Review: Moana is a treat for the whole family!

A still from Moana
A still from Moana

When walking inside a world as intimate as Disney, there’s a sense of familiarity with the many morals, motives and motifs — recurring or reinforced — it regularly supplies.

One of its most beloved ideas right now is to throw its undaunted but inexperienced heroine into the mouth of trouble until she’s discovered her true, not love but, mettle.

If Academy award-winning animation like Brave and Frozen toppled Prince Charming’s monopoly to focus on parent-child and sibling equations against a Scottish and Scandinavian milieu, Disney’s feisty new Princess feasts on Polynesian folklore to promote its underlying allegory on environmentalism in directors Ron Clements and John Musker’s Moana.

There are gobs and grains of the afore-mentioned movies as well as Tangled, Mulan, Shrek, The Little Mermaid, Finding Nemo, Spirited Away, The Good Dinosaur, Lord of the Rings and even Mad Max: Fury Road, in the way Moana plunges headlong into a voyage. It’s frowned upon by her orthodox father and facilitated by her oddball grandmother. It’s also in the strength she musters and adversaries she outwits employing friends, sidekicks and totems.

Foreseeable as it is, Moana’s unflinching optimism in self-obsessed idols and spunky refusal to play safe when buoyed by an effervescent soundtrack (Lin-Manuel Miranda, Opetaia Foa’i and Mark Mancina) lends fresh charm to the damsel’s narrative and turns her into someone you want to root for.

Even in the absence of its upbeat score, Moana’s visual resplendence is a joy to behold.

Amidst elegant 3D images of fantasy and frolic, mystic and mystery, serenity and sweeping, Moana offers riveting glimpses of the indigenous heritage she leaves behind to outwit quirky, comically dangerous inhabitants above and under the sea. Sequences involving an ambush conducted by coconut bodied pirates and a psychedelia-prone shiny, self-loving crab are a hoot.

Voiced by the sprightly teenager Auli’i Cravalho, Moana is chosen to sail beyond the reef by the nimble ocean spirit and her quip-ready Gramma. She must locate Maui (a sensational, smirking, singing Dwayne Johnson), the scallywag demigod whose ballooned, brawny torso is bursting with mobile tattoos and narcissistic pride.

Far from remorseful — having nicked Greenery Goddess Te Fiti’s heart and sparked off Mother Nature’s ire — Maui wears the air of a bossy big brother around Moana. ‘You’re face to face with greatness. And it’s strange, you don’t even know how you feel,’ he scoffs at her in the delightful You’re Welcome ditty.

A still from Moana
A still from Moana

Except she does.

Unlike the boastful Maui, Moana doesn’t rely on sorcery or skills to realise her enduring strength. It comes from constantly reminding herself who she is and what she’s capable of. The simplicity of her rather Inigo Montoya method is both heartfelt and reassuring. As is this cheerful Disney offering that maintains not all great adventures in a girl’s life require romance.

Moana is a journey you want to get on. It doesn’t take you to places you don’t know but ones you actually like.

Rating:  ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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Weekly Column: Ranbir-Ranveer, sigh sigh!

From Feroz Khan-Danny Denzongpa’s bare skin to Ranbir Kapoor-Ranveer Singh bare soul, my super filmi week saw it all!

Monday
A still from Sadma, Tezaab, Swades and Masoom
Some people like to mark their favourite sentences or passages in a book. I do the same with movie scenes on my computer.

It’s remarkable how one fleeting but flawless shot can express such vast sentiment, symbolism and style.

Recently, I joined a closed Facebook group dedicated to sharing cinematic imagery that’s telling even when snipped out of the big picture. I find this activity immensely satisfying and stimulating as it allows me to celebrate a film’s minutest details, which is not always possible when focused on larger issues.

As part of my Monday exercise, I handpick four shots from four different movies — Sadma, Tezaab, Swades and Masoom and what they individually convey — verve, limelight, saviour and apprehension.

Tuesday

A still from Kaala Sona
A still from Kaala Sona

Whoa-ho, ho! Now that’s a sight I don’t see too often in a 1970s potboiler, nearly equivalent to Bollywood’s version of skinny-dipping.

But the minute these fellas turn to face the camera, surprise makes way for amusement for it’s none other than Feroz ‘could I be any more sexy’ Khan and his slick partner-in-crime, Danny Denzongpa.

Danny Denzongpa and Feroz Khan in Kaala Sona
Danny Denzongpa and Feroz Khan in Kaala Sona

It’s a scene from one of his Western rip-offs Kaala Sona where these two lean mean machines attract the unwanted attention of three burly horse riders.

