Jai Ho! Democracy is more silly than satirical!

Jai Ho! DemocracyWhen a film ridicules the loopholes of a nation’s administration on the strength of infantile digs and shallow sensationalism to serve as some sort of eye opener, it weakens its own argument.

As it, indeed, happens in the case of Ranjit Kapoor’s Jai Ho! Democracy, a purporting political satire set on a flimsy premise.

An unsuspecting hen becomes the subject of cross-border dispute after it wanders into no man’s land triggering panic among India and Pakistan’s army posts respectively. A reluctant cook from the Indian army is pushed into playing retriever. Another from Pakistan winds up next to him. They exchange stories and songs of a shared heritage, a la Kya Dilli Kya Lahore.

When the cluck cluck reaches Breaking News-chasing media networks, the done-to-death interlude of bearded TV anchor of bombastic baritone, exaggerated emphasis-fame follows.

On the administrative front, an urgent committee is form to provide a quick fix to the crisis. Caricatures of familiar leaders, scandal-appropriate wisecracks and muted-out profanities define the first round of their interactions. Only it’s neither substantial nor witty enough to drag the shtick through its tedious duration of 96 minutes.

Between their childish squabbles, ethnic differences and aimless arguments, Jai Ho! Democracy embarrassingly erases the line between spoof and slapstick.

A couple of zingers can hardly salvage or add substance into its simplistic, frail screenplay, which doesn’t do any justice to its bright cast of Om Puri, Adil Hussain, Seema Biswas, Aamir Bashir, Grusha Kapoor, Satish Kaushik or Annu Kapoor. They do the best with what’s in hand but Jai Ho! Democracy’s flat filmmaking leaves them in a state of quandary.

Even if the idea is to underscore diplomatic futility against the common man’s resourcefulness, the diluted sarcasm of its one-sided satire, its utopian resolutions fail to convey the sting of callous reality.

At best, Jai Ho! Democracy is a hasty uptake of news channels and papers drawn into a skit that’s too short on subtext to be a realised satire and too silly to be taken seriously.

Stars: 2

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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Mr X doesn’t have the lines, the sharps, the presence!

Mr XYou know a movie has unlocked a new level of stupidity when a chemist on the screen blurts out, “Abhi tak iska test kisi choohe pe bhi nahi kiya gaya hai!

She is referring to a test tube filled with blue, anti-radiation fluid, which a bunch of lab rats were lucky to escape but Emraan Hashmi voluntarily consumes to combat his baldness-triggering burns.

A minute of Hollow Man-like effects later, Hashmi is bestowed with the gift of selective invisibility. This is a miracle, cries the chemist and educates us, the half-witted audience, how the unseen hero Mr X is visible in day and neon light but a transparent apparition in the dark.

Except her whipped-up-in two-second-theory is completely bogus, considering the ichadhari Mr X hides or shows up as he pleases.

Ditto for his beard. A clean-shaven departs on an anti-terrorist squad mission and grows a two-week old conspicuous stubble in a matter of seconds. Also this anti-terrorist department he and co-stars Arunoday Singh and Amyra Dastur work for is so embarrassingly phony, a school play projects more authenticity.

And if Mumbai in Mr X seems too slick and traffic-free to be true, it’s because that’s South Africa.

Glaring bloopers, cheesy writing and not even a smidgen of sense contribute to the hopeless mess, another classic case of ‘could-have-been potential in right hands.’

For starters, Mr X has a lively theme, an enduring fantasy — the invisible superhero.

Shekhar Kapur’s Mr India used it both as a witty gimmick and a clever catalyst to fashion a wholesome good versus evil treat. Only director Vikram Bhatt and his trifling script, co-written by Shagufta Rafique reads more like drifting scribbling of a man writing in between constant naps.

Lazy, lifeless yet forcibly shoving 3D (decent in spurts, largely nonexistent) down our eyeballs, Mr X is like the character asking for an unoccupied table in an empty restaurant –spaced out. It clumsily juggles between a shabby SFX action before promptly losing way to accommodate Emraan Hashmi’s signature steaminess.

Nobody cares if the heroine catwalks in stilettoes or flashes her skinny legs in skinny jeans, even if she’s supposed to be a no-nonsense cop living in a millionaire’s mansion, as long as she says her lines without lisping, directs rage without damaging the viewer’s eardrums and can express even one legitimate emotion on her pretty face. Except Amyra doesn’t.

