Review: Sanam Re is utterly stupid

Sanam ReIt’s one thing to indulge a restless tyke who’s wrecked the bedroom walls with a box of crayons and regard his mess as masterpiece. But to witness a adult with zero flair for filmmaking land opportunities while genuine talent struggles to see the light of the day is as frustrating as it is mind-boggling.

Sanam Re, director Divya Khosla Kumar’s utterly moronic second film, produced by T-Series boss and better half, Bhushan Kumar is packaged like a postcard romance high on sweeping ballads and snow laden vistas.

What it really is a series of shabby, senseless music videos sounding off monotonous melody that believes in love at first sight between preteens because grandpa forecasted so and paints romance as wooden actors caught in an endless snowstorm.

Although the predominantly hill-station scenery of Sanam Re is set in present and flashbacks only as far as the eighties, Himachal resembles an ornamental, overdone European village inhabited by people stuck in some sort of time warp.

While the Kalpa bits hold true, part of its confused geography expects us to believe Canada’s majestic railway stations and Leh’s aquamarine lakes have miraculously shifted to HP.

And so men in kilts launch into an unexpected parade outside Rishi Kapoor’s photo studio called Johnson & Johnson (who despite being neither, dresses up like one from the 1920s) along side his knee-high grandson who grows up to be Pulkit Samrat. Ostensibly, there are only two more kids in his fanciful neighbourhood –they grow up to be Yami Gautam and Urvashi Rautela.

As if one drab love story wasn’t tedious enough, Khosla Kumar concocts a phony triangle around a Canadian yoga camp where we are subjected to bizarre concepts (cuddle therapy) and inadvertently hilarious pickup lines (Jab tumhare haath mere haath mein aata hain toh mujhe pata nahi chalta kaunsa mera hai aur kaunsa tumhara).

Worse, it offensively presumes that the audience will break into splits at its homophobic, racist gags or Manoj Joshi mispronouncing (and misquoting) Shakespeare. There’s also stand-up comedian Bharti Singh as a new-age lifestyle guru at the afore-mentioned camp mouthing humour so vile even her straight face can’t conceal.

In this schizophrenic rubbish –for it’s certainly not a script, hardly a synopsis–landscapes change faster than its cast’s wardrobe and characters suddenly appear or mysteriously vanish at the director’s whim.

Divya Khosla Kumar even shows up in front of the camera, early on in an item song, vacuously gazing in and out of a medium she’s clearly struck by but just doesn’t get.

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Ghayal Once Again: Sunny, the actor impresses. Sunny, the director, not so much!

GhayalEvery single time Sunny Deol got angry in Rajkumar Santoshi’s Ghayal, I thought he would actually tear the screen and erupt from it. His fits of fury felt so overwhelming and tangible.

Twenty-six years later, he’s back playing the same character in a new story with some nostalgia and very little skill. That it’s not directed by Santoshi but Deol himself, also taking top billing in writing credits, has a lot to do with it.

Whereas Santoshi is a master of compelling screenplay and active histrionics across versatile genres, Deol got behind the camera this one time for the Sabrina-inspired Dillagi after its original director Gurinder Chadha backed out. Direction isn’t his natural vocation as evident in the middling Ghayal Once Again, which starts out wobbly but gains substantial momentum till interval point only to go completely haywire in its latter half.

Tad disappointed because all the deft action set pieces, preceding the unforeseen melodrama (on FaceTime, no less) led me to believe I could expect better. Also, this abrupt shift of tone in the third act could not be more contrived.

Already the rationale offered behind continuing Ajay Mehra’s (Deol) story from where Ghayal concluded is preposterous. But because the Bollywood hero of yore IS above the law, you shut up and concede. Like how after publically gunning down the villainous Balwant Rai (Amrish Puri), not to mention the unaccounted causalities before, Ajay gets off leniently with only 14 years in jail.

Interestingly though, scenes that evoke fond memories among fans to Ajay are a painful reminder of the torture and torment he’s endured. They’ve scarred his psyche enough to regularly pop pills (prescribed by his omnipresent neurologist Soha Ali Khan) and sport a funky Polar heartbeat monitoring watch on his wrist.

In the next decade or so, he’s set up a successful vigilante newspaper agency called Satyakam, an obvious hat tip to father Dharmendra’s acclaimed film, wherein he unlawfully abducts and exposes society’s wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Just imagine a more technology-savvy, less skull-smashing version of the brawny actor’s self-styled Deva ki Adalat in Ziddi.

