pompous ideas of valour, clunky writing and a cadre of lacklustre actors.

An already crawling narrative hindered by whiny songs, gawky flashbacks and patriotic small talk, Paltan begins with haphazard recap of 1962’s events.

Next, we trail a postman, sporting a Burberry print scarf, delivering the news of loss to bereaved families drowning in cries of ‘shaheed‘ and overblown hysteria. Paltan’s distaste for subtle only grows you’ll soon find out.

Five years later, India’s armed forces look ready to put China in their place and not be deceived by their ‘Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai’ chants. On screen, that translates to classroom scraps for space as though it’s some inter school contest between Model and Rajput.

Except Indian soldiers employing kabaddi-like tactics to distract Chinese or juvenile stand offs is plain silly.

The stone pelting that ensues is an excellent opportunity to underscore a jawan‘s chaotic, out of control frame of mind and the harsh conditions they live in owing to bad climate and loneliness.

Instead, you see folks (Gurmeet Choudhary, Harshvardhan Rane) flashing their bare torso and six packs in low-waist pants broadcasting their desh bhakti as if they’d been transported thousands of metres above sea level not on the front line but an open-aired gym.

In one scene, an armyman asks his fiancĂ©e (all women in Paltan are strictly of token and blink-and-miss variety) to watch Usne Kaha Tha and learn how wars are fought. Clearly, Paltan believes that. Uninspired, flatly shot combat scenes coupled with a bland coverage of the rugged terrains of Ladakh add to its overall dullness.

The only point Paltan really has is it is 1967 and history will not repeat itself.

Besides a dial phone, there’s little to convey the period in a movie that behaves like it already anticipates the outcome of its on-going conflict. At one point, Arjun Rampal even remarks, I wouldn’t miss this historic moment for anything.

Jackie Shroff’s mumbling accent suggests something else. The actor sounds like he is swallowing his yawns. With veterans failing, it’d be too much to expect from a reliably deadpan Arjun Rampal. The latter looks like he’d rather be before a fireplace than this film.

Paltan drums up heroism for narrative, drama, consequence and conversation. Rampal and Sonu Sood’s characters seem to be reading out from a book of slogans — Do or die. Don’t ask why. No guts, no glory. No legend, no story. Jai Kisan Jai Jawan. The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war.

Their passionate war cry of Sarvada Shaktishali would feel a lot more effective if the enemy was portrayed formidably. Led by someone resembling a Chinese Jabba the Hut, they are little more than standees gawking at bombastic Indian officers prophesising, ‘Humari paltan itihaas rachegi‘ like professional orators before a dumbstruck Chinese audience.

The one off screen gets no relief either. Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai, once again.

Rating: 1.5

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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