Mowgli review: Not for kids. Or adults

Baloo is no longer fun and fluffy. And Kaa is nicer than you remember albeit just as terrifying.

There’s just no way to watch Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle on Netflix and not think about its Disney counterparts — animated or live-action. Especially since the latter came out only two years ago and impressed us with its remarkable visual effects and dynamic soul.

Although the latest adaption, directed by Andy Serkis, is decidedly closer to Rudyard Kipling’s writings, its dark and dull mood makes Mowgli entirely unsuitable for kids and a slog for adults to sit through. Pretty much like the scene where an exasperated Mowgli spells out his identity crisis, ‘I am not a man neither am I a wolf’, the movie just cannot find a middle ground between morality and murk.

Stuck somewhere between realism and exaggeration, the animals don’t quite look themselves but wayward illustrations that distract way more than they delight.

Pity, given the talent on board — Serkis as Baloo, Benedict Cumberbatch as Sher Khan, Christian Bale as Bagheera and Cate Blanchett as Kaa. (Blanchett’s sultry voiceover triggers a serious Galadriel déjà vu only this time it’s Mowgli not Frodo who holds the key to the future.)

Ditto for the Hindi dub: Anil Kapoor (Baloo), Jackie Shroff (Sher Khan), Abhishek Bachchan (Bagheera) and Madhuri Dixit (Nisha) sure sound like they enjoyed the gig. Kareena Kapoor’s sleek, slithering rendition of Kaa is a revelation.

Unfortunately, what comes across is a pedantic translation instead of free flowing conversation.

It’s a familiar story.

A wrathful tiger’s onslaught leads to an orphaned man cub and his unusual adoption by a pack of wolves, a panther godparent and bear teacher. A special connection between fellow misfits — an albino runt and moss-covered elephant underscores his perpetual angst. The lawless bandar log, a clairvoyant python and sycophantic hyena add to the assortment.

The point behind this predominantly anthropomorphic circus is to inquire if a human can ever become animal enough to survive the laws or the jungle.

Motion-Capture legend Serkis (Gollum in The Lord of the Ring Trilogy, Caesar in the Planet of the Apes trilogy) mulls over it superficially across a series of escapades in which Mowgli (a tepid Rohan Chand) competes for acceptance in the society he has grown up with and the one he never knew.

So Freida Pinto shows up sporadically to smile and bathe the boy in Saira Bano’s Shagird wardrobe. A hunter, all cruelty no character (Matthew Rhys) probes into Mowgli’s clueless presence. They all play Holi to suggest The Jungle Book‘s Indian (read exotic) setting.

Such pursuits would fascinate if Serkis wasn’t so gratuitously brutal and brooding about it. The harshness he means to convey provides out-of-context imagery befitting a horror movie.

A worn-out fantasy of shallow wisdom and unspectacular effects, perhaps it is time to close the book on the Mowgli legend.

Stars: 2

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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Kedarnath review: A S(it)ara is born!

In a bid to spite her disapproving father, a defiant Madhuri Dixit stabs a broken wine bottle into her arm and vows to meet her beau come what may. Hysteria abounds, but Madhuri’s impetuous intensity in Dil makes it work.

When Sara Ali Khan slits her finger to prove a point to her bigot daddy in Kedarnath, she exhibits the same degree of ridiculous, romanticised rebellion that turns young ladies of Bollywood love stories into enthusiastic endorsers of self-inflicted violence. Except the newcomer’s ‘yeah so?’ spirit is utterly disarming and injects fresh blood into an old body.

The first time we see Sara — the camera captures her from an odd, distant angle. She is squabbling with a porter about her ruined footwear. It’s as though director Abhishek Kapoor wants us to sniff her charisma even when she is almost out of the frame. When she is at its centre though, Sara is the heart of Kedarnath.

Much honesty and impishness colour her portrayal of a headstrong romantic wolfing down Maggi and making eyes at the handsome pithoo who just won’t sip chai from her glass. The smug smile that lights her face when he finally relents is telling of the performer she is meant to be.

Sara plays Mukku, short for Mandakini, daughter of the local respected Brahmin (Nitish Bharadwaj) whose hypocrisy is thinly veiled under his skin-deep liberalism. Cuttingly addressing him as Pandit not Pitaji, she openly resents the limited agency allowed to the women of her household.

Her stylish wardrobe makes that a tad hard to believe. Known for their sartorial flamboyance, designer duo Abu Jani-Sandeep Khosla’s playful if hardly realistic wardrobe for Sara resists grandiosity, as they know it. But their love for couture eventually catches up by the time it is the turn of the big bridal lehenga.

Mukku loathes her mother’s (Sonali Sachdev) compromised existence and is angered by her sister’s (a lovely Pooja Gor) humiliation at the hands of a fiancé (Nishant Dahiya, full of rakish arrogance) they have had the misfortune to share.

At times sparring, often silently communicating, Kapoor captures the sibling ups and down with impressive tenderness.

When circumstances prompt Mukku to grow close to a Muslim porter Mansoor (Sushant Singh Rajput), she grabs it as an opportunity to break the norms. For all her first moves though, the courtship and conflicts it gives rise to are awfully hackneyed.