Ghayal Once Again takes off when four college-going teenagers (only the kid lugging around a Miniature Pinscher in her bag stands out) capture incriminating evidence on video and bring them to Ajay’s notice. Because it features former cop Joe D’Souza (Om Puri in a token appearance) with whom Ajay’s become good friends over the years, he takes even more interest.

This controversial footage makes both Ajay and the kids a hot target of the influential business magnate Raj Bansal (Narendra Jha) who resides in a tall, ugly building that appears to be, hold on, Reliance owner Mukesh Ambani’s Antilla? Odder bit is, Reliance Entertainment led by Anil Ambani, is one of the producers of Ghayal Once Again.

Bansal’s indulgent parenting and wife’s (a charismatic Tisca Chopra) neglect has resulted in a spoilt, wayward, druggie son and prayer-obsessed little daughter. It’s the sort of dark, dysfunctional family that needs to be projected with a touch of dry humour but Deol’s sensibilities lack an adventurer.

Still, Jha’s dilemma comes through as a father who’s juggling between panic and pride. It’s not always sufficient to make up for the indifferent acting from the younger members of the cast. Nor is the puny writing where dialogues read out like T-shirt slogans and emotions cook faster than two-minute noodles.

GhayalFortunately, Ghayal Once Again wraps in about two hours and does away with all that was wrong in the first one – songs and comedy to focus on elaborate chase sequences — involving the kids in a mall conspicuous by unconcerned shoppers and invisible security or a reliably invincible Deol and a Frank Martin clone over a LaCie hard drive. (Nice bit of detailing there. Only the rugged, shockproof model could survive the ensuing destruction and daredevilry.)

Loosely reminiscent of True Lies, the climatic action is a dampener. Overdone in tacky CGI, its intended heft is lost in wishy-washy virtue and unconvincing sentimentality.

There’s only one solid reason to watch this reboot– Sunny Deol.

The action hero returns to serve some old fashioned justice in Ghayal Once Again as the still seething, still suffering Ajay Mehra like only he can. If also it could deliver the stamp of sharp, solid filmmaking like only the man who conceived Ajay Mehra can.

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Remembering Sunny Deol’s dynamite delivery in Ghayal

Ghayal‘Aaj hi maroonga usse. Aaj hi.’

This is no empty threat. Not when coming from Sunny Deol anyway. 

And there’s nothing Amrish Puri’s brutish Balwant Rai, at whom it’s directed, can do or say to save himself from Sunny’s wrath. 

It’s a foregone conclusion one eagerly anticipates in Rajkumar Santoshi’s critically and commercially acclaimed directorial debut, Ghayal

Today, yes, we have seen the action hero explode on screen umpteen times to feel moved or surprised by Sunny’s competency to single-handedly take down a wolf in sheep’s clothing, admonish the corrupt law and order system or scream his lungs out at stunned spectators. 

But when Ghayal released in 1990, Sunny’s dynamite delivery made everyone sit up and take notice and spawned numerous recycles along the same theme.

Although Arjun, Dacait and Yateem skilfully recognised his potential at playing wronged characters taking to the path of violence, their tone is decidedly mild compared to the livid, defiant demonstrations of his indignation in Ghayal. 

Filmmaking dynamics have changed dramatically since then but even now the screen (and the trembling prison bars) feels the heat of Sunny’s bellowing frustration in ‘Utaar ke phenk do ye vardi aur pahen lo Balwant Rai ka patta apne gale mein.’ In another powerful display of aggression, he yanks out the witness stand from its foundation unable to hold back his disgust at Shafi Inamdar’s last minute volte-face.

Not all of Ghayal has aged all too memorably though. 

Of its 163-minutes running time, a lot feels like a stretch. Especially portions from the flashback where Sunny’s Ajay Mehra narrates his nightmare and loss of innocence — from an aspiring boxer to a man framed for murdering his own brother by the devious Balwant Rai — to his three inmates (Sudesh Berry, Mitwa and Shabbir Khan) who later break jail and assist our hero in his revenge. 

GhayalThe serious side of the script works fine but the comedy, tons of it and forcefully introduced, is plain dreadful.