Nobody cares if the villain is just a brainless bully without any hard-hitting reason to target the hero provided he can exude menace without kicking his rival as though he were struggling to start a bike. Except Arunoday Singh cannot.

Mr XThere’s also stand-up comedian Tanmay Bhat taking the joke, probably atoning for his AIB digs, as Hashmi’s eerily earnest pal. Mr X could serve as a show reel for his latent talent, especially when it comes to jumping through glass like these chaps.

Emraan Hashmi is best when he’s playing a character in need of rescue. Mr X gifts him a cool title, a great power but not the responsibility that comes with it. And to go on an avenging spree over the same, how lame is that?

At a time when even television is doling out superheroes worth binging on, taking Bhatt’s boring, fluky, one-trick Mr X seriously is out of question. He doesn’t have the lines. He doesn’t have the sharps. But, mostly, he doesn’t have the presence.

This review was first published in rediff.com

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Dharam Sankat Mein doesn’t say anything new!

Dharam Sankat MeinA middle-aged Hindu, vocal in his excessive resentment of Muslims, accidentally discovers his biological parents belong to the very community he jeers at.

Cinematographer turned director Fuwad Khan’s Dharam Sankat Mein takes on this intriguing premise in a remake of 2010 British Comedy, The Infidel, about a Pakistani Muslim discovering he’s Jew by birth.

While stinging repartee elevated its source considerably, Dharam Sankat Mein is plagued by old tricks, dull pace and tawdriness that’s even more glaring in the view of its first two flaws.

Conditioning plays a huge role in a person’s faith (or lack of it) regarding godly matters. Around an intolerant setup, chances are he’ll grow up with a judgment clouded by suspicion and prejudice towards those subscribing to a different point of view.

Too often, this myopic mind-set serves as a source of constant Hindu-Muslim disharmony unwilling to embrace the shared message of humanity propagated by their choice of gods if not god men.

Dharam Sankat Mein doesn’t dwell on the process but acknowledges its prevalence somewhat broadly. Its plot, plodded by countless mediocre songs, is more interested in the conflicts it leads to.

Set in not-quite-dry Ahmedabad, the film opens with a peeved Paresh Rawal (playing a character named Dharam, the title is a clever pun on the same) shutting his ears against a pillow and objecting to the morning azān. He’s equally belligerent towards his Muslim lawyer neighbour (Annu Kapoor) and the latter’s inhabitation in ‘our’ neighbourhood as opposed to ‘theirs.’

What’s odd about this projected hostility is that unlike his family, he’s not really spiritually inclined.  His faith is confused, mocking and representative of most folk exhausted by the extremes and ethics of religious identification.

And then Dharam learns the truth about his Muslim origin — one mere realisation suddenly bridges the differences between the aforementioned warring gentlemen.

Whether Dharam Sankat Mein is remarking on the hypocrisy of human nature or fostering it, is hard to tell. And that’s where the film goes wrong most of the time.

Even though it boasts of actors (if you overlook the indifferent supporting cast) who’d be willing to appear politically incorrect, go the distance; say the words, the script shies away from stating something new or profound post-PK, OMG:Oh My God.

It’s leading man Paresh Rawal, the poster boy for ‘theological coming-of-age’ is remarkably persuasive but he’s already made his case effectively in OMG (there’s even a shot of its DVD to underscore it) citing Bhagwad Gita and Koran as his alibi.

More rewarding and hilarious are the parts where he’s engaged in My Fair Lady reminiscent sessions training to be a devout Hindu and Muslim for the sake of his son and the son he wants to be.

Annu Kapoor endears as his Urdu-perfect Higgins but Dharam Sankat Mein paints him meek in face of Rawal’s anti-Muslim barbs. There’s anger in him about being the ‘minority’ but no bite in his expressed ire.

Even Naseeruddin Shah’s phoney Guru Neelanand, modelled on Baba Ramdev (replete with a reproduction of the escape-in-salwar kameez embarrassment and mock version of his Patanjali range of products), that would work wicked wonders if this were a trippy satire comes, across as an inflated, affected caricature here.

Ultimately, between its sentimental leanings and farcical outbursts, the superficial sermonising of Dharam Sankat Mein remains just that – superficial.

This review was first published on rediff.com. 

 

 

 

 

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Review of Kenneth Branagh’s sentimental, splendorous Cinderella!

