Phillauri review: Blah spirit!

In my encounters of ghosts on screen, I’ve known quite a variety — fierce, horrific, gloomy, even goofy — but Phillauri’s well-behaved apparition is a first. 

She glows incandescently in the dark and floats through space in shimmering, translucent attire, like a wish-fulfilling fairy stumbling out of the pages of an exquisitely illustrated children’s storybook. She speaks softly while her eyes glisten in wonderment. 

Where most other spirits would wreak havoc on learning some random NRI chap tied a knot to the tree she inhabits and promptly chopped it off as well, Shashi, serene, shiny Shashi (Anushka Sharma), is amused over how such a juvenile deed, fuelled by his family’s superstitious beliefs and baseless ‘Aishwarya (Rai Bachchan) also did it’ logic can ward off an astrological complication.   

Before Kanan (Suraj Sharma), the waffling, weed-puffing nitwit who’s flown down to Amritsar from Canada to wed his high school sweetheart (Mehreen Peerzada), winces at Shashi’s lustrous albeit harmless presence, Anshai Lal’s directorial debut Phillauri sets itself up as a typical big fat Punjabi wedding romp around understated idiosyncrasies. 

Grumpy moms, nonchalant dads, rum-guzzling grandmothers, squeamish house help and a bride who’s understandably concerned about her to-be significant other’s perennial sulking — Lal tosses in a fair bit of quirk. 

There is an indie-like normalcy wearing their interactions and zingers till a sense of monotony sets in. Lal’s insistence to maintain room temperature humour and downplay a frothy premise robs Phillauri of fizz in its comedy. Rameshwar L Bhagat’s lackluster editing only contributes to its growing inertia.   

As does the absence of mischief across Shashi’s spooky act, which is preoccupied in wistful flashbacks of her poetic romance with a fellow Phillaur native (Diljit Dosanjh) in British Raj India. Lal examines the contrasts between the dynamics of relationships, then and now, through the differences of one’s privilege and another’s struggle but fails to offer emotional fulfilment of either.   

Despite having many opportunities, Phillauri isn’t able to make full use of them.

It’s not from the lack of trying though.

Producer and leading lady Anushka Sharma looks ethereal and conveys the enlightenment of a woman before her time. What is amiss in her performance is whimsy. Perhaps, well behaved is not such a nice trait for a ghost after all.  

Diljit Dosanjh employs his earthy charm to Phillauri’s many songs and scene whereas Suraj Sharma’s terrified commitment-phobe is like witnessing Chuckie Finister in live-action. He does it convincingly too but it’s exasperating when Phillauri doesn’t allow him to be anything else.  

Newcomer Mehreen Peerzada exudes an impressive confidence and vulnerability, which is even more laudable given cinematographer’s Vishal Sinha’s penchant for close-ups.  

Funny how after dodging dramatic vigour like a shortcoming, even at places where it would be viewed as benefit, Lal succumbs to a gimmick of a climax. The special effects are seamless but for a story that circles around a spirit it’s a pity how little one sees of it in the movie. 

Rating: 2 

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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Super filmi week: Feasting on Achari Alia, Mastani Papdi!

A week of bumping into trapped souls, savouring Achari Alia Paneer, envisaging Kishore Kumar crooning Kajrare and celebrating one year of my super filmi column.

Monday

Holi hai!

Give me a box of gujiya to gorge on but I am not really big on the festival of colours. People forcibly smearing potent gulaal on one another that takes hours to wash off is not my idea of fun.

Over the years though, my long-suffering ears have made peace with and are finally habituated to waking up to the sound of speakers blaring Bollywood’s annual Holi playlist in full blast. So imagine my shock when instead of Amitabh Bachchan’s customary Rang Barse rousing me from slumber, it’s Roop Kumar Rathod and Sonu Nigam’s sentimental cry from Border’s Sandese aate hain going on in an endless loop.

For a moment, I wonder if I time travelled in my sleep, a la Sidharth Malhotra in Baar Baar Dekho. Yikes, that would be a nightmare.

What actually happened is the event organisers in my colony neglected to revise the playlist since Republic Day resulting in this endless onslaught of Sandese.

Quite the rang mein bhang, eh?

Tuesday
Happy birthday, column! My super-filmi week turns one today. It’s been gratifying to share how nearly every day of my life is sewn in silver screen drama.

As much as I am hoping to commemorate this occasion by running across mustard fields in pristine white chiffon, Delhi’s extended winter demands I stay indoors and catch a movie. Except every time I try to watch one, a strange disclaimer or dedication pops up in the opening credits and compels me to change the channel.

Attempt 1
Pyar Diwana: I don’t think the ‘leaving’ mortal in me is ready to take such a risk. Even if it’s only a middle-aged Kishore Kumar prancing about as a college kid.

Attempt 2
Kasam Paida Karne Wale Ki: Dear B Subhashji, I am neither a mother nor foolhardy to be conned into watching it ever again.

Attempt 3
Neel Kamal: Ah, so this is how Kachha Paapad Pakka Paapad reads in English.

Wednesday

That awful feeling when the film you are wildly excited about since inception turns out to be a damp squib.

The celebrated gorilla isn’t lacking in size and a couple of action sequences, especially the chopper bashing and napalm attack against Henry Jackman’s throbbing soundtrack do stand out. Mostly though, the new King Kong is a shabbily written, stereotype venerating mishmash of genres like war and creature flick.

Unlike Peter Jackson’s poetic interpretation whose only crime was length (at 187 minutes), Kong: Skull Island one’s akin to a stale parody where fine actors are reduced to gun-toting cardboard cutouts exhibiting an idiotic shift of loyalty, half-baked lunacy and bogus exoticism.

