Review: Rohit Shetty’s Golmaal Again!!! is a spirited affair!

Fluorescent hues splash across a wad of confetti, oversaturated greens and freshly painted homes in Rohit Shetty’s newest Golmaal swarm with ghosts, goons and goofballs.  

Overkill is Shetty’s thing. The director stuffs the screen with props, people and puerile energy to orchestrate his comedy of crackpots.  

And so, bright looking cars and jeeps do their share of acrobatics. Books dance and dash mid-air like cheeky symbols for suspension of disbelief.

Exuberance and inanity go hand in hand in this silly, spooky, wafer-thin slice of nothingness that relies on its stockpile of seasoned comics and slapstick stamina to engage better than some of the earlier films of this hare-brained franchise.

Haunted houses can be a fun premise to mix horror and comedy like Mehmood’s Bhoot Bangla did to a delightful effect long ago. But Shetty limits his focus to shenanigans and split second gratification to fully explore the extent of such humour.

The Golmaal gang — Ajay Devgn’s scaredy-cat, Tusshar Kapoor’s speech glitch, Arshad Warsi’s bogus bully, Shreyas Talpade’s ‘smaas-baas’ ardour and Kunal Khemu’s huff ‘n’ puff farce is visibly committed to the madness in creating a relentless atmosphere of mock fear and phony feuds.

Along with the franchise’s recurring faces — most notably Johnny Lever’s Hyderabadi airhostess gig, Vrajesh Hirjee’s snake-tongued Baba Paneer Palak dance and Sanjay Mishra’s uproarious Shatrughan Sinha take-off — the guys appear to be having a ball in its flaky, ’90s obsessed space. Often though, it’s not the wit but the camaraderie of their carefree, cheerful association that Golmaal Again!!! truly benefits from.

When not demonstrating his love for excesses, Shetty tries a couple of new things. Like Nana Patekar’s furious baritone looms large as part of Golmaal Again!!!‘s running joke. The director scoffs at the ubiquity of May-December romances populating Bollywood with a potent Godrej dye dig and then tries to justify it with a Lamhe reference. 

Also, shifting the scene to Ooty and throwing in affable presences like Tabu’s bespectacled ghostbuster and Parineeti Chopra’s dungaree-clad mystery lends the tomfoolery a welcome sparkle. Except, confined to disappointingly straight characterisations, they never get to show off their comic chops in the manner Deepika Padukone did in Chennai Express.

Rohit Shetty’s latest is not an improvement on his abilities. It’s just another reiteration of what he enjoys.

To me, the big twist in Golmaal Again!!! is as obvious as the sugar in Johnny’s mouth. The lacklustre songs needlessly extend its 151 minutes running time. Some of the jokes soar, some nosedive.

But to the housefull theatre I saw it in, and who laughed at every single bit, it’s the stuff Diwali releases are made of.  

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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Secret Superstar: Zaira Wasim is a wonder!

To dream is to breathe, hope and survive. It’s a gift every single person in the world is entitled to.

To make it come true, though, can be a nightmare; not everyone succeeds and not everyone tries.

But when you’re a rosy-cheeked 15-year-old at the threshold of discovery, life holds infinite promise and stars the size of planets dwell permanently in the eyes.

One sees their dazzle in Insiya (Zaira Wasim), a 10th grade school kid from Vadodara, a burkha-clad breakout star on YouTube and a rebel with a cause who ardently believes she’s meant for bigger and better.   

So luminous is her self-confidence, it nearly outshines the darkness pervading it.

As the consequence of a hostile mood at home prompted by its brutish, burned out bread winner, Insiya’s pop star aspirations serve more than a romantic fancy; it’s her defence and driving force to break out from a stifling, suppressed existence and, while she’s at it, facilitates her mistreated mother’s — a magnificent Meher Vij — emancipation as well.

Disgruntled daddies are an oft-repeated motif in Aamir Khan’s productions.

But the father in Secret Superstar — Raj Arjun is so authentic; I don’t want to see his face ever again — is not careless or exacting like the ones in Taare Zameen Par and Dangal; he’s plain toxic.

He first appears in the disgusted expression of a daughter and the black eye her mother pointlessly tries to cover.

By the time Insiya’s conservative, cruel father actually shows up, his misogyny is common knowledge and reiterates in frequent episodes of misdemeanour and his family’s endurance of it. Save for his son and Shah Rukh Khan, the beast warms up to no one.

While that’s one crucial aspect of Secret Superstar, the other is the inspiration television’s abounding talent shows spark off within impressionable minds hailing from modest landscapes.

That fascinated look on Insiya’s and her mum’s face as they enjoy celebrity appraisals of amateur skills over dinner is both priceless and telling.