CinderellaMost fairy tales conclude on such a delightful note, it’s easy to ignore the drudgery that paves the path of dream-come-trues. Even at its most simplistic they signify something truly profound — magic doesn’t simply fall in your lap, you have to earn it.

There’s an everlasting charm (and serious box-office potential) to this theory and umpteen successful adaptations, on paper and celluloid, attest it amply.

And so, after 101 Dalmatians, Alice in Wonderland and Maleficent, Disney doles out a live-action throwback to its iconic 1950 animation Cinderella, based on Charles Perrault’s 17th century fantasy.

It’s among the first fairy tales I read alongside the Russian Kolobok and Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Match Girl. If Kolobok had me pining for sweet bun, The Little Match Girl inspired premature melancholia but Cinderella made me want to swirl in a sparkly frock, slip in a pair of glittery shoes and look at pumpkins as little more than a source of fibre and vitamins.

You see, even kids without mistreating stepmothers and cantankerous siblings have bad days and the miraculous intervention in Cinderella offered much welcome comfort.

Except, as opposed to books, which allow you the liberty to become her and paint her with your own personality, movies are always about the bippity boppity boo, also one of the greatest gimmicks in children’s fiction.

What I love about Kenneth Branagh’s extravagant vision is he gives us a Cinderella that’s got a little more spirit (and penchant for horse-riding) if not the hand-drawn delicacy or singing prowess of her animated avatar.

A willowy Lily James (Rose from Downton Abbey) plays the heroine of many a young girl’s dreams with an enthusiasm that dazzles the screen, but is mindful of not stretching it too far. She’s trained for compassion, especially towards computer-generated rodents, by a mother whose last words of wisdom — on courage and kindness — she holds on to like a blessing, one she chants regularly, zealously.

Obviously meant in good faith for the young audience in the theatre, the lesson does strike as bit of a nag when reiterated constantly through the course of its 113 minutes.

Cinderella3 Developing a fairy tale’s concise, known-to-all contents into a nuanced drama takes skill and Branagh showcases his, through Cinderella’s splendorous, sentimental retelling.

He doesn’t miss a single detail. Like when Cinderella learns his father (a warm Ben Chaplin) wants to remarry, her face first turns pale but she quickly composes herself and welcomes the decision. She sees the world not as it is, but as it could be, we’re explained right at the onset. It’s the sort of sunny optimism that sits well with the genre. But there’s cynicism and cunning too – in the form of Cate Blanchett’s icy Lady Tremaine.

Mean was never this majestic. Wearing aloofness like an asset, Blanchett brings out the cold, hardened soul beneath a glossy veneer and velvety gait. There’s so much wicked drama in her sarcastic jabs, it makes Cinderella’s compliance incredibly convincing. Except some unfinished sentences and glazing moisture in her opaque, insecure eyes imply, “she too had known grief but wore it wonderfully well.”

Why such a sophisticated lady, even if revolting in her thoughts, would raise her two daughters to be such witless dolts (Holliday Grainger, Sophie McShera are suitably skittish) is something I’ve often wondered.

Costume designer Sandy Powell is as much at the helm of Cinderella’s success as Branagh and his two leading ladies in conflict.

Her creations exude bold flamboyance for Lady Tremaine, kitschy candy hues for her girls, might and magnificence for Helena Bonham Carter’s fleeting Fairy Godmother and, above all, a joyous celebration of a girl’s grandest dreams and romance in the iridescent blues of Cinderella’s spellbinding 12-layer gossamer gown that goes best with a pair of gleaming glass slippers. Powell tailors more than a dress, she creates a person.

CinderellaVisually, too, the feel-good confection transports the viewer into a land of scenic countryside, baroque ballrooms, elegant mansions featuring swan-shaped chandeliers, vibrant bedrooms with flowery-patterned wallpapers, dimly-lit attics and plump, pouting rose gardens sprouting from the superlative imagination of production designer Dante Ferretti.

The latter is where Prince Charming (Game of Thrones’ Richard Madden lives up to the title) has a moment alone with our titular beauty during the all-important ball.

“Glass slipper?” he asks with a tinge of disbelief. “And why not?” she counter questions, as if momentarily possessed by her director and theatre veteran Branagh responding to all the criticism hurled at him for taking on lesser (read big-budget Hollywood) films?

Cinderella is certainly destined for business. But because it’s in able hands, it doesn’t ruin your association with the classic by merely recycling what you already know. What it does is remind you of that forgotten virtue called grace and the timeless thrill of watching a garden pumpkin turn into a golden chariot.