It’s 2013 and people in love are still collecting handkerchiefs and jhoomkas or giving dharna outside the sweetheart’s house in pouring rain until change of heart happens.

Add to this, the now tired trope of an old classic song for emotional effect. It must be said, Bollywood’s Lag Ja Gale obsession has gotten out of hand now. The sooner it finds another vintage ditty to ruin in overkill, the better.

The heft and conviction of a sparkling Sara and subdued Sushant as well as its solid supporting cast make Kedarnath‘s stereotypes and contrivances a whole lot agreeable.

Scenes like Mukku’s father punishing her by dipping her in frozen water like a tea bag or arguments between the pandits and pithoos taking a communal turn are woefully over the top, but the cast’s composed energy strains out some of the excessive melodrama.

Like instead of making the usual hue and cry on watching her man getting beaten up, Sara coolly states, ‘Itne main hi mar gaya toh aage kaise jhelega? Truth be told, Amrita Singh and Saif Ali Khan’s daughter has tons of filmi blood and it is what powers Kedarnath from start to finish.

Dedicated to the memory of those who lost their lives in the 2013 Uttarakhand floods, Kedarnath delays its disaster theme up until the third act to build on its Hindu-Muslim romance against a majestic mountainous range enveloping the pilgrimage town.

There are allusions to infrastructural mismanagement evoking the wrath of nature, but Kedarnath doesn’t meditate on the politics of religion or commercialisation as much as employ it for short-lived obstacle.

Dubbed as the Himalayan tsunami, the devastating loss of life and property is best understood in the footage that shows up at end. The VFX recreating the actual tragedy, across wishy-washy images of an enormous deluge and solitary choppers, is horribly synthetic and cannot convey the magnitude, danger or chaos.

None of the hurried tears, sacrifices or theatrics leading to its loopholed developments and unsurprising losses achieves the Titanic scale Kapoor is aiming for.

But a S(it)ara is well and truly born. And in a launchpad, isn’t that all that matters?

Rating: 3

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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Bhaiaji Superhit Review: Downsizing Deol!

There was a time when Sunny’s super sound — the man and not his studio — loudly lambasted the villain and drew cheers from an elated crowd. But years of repeated hollering and hostility have literally downsized Sunny Deol’s might into mockery. 

Such gigs have outlived their shelf life and do little more than humiliate our nostalgia for a shopworn action hero when a movie stinks as badly as Bhaiaji Superhit.

So devotedly dimwitted is this long-in-the-making junk in its attempt to be funny, it’s weird not one person had the sense to call out the claptrap.

After last week’s jumbled satire Mohalla Assi, where Deol tried to pass off as a Sanskrit scholar and priest, the actor is back in Benares to play a bungling don.

When he is not breaking glass and furniture like a dinner-deprived gorilla, he’s moping about his suspicious wife’s departure to a doltish shrink.

Sunny’s wardrobe of flashy velvet jackets and floral scarves could be a legitimate reason for her to walk out on him and serve divorce notices.

But that is not the case. Nothing here happens for a reason. It happens because a scrap of paper instructs so.

Funny how Sunny presses a ball pen’s button and an entire building complex collapses — metaphor for Bollywood script-writing was never more powerful.Wait, there’s more. He yells ‘Jai Mahakal!’ looking heavenwards and it starts to rain heavily. A face-off between him and the rival gangster (Jaideep Ahlawat) cuts to a sadhu orgy inside a room that cannot decide between nightclub and temple. He has got skeletons buried in his backyard but bats for the cause of bereaved faujifamilies. And squeaky-voiced lookalikes conveniently fall in his lap. A roster of fine (Pankaj Tripathi, Sanjay Mishra, Brijendra Kala) and forgotten (Mukul Dev) actors pop up arbitrarily and demonstrate the lure of money.

In this scenario, Preity Zinta’s descent from bubbly to bhabhi is the least of Bhaiaji Superhit‘s problems.

Brawny men and bikes are tossed off the screen while cars fly and explode like a low-budget Rohit Shetty nightmare. Continuity is a serious myth. A character is kidnapped in one outfit, rescued in another. A clean-shaven chap grows a thick beard overnight and hairstyles change at the snap of a finger. Everybody keeps bumping into each other as if they’re living inside a fish bowl. Only it’s weed, not water, they are floating in.

What I’ve just described is only the icing of the Bhaiaji baloney. In truth, it’s a ghastly movie about making a ghastly movie.

So there’s Arshad Warsi’s swindling film-maker. The scammer is hired to make a movie about Sunny and Preity’s estrangement — because the actual director Neeraj Pathak believes that’s how marital tiffs are resolved. Dump Ameesha Patel and Shreyas Talpade into this moronic mix and things are guaranteed to worsen.

If Patel shoots a sleazy sex video as blackmail ammunition, Talpade decimates Bangla by inundating every single dialogue with Dada. What’s more, Ameesha’s astonishing acting range hasn’t progressed an inch since those vacant expressions in Gadar: Ek Prem Katha or the snooze-inducting sensuality of Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic.

Clearly this much torture is not enough for Pathak as he insists on flashbacks and fights to prolong our misery and his own embarrassment.

Rating: 0

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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