Dreams and domestic abuse collide in director Advait Chandan’s emotional, endearing Disneyesque fairy tale, where its not-so-secret superstar Aamir Khan’s fairy godmother act and the blessings of social media provide wings to talent and triumph of spirit.

Despite the grimness of Insiya’s hurdles, highlighted by the endless patriarchy and domestic violence commonplace to countless Indian households, Secret Superstar has an unmistakable ‘soda bubble’ quality to it. The kind Aamir uses as analogy to make his point about irrepressible talent. 

There’s hilarious abandon in his portrayal of the promiscuous, outlandish Bollywood music director seasoned in Anu Malik’s mad enthusiasm and Anil Kapoor’s bullish conceit that never feels like caricature, even in the face of a flamboyance that’s as blatant as his nipples popping out of an ultra-tight lycra tee.

It’s fun to watch the actor parody his anti-awards position and simple stardom to play Shakti Kumaarr – a leering, lecherous, flashy yet unusually harmless embodiment of don’t judge a book by its cover. 

There are times when Chandan’s piece-of-cake ardour to the proceedings tends to make the complexity of the matter seem less severe than it is. And the easy-peasy resolves, last minute non-compliance and saccharine tributes doled out in the third act reek of creative lethargy.

But the wholehearted goodness of Insiya and all those who contribute to her eminence make it easy to overlook the liberties he takes.   

Secret Superstar‘s cheerful, feel-good imagery of a rotten reality, captured gorgeously in cinematographer Anil Mehta’s lens and aided by Amit Trivedi’s soaring tunes, reflects a young adult’s hopeful perspective yet to be crushed by the weight of cynicism.

It pulsates in the anticipation of response to her homemade music video, glows in the avowal of first love (a very adorable Tirth Sharma), basks in the gentle affection of her doting mom and awestruck kid brother, buckles up to remind a has-been his forgotten virtues and help her finally find her own place in the skies.  

And because Zaira Wasim is an absolute wonder, her journey there — even if too good to be true — is one you bid Godspeed.

She effortlessly conveys the strength of a single-minded artiste, the temper of a hurricane holding back, the impulses of free-spirited adolescence and the guts of a girl who knows who she is.  

Rating: 3.5

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Agneepath: Bachchan’s brooding, bloody revenge!

Often when I think of an actor or a specific movie, an iconic visual — poster or pose — pops up in front of my eyes.

Not in the case of Amitabh Bachchan though. The mere mention of Indian cinema’s greatest entertainer conjures up too many movies, too many memories; it’s like a giant montage of overlapping images.

Amidst a flurry of Jai, Anthony and Sukumars, there’s an entire row of his best-known Vijays.

The taxonomy doesn’t end here. Even among the latter, while not as distinguished as the Vijays of Zanjeer, Deewar or Trishul, is Agneepath‘s Vijay Dinanath Chavan. (It’s Chavan, not Chauhan. There’s much confusion over the spelling since it’s pronounced as Chauhan throughout the film. Agneepath‘s end credits, I note, leave no room for speculation.)

The name brings back the image of Big B plopped awkwardly on a chair, a dispassionate gesture of the hand and the cocky introduction: ‘Vijay Dinanath Chauhan, poora naam; baap ka naam Dinanath Chauhan; maa ka naam Suhasini Chauhan, gaon Mandwa, umar chhattis saal, nau mahina, aath din, yeh solvaa ghanta chal rahela hai… haain?’

If nothing else, it certainly ranks among Bachchan’s most-quoted introductions after Shahenshah

Although in the same territory as Yash Chopra’s Deewar — wronged son taking to the path of crime resulting in a morality-driven rift between him and his righteous mother — Agneepath is decidedly more brutal, with no attempt to sugarcoat the unpleasant reality.

And Big B’s portrayal of the angst of an avenging son, complete with a gruff baritone and kohl-lined eyes, blends seamlessly into the visceral, exaggerated tone of Agneepath‘s mostly bloodstained content. 

Perhaps this very aggression and AB’s brand new gruff baritone worked against the 1990 release, created by producer Yash Johar and director Mukul S Anand (two filmmakers who Bollywood has lost).

How else does one explain the success of the decidedly inferior and trite K C Bokadia potboiler, Aaj Ka Arjun, which came out in the same year?

I watched Agneepath as a school kid and found it too intense for my liking. Truth is I could never quite revere any movie that culminated with Big B dying on screen. It didn’t matter then if he won a National Award for the same.