Stars: 4

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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NH10 is a compelling watch until its underwhelming climax!

NH10Night seems to transform Gurgaon’s claustrophobic traffic into a magical bokeh of glimmering signal lights where aloof skyscrapers line up to embrace.

There’s deceptive comfort in its inanimate vibrancy.

For a long time the camera reports this urban scenery, forming the evocative view of a car window, against the tête-à-tête between a husband and wife driving to a friend’s bash. We don’t see their faces immediately– only giggling, whispered exchanges from a strictly private conversation.

But as night grows older, it gets dark. And dangerous.

Navdeep Singh’s NH10 ventures into an unsafe, unsettling space where shock quickly changes into survival and the brutality of a world you dreaded about from the fringes punches you right in the face.

Singh took Chinatown’s template to Rajasthan and moulded it as Manorama Six Feet Under. In NH10, he borrows the basic framework of Eden Lake and sets it in Haryana. He does a nifty job of it too until the problematic third act.

NH10 does what a good thriller ought to, without wasting a single second. He gets us acquainted with Meera (Anushka Sharma) and Arjun (Neil Bhoopalam is affable but doesn’t look short-tempered enough for the part) — well off, working professionals married to one another, people we are supposed to invest in right at the onset. They exude charm, humour and familiarity; you wouldn’t want a fly to hurt such nice folks.

Ten minutes in the movie, Meera’s attacked by a bunch of hoodlums while driving back alone from a late-night party but narrowly escapes owing to her presence of mind.

Yeh shaher badhta bacha hai ji. Kud toh lagayaga hi,” is the only ridiculous explanation an apathetic Gurgaon cop can offer. It’s terrifying how easy it is to believe the authenticity of this scene. As is the rudeness of the security guard who makes life hell if one holds a no-parking space for a second longer than his patience.

Singh also unflinchingly observes the disturbing misogyny that prevails in North of India as well as the game of genders but expresses it better when not forcefully creating moments to highlight it.

Like the scene where Meera’s colleague randomly remarks on how women have it easy following a presentation gone well. But he scores in the subtlety with which he conveys Meera’s disappointment and Arjun’s guilt over the afore-mentioned mishap.

A change of scene beckons. Arjun and Meera head out for a getaway trip to celebrate the latter’s birthday. If you’ve seen a bleeding, blasting Anushka on the poster of NH10 with a tagline that reads ‘No Turning Back,’ you know it doesn’t end in a picnic. It does not.

Navdeep Singh’s build-up to the horror is striking and, more importantly, chilling. A stranger taps on the windscreen and the camera zooms above the text of the passenger side-mirror – “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear” even as the car moves away from his ominous figure. A Turkish nazar charm dangles furiously as if to warn the travellers of the danger lurking ahead. Even an innocuous cup of chai covered with wrinkled malai on its surface smacks of toxic air.

Eventually a violent fight involving honour killing drags the duo unwittingly into it. What makes it frightening is the plausibility, the commonness of such extreme ideology and the social acceptance of this savage lifestyle.

Things get awry and hopeless. Meera is forced to fight to escape, to rescue, to survive and to retaliate. And Anushka Sharma confronts the worst day of Meera’s existence with steely nerves and throbbing intensity. It’s a role that expects her to constantly change emotional pace and strategy but co-producer Anushka delivers it with a veteran’s accuracy.

An underwhelming climax, sadly, dilutes the triumphs of the stark thriller.

NH10Its consistently realistic tone plummets into standard avenging angel territory full of over-the-top theatrics and stylised rage. Moreover, this compulsive need for a last word kills the impact of many a strong, better-off-silent scenes in Hindi films.

There is an interesting standalone moment between Anushka and Darshan Kumar (quite a range from Mary Kom to NH10, I’d love to see more of this guy) as she lights up a smoke and observes him struggle in a body language that’s uncannily Bachchan. But in context of the film, it just doesn’t sync.

What matters though is NH10, even in its inspired form, is a reality we both live and deny.

Are men the protectors? Can women protect themselves? Are men the enemy? Are women the enemy? Will we ever get past caste, creed and gender? Are cities worse or villages? Is India too convoluted? Is anyone safe?

NH10 doesn’t provide easy answers. Can anybody?

Stars: 3

 This review was first published on rediff.com.

 

 

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