Before the mandatory dishoom dishoom, there’s a good 60 seconds of the duo flaunting their sinewy physique for our lusting pleasure as well one creepy, gum-chewing goon who can’t seem to get his eyes off his prize.

How real is that brawn though! Especially when today every single guy in the industry looks like he stepped out of an iron pumping, protein-shake gulping six-pack factory.

Wednesday

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in La La Land
Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in La La Land

City of stars, are you shining just for me?

It certainly feels so as I get ready to visit La La Land (amongst 2016’s most awaited films, as it turns out, one of the best too, if not THE best.)

Bless the good people at Mumbai Film Festival and Viacom18 who ensured the India premiere of Damien Chazelle’s La La Land starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone one month before its official release. And it’s not long before a queue of chatty, champagne-sipping folks transforms into a delighted, dumbfounded audience.

Chazelle’s affection and nostalgia for the two most indispensable facets of Los Angeles’s identity — movies and music — transcends the screen and stirs the senses in a way I had almost forgotten.

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone share this marvellous gift to personify the magnetism of a ‘somebody’ and the reserve of a ‘nobody.’ It’s what makes their success or suffering of value.

Two years back, I watched Jacques Demy’s exquisite French musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg under MAMI’s Rendezvous section in all its restored print glory. Its influence on Chazelle is undeniable (in one scene Stone is penning a play featuring a protagonist named Genevieve, a clear nod to the Catherine Deneuve’s character in the 1964 film) but the final sequence, the finest expression of romance and rue, is a masterstroke.

Hollywood hasn’t ever felt this intimate, warm and Cherbourgian. La La Land, I pronounce thee an instant classic.

Thursday

Amol Palekar in Chhoti Si Baat
Amol Palekar in Chhoti Si Baat

It’s Amol Palekar’s 74th birthday.

In my compilation of his best films once, I mentioned how ‘his disarming common man disposition, conveying the day-to-day problems of the bourgeoisie milieu with sensitivity and insight, distinguished him from his peers.’

I’ve relished his work across every genre, be it his Golmaal tactics or dark side in Khamosh but the one I related to the most is the socially awkward, bungling employee of Jackson Tolaram Private Limited Company.

Now Basu Chaterjee’s Chhoti Si Baat is a charming rom-com with tremendous repeat value. (Although I was terribly disappointed to discover the extent to which it borrows from British comedy, School of Scoundrels.) But the source of its humour is Palekar’s pushover hero, too low on confidence and nerve, to tell a girl he likes her or stop people from exploiting him.

Enter Fairy Godmother in the guise of Ashok Kumar’s Colonel Julius Nagendranath Wilfred Singh and our chap goes from duck soup to nobody’s fool.

Ever so nuanced, the actor is convincing in his metamorphosis. The personality shift doesn’t feel drastic or out of place.

I should know. I improved too.

Friday

Alia Bhatt and Shah Rukh Khan in Dear Zindagi
Alia Bhatt and Shah Rukh Khan in Dear Zindagi

Editing woes and problematic characterisation aside, Gauri Shinde’s Friday offering impressed me a great deal for quite a few reasons.

Dear Zindagi talks to an audience conditioned to believe therapy is applicable for serious, life-threatening concerns only. ‘Child abuse,’ remarks a presumptuous know-all, sitting right behind me, in anticipation of Alia’s big reveal. He’d probably justify that with ‘because it’s what happened in Imtiaz Ali’s Highway’ logic.

But the fact that Alia’s anxiety stems from abandonment as a kid reveals a broad tendency among adults to see children as cute, tiny, inattentive beings with no mind of their own. Except they too feel a sense of humiliation, hurt and isolation, which, if anything, only gets intensified when they are too young to convey it outright.

Saturday

Hema Malini
Hema Malini

Two hours of strictly Hema Malini songs later, I’ll tell you this: Bollywood’s Dream Girl is the queen of eye make up.

Here’s proof.

Sunday

A photo posted by Karan Johar (@karanjohar) on


Ranbir Kapoor and Ranveer Singh on Koffee with Karan — it is the next best thing to a two-hero project, some would say.

I am not sure if it’s because he shaved or Ae Dil Hai Mushkil’s success has rubbed off on Ranbir but he appears more glowing and assured than all those self-analysing interviews prior to its release. Especially when the conversation veers away from his romance or lack of it.

Ranveer, on the other hand, labours to play it cool or even raunchy. Perhaps he should just stick to his bizarre wardrobe, it brings out the kook in him. Still, I laugh loud at his ‘Jis thaali mein khaata hai ussi mein thukta hai’ jibe at Ranbir’s porn scorn.