When I saw it again some years later, I had developed an appetite for the unsavory and noted a lot more favourable aspects to it. Like how Agneepath, which draws its title and purpose from Big B’s father Dr Harivansh Rai Bachchan’s compelling poem, is recited at the most strategic junctures of the story, its sleek camerawork (during the Mandwa and Mumbai slum sequences) and how spectacularly every scene unfolds.

Be it Sultanat, Hum, Khuda Gawah or this, Anand was incapable of thinking modest. His ideas demanded a grand, dramatic canvas, stirring the viewer into submission.

Agneepath, despite its amplified sentimentality, strong language and violence works on account of this very dynamism.

And while it seeks obvious inspiration from Brian De Palma’s Scarface — the restaurant scene, the dinner table discussion, the shoot-out within the police station — Agneepath has an unmistakable desi soul.

Set in rural Maharashtra, it begins with a schoolmaster Dinanath Chavan’s (Alok Nath) earnest efforts to reform the wayward villagers into model citizens. But his efforts to set up electricity in the rundown community evoke the wrath of drug lord Kancha Cheena (Danny Denzongpa) and he becomes a victim of a plotted sex scandal, leading to his disgrace and horrific murder.

The memories of his idealist father’s blood streaming down the young Vijay’s (Master Manjunath) face, his last words (Agneepath, Agneepath, Agneepath), a home set afire, a stunned mother (Rohini Hattangadi), a sobbing sister (Baby Tabassum) and a raging mob with scorn on their faces, leave an indelible mark on the young boy’s psyche and he sails off to Mumbai, vowing to return and settle scores. 

In Mumbai, Vijay cannot grow quickly enough.

Wearing kohl in his eyes, changing his voice for effect and doing odd jobs to support his family, he soon succumbs to the uncontested Bollywood logic — the only way to beat your enemies is become like them. He begins to work for the Amar Akbar Anthony of the crime world — Shetty (Deepak Shirke), Usman (Avtar Gill) and Terelin (Sharat Saxena) since they share his aspiration to destroy Kancha Cheena.

His misadventures bring him in contact with the mirthful, loquacious nariyal-pani (tender coconut water) seller, Krishnan Iyer M A (Mithun Chakraborty).

Given the gritty circumstances woven around Vijay, the filmmakers felt a need to lighten the scene with Krishnan’s clownish antics. On any other actor, the farce would have fallen flat, but this man is a livewire in his droll, over-the-top delivery underlined in a blown-up South Indian caricature. 

One of its most powerful non-Bachchan moments involves Mithun delivering an angry speech in Tamil, admonishing his community members for being mute bystanders to transgressions.

At the same time, his romance track with Vijay’s sister, Shiksha (Neelam), is most expendable, resulting in little more than dreary, needless songs.

The other romantic track in the film — the relationship between Vijay and his nurse, Mary (Madhavi) — is also one of the most poorly developed sub-plots. It moves at a snail’s pace, with a bland Madhavi playing dumb spectator, uttering not more than five lines in the movie.

Her presence is meant to reveal Vijay’s softer, vulnerable side. This happens exactly three times, but the offshoot is one fabulous scene each: Whether he’s clumsily conveying his desperation to be loved to Mary, imploring a doctor to save his mortally injured brother-in-law’s life in a stuffy hospital or the climax when he convinces his perennially scathing mother how his entire existence has been a struggle to follow his father’s school of thought, underscored by the poem Agneepath.The action soon shifts to Mauritius and we realise the small-time Kancha is now a suave, sinister businessman.

Because he’s played by the charismatic Danny, it’s a character you quietly root for. In fact if it was the 1990s, one would openly suggest Vijay, on a subconscious level, admires Kancha’s unruffled malice. This observation is validated to some extent during the song Ali Baba.

Mud, blood, cops, crooks follow as things begin to wind off hastily after Vijay marries, become a father and re-embraces faith (making way for the famous Ganpati visarjan sequence). Agneepath loses its steam around the last 40 minutes only to resume a high note with its grisly climax wherein Vijay at long last, finds closure.

But Bollywood’s obsession with re-constructing beloved films and characters refuses to leave the angry young man in peace.

Twenty two years ago, Dharma Productions wasn’t the brand it is today and Agneepath didn’t quite get its due at the box office. Why else would the same banner, now helmed by Yash Johar’s son Karan, give it a comeback with Hrithik Roshan and Sanjay Dutt playing the iconic Vijay Dinanath Chavan and Kancha Cheena, respectively.

Will it succeed, or will this be another Don (for some that is a good thing)? Some are curious. Some don’t care. Still others think this might be better than the original.

I, for one, don’t know. What I do know is that Agneepath succeeds in hosting a rare marriage of larger-than-life anti-heroism with graphic aesthetics. Can the new one beat that?

This column was first published on rediff.com.

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