Ajay’s bumbling coach Viju Khote, a random appearance of television serial Mahabharata‘s Bheema (Praveen Kumar) or the warped logic of Ajay convincing his brother and bhabhi (Raj Babbar and Moushumi Chatterji) how his girlfriend Varsha (Meenakshi Seshadri) is a better option than the nondescript Kantabai for household chores is all cringe inducing.

Needless, ho-hum Bappi Lahiri songs that pop up every now and then make the ordeal even longer. The Lambada-rip off, Sochna Kya Jo Bhi Hoga screams for fast forward, as does the snooze-inducing Mahiya while Don’t Say No, resembling Khuddar’s Angrezi Mein Kehte Hain in its mood, is just about breezy.

But the timing of these songs, Disco Shanti’s Pyaasi Jawaani particularly, couldn’t be more off. Instead of planning a strategy to beat Balwant Rai and his henchmen, Ajay and fellow fugitives take a break to lust over a buxom dancer in ways that can only make sense to a Bollywood distributor.

What works is Balwant Rai, one hears his name repeatedly but doesn’t actually see him till almost an hour into the film. Santoshi successfully builds him into the sort of ominous figure you don’t want to upset and Amrish Puri plays him to the hilt. There’s nothing costume-y about his cold, cocky, drug lord masquerading as society elite. Puri’s penchant for intimidating glares and monstrous Muhahahas defines his villainy to a T.

GhayalWith all the common man crusading against corruption and injustice, Ghayal doesn’t have time to dwell in grey zones; evil and good are strictly in hues of black and white. Lack of timely response from the system meant to safeguard public will give rise to self-styled justice-seekers. It is both serious and dangerous. While Ghayal conveys it strongly, it also glorifies this approach unabashedly.

So a 30-something Sunny, looking incredibly fit and fabulous, transforms from Rocky to Rambo to extract a Aakhri Raasta-reminiscent revenge on Sharat Saxena, Shafi Inamdar, Deep Dhillon, Brahmachari and, naturally, Amrish Puri.

A first-rate Om Puri, as the well-meaning cop Joe D’Souza, hot on his trail and his regretful senior Kulbushan Kharbanda (held hostage) lend able support.

The violence is, unsurprisingly, tame by today’s standards. Even so, Ghayal‘s gung-ho background score and ideals, even at its most obvious are honest and unaffected.

Every time they gaze into each other’s bloodshot eyes, you feel sorry for Sunny and wish he could reunite with Meenakshi playing the strong, supportive anchor even though she’s peripheral to the narrative. The actress has her moment when she laughs back at the bullying villain confident of a rescue even though she’s only inches away from being tossed in a tank of boiling acid — a welcome change from the ‘Bachao‘ shrieking heroines.

GhayalVillains, dens, old-fashioned devices of execution and punch lines reflecting the fervour of a bombastic era contribute to the thrills of Ghayal. His fiery dialoguebaazi paved the way to its repetition in future films rocketing Sunny’s larger-than-life appeal.

Though it found its place in glory, Ghayal didn’t get off to a dream start. Director Santoshi, who had previously assisted Govind Nihalani, penned the story with Kamal Haasan or Sunny in mind but struggled to find a reliable producer.

When he narrated the subject to Sunny, the actor was immediately struck by its potential. Eventually, his father Dharmendra produced Ghayal under his banner Vijayta Films. The film took about two and a half years to get ready and wasn’t considered a safe bet among Deol well wishers. 

Despite all the cynicism, its A-certificate and clash with the Aamir Khan-Madhuri Dixit teenybopper romance, Dil, which also released on the same day, Ghayal hit box office gold.

Interestingly, both Sunny and Madhuri went on to win Filmfare trophies for their performances in these respective movies.

Of course, Ghayal went on to do even better and bagged two National Awards — Special Jury Award for Sunny and Best Popular Film Providing Wholesome Entertainment.


Funnily, Sunny wasn’t confident about its favourable reception amongst critics. In an interview, the shy superstar recalled his reluctance to attend its pre-release press screening for fear of disapproval. Instead, when everyone stood up to applaud, he was both amazed and humbled.

GhayalWhile it lasted, his partnership with Santoshi produced some of his best works — be it the emotionally charged Ghatak or a crackling, career-best avatar in Damini.

A 58-year-old Sunny Deol returns as Ajay Mehra in Ghayal Once Again, also directed by him, this Friday. Let’s just hope he doesn’t rub salt into it.

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