Indeed, it’s a fairly entertaining episode when the focus isn’t on their love lives. What earth-shattering novelty can be found in a movie star’s acknowledgment of a relationship or breakup?

Change the topic though and the Eer/Bir boys transform into blasphemous buffoons injecting the show with wacky spontaneity and spunk.

Now can you guys please go and sign a movie?

This column was first published on rediff.com.
Also read:
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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Review: Dear Zindagi’s high on sublime Alia, splendid SRK!

A still from Dear Zindagi
A still from Dear Zindagi
Sad and sleepless is nothing unusual for a 20-something young woman fraught with career limbo and romantic disillusionment. What’s significant is she decides to seek professional help for the same.

Seldom does a character in our movies take such a step — who needs a shrink when you can simply stand on the beach, balcony or backyard and drive all the gloom out of your system by blasting off an ode to melancholy?

Gauri Shinde’s Dear Zindagi frowns at mindsets that categorise pain on the basis of consequence or attach stigma to matters of mental health while making a glamorous case for psychotherapy.

Expression is essential when stemming from feeling, not fallacy. A long festered wound dictates Kiara’s (Alia Bhatt) mess and mood swings conspicuous in the Polaroids of changing suitors on her packed pinboard, the non-prescription glasses she sporadically wears, the phone calls she avoids, texts she never sends, a compulsive eBay shopping disorder (brazen show of product placement) and one-upmanship in the art of breakup.

Evasive towards the men she dates and dumps (boring Angad Bedi, boring Kunal Kapoor, boring Ali Zafar), the budding cinematographer lets herself loose in the company of beer-glugging gal pals (lovely Ira Dubey, loony Yashwasini Dayama) and nondescript, William Faulkner-quoting wingmen — enraged about everything from that elusive independent gig to Mumbai’s inconsiderate landlords unwilling to accommodate a single working woman.

Too disheartened to cope and young to know better, Kiara moves back to her native Goa. Except around her parents — harmless, conventional folk unable to understand the source of their kid’s discontentment — she acquires the berating tone of Sridevi’s impertinent daughter in Gauri’s fine first film.

If English Vinglish appealed to youngsters to be more gracious of their parents’ disadvantages, Dear Zindagi points out the impact of callous parenting in the long run.

Dear Zindagi picks its supporting cast with care. The actors impart tremendous believability to the steadily growing unrest in Kiara’s household resulting in telling family scenes around typical desi requirements of a ‘proper job’ and ‘getting married’ at the ‘right age.’ Not to mention the entitlement in the extended family’s unsolicited curiosity and counsel.

‘Are you a Lebanese?’ one such ‘well-meaning’ uncle probes refusing to accept Kiara’s singledom or his poor vocabulary.

Yet Gauri has a knack for noting the inherent chauvinism and prejudices without demonising anyone. One can gauge her optimism in the manner she straightens out Kiara or introduces Shrink Charming, Dr Jehangir Khan (Shah Rukh Khan) in her life.

Who better than the flag bearer of celluloid romance to inspire a depressed, desolate heart?

Dear Zindagi‘s smooth channeling of our favourite bits of SRK’s personality — affable, charismatic, eloquent, refined, witty, unshaven — wears itself crisp and light, pretty much like the linens he sports.

Gyaan becomes him even when the quality of Dear Zindagi‘s wisdom is too banal to dazzle. When not playing the unorthodox sounding board or decoding her bizarre dreams inside his elegant office, he tells Kiara: Relationships are like chairs, try out as many until truly satisfied.

A still from Dear Zindagi
A still from Dear Zindagi
Goldilocks might approve of this analogy but it’s hard to see any appeal in Kiara’s bears, er, beaus except good looks. Tossed in and out of the narrative like dispensable tissue, they form the most cumbersome chapters of her lacklustre love life.

As do the final 15 minutes devoted to winding up every single plot point, down to the last rambling detail, which deprive Dear Zindagi of a lyrical finish.

What comes away unscathed is Alia’s compelling vulnerability as she gently reveals the reason for her pent-up resentment, which is not some dramatic disclosure laced in hysteria but a child’s exaggerated reading in compulsions of grown-up life.

Alia is remarkably perceptive and there’s a catchy rhythm to her interactions with SRK-neither ever forgetting she is principal, he is peripheral. The breakthrough she makes, the healing he offers, the bond they form extends across the screen.

And so when she takes a mental picture of the room and him in the best scene of the film, you know they’ve quietly progressed from dear to dearer.

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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