Not to mention this infuriating obsession of every Hollywood action flick to dress its daredevil leading lady in a tight tank top. Going by the post end-credits scene, we haven’t seen the last of her.

Thursday
‘Tum hoti toh aisa hota. Tum hoti toh waisa hota.’

It’s human nature to pine over what ifs. And although it’s an entirely futile exercise, I do often wonder how the legendary Kishore Kumar would have sung a particular song. So I inquire the same on Twitter and the responses trickle in straightaway. Guess even an impossible Kishore Kumar wish list sounds more music to ours ears than most songs today.

Not too surprisingly, the man who’s modelled his style on Kishoreda — Kumar Sanu — gets the most number of mentions.

Some pick a song by A R Rahman (Rehna Tu, Kaise Mujhe Tum), others bat for Mohit Chauhan (Matargashti, Masakali.) Few dispute over Sonu Nigam (Abhi Mujh Mein Kahin) even as more unusual suggestions– Hariharan (Jhonka Hawa Ka, Nahi Saamne Tu), Daler Mehendi (Dangal Dangal) and Alisha Chinai (Kajrare) — contend for the yodelling star’s inimitable treatment.

Every singer is unique but Kishore Kumar’s versatility fits right across every mood, every texture.

Personally, I would have loved to hear his take on Ram Sampath’s insolent DK Bose.

Friday
Another Friday and I am back in PVR for an early morning show of Rajkummar Rao’s Trapped. Ever since I missed its premiere at last year’s Mumbai Film Festival, I was anxious to catch it on screen.

And what a terrific piece of filmmaking it turns out to be. It’s one of those satisfying Fridays when writing the review feels as fulfilling as watching the film. Like I noted in my piece, director Vikramaditya Motwane ‘feeds off the negativity of disastrous coincidences to explore a human being’s most profound fears as well as marvel at his dormant instincts.’

He documents Rao’s ‘metamorphosis in a manner that’s almost Kafkaesque in its contemplations but aspiring for a King Bruce and the Spider like allegory in its perseverance, while reminiscent of Castaway in its depiction of despair. Under just 103 minutes, Trapped treads more complexities than a straightforward survival story can possibly offer.

‘The Mumbai in his deeply claustrophobic and masterfully taut Trapped is as deceitful as the witch’s candy cottage in Hansel And Gretel.

‘Somewhere, indirectly, Trapped mocks the invincibility we assume to have acquired as residents of this magical city by painting Mumbai as a distant, dark and depressing land taken over by concrete zombies.’

Saturday 
I can talk Bollywood. I can walk Bollywood. I can breathe Bollywood. I can eat Bollywood. Hum Aapke Hain Corn Soup, anyone?

The significant other is in no mood to cook. Nor am I. So we decide to check out this VFM Bollywood-themed restaurant close by.

The ambiance screams Govinda wherein life-sized cut outs of Madhuri Dixit, Amitabh Bachchan and Salman Khan wait on you, Crimemaster Gogo’s eye-popping gyaan bursts through the walls, Krrish and Simran photo booths make an offer your Instragram account cannot refuse and dishes go by the name of Katrina Corn Tikki, Bong Bips Fish Curry, Fish Fry Na Milegi Amritsari, Yeh Hai Bakrapur, Fugli Fryums, Slice Fish in Three Idiots Pepper Sauce and Paan Singh Ice cream.

You even make your own Mastani Papdi Chaat.

Now how about adding Sherbet-E-Jannat to that menu?

Sunday

Sunday style discovery: Saira Banu L-O-V-E-S pearls. 

This column was first published on rediff.com.

Previously:
Grace under fire
More power to Anushka Sharma
Rishi Kapoor’s page-turning debut!
Picking Jedi skills from Amitabh Bachchan
Mera wala Shah Rukh
Ranbir-Ranveer, sigh sigh!
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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Trapped review: Sleepless in Prabhadevi!

When the doorknob gets stuck, the key won’t fully turn in, the person on the other line can’t hear you or your screams fall on deaf ears, one’s first emotional response is to panic.

Disconnect of any kind, if against one’s will, even momentarily, throws us into a mild tizzy.

Director Vikramaditya Motwane not only dwells on this unpleasant and familiar sensation, but also prolongs it ruthlessly to create a stinging metaphor on survival in Mumbai’s aloof, apathetic social environment.   

The Mumbai in his deeply claustrophobic and masterfully taut Trapped is as deceitful as the witch’s candy cottage in Hansel And Gretel. It seduces its starry-eyed inhabitants with lofty promises of happily-ever-afters in the form of high-rises, ones that go by the name of Swarg. And just like the kids of Brothers Grimm’s story, Shaurya (Rajkummar Rao), an ordinary office-goer on the threshold of realising his dream (a luminous Geetajali Thapar), discovers he’s walked right into a trap instead.

Even in his previous films, Motwane’s characters are confined within an emotional predicament they wish to be released from. In Udaan, Rajat Barmecha is fighting paternal abuse. In Lootera, it’s a tie between Sonakshi Sinha’s irrational belief and Ranveer Singh’s nagging guilt.

But in Trapped, it manifests into a tangible, rude reality where negligence and rotten luck contribute hugely to Shaurya’s harrowing experience of a worst-case scenario sparked by an ostensibly harmless situation — getting locked inside one’s own apartment.

In a lesser film, one would question the contrivances that lead to this crisis. Audaciously enough, Motwane feeds off the negativity of disastrous coincidences to explore a human being’s most profound fears as well as marvel at his dormant instincts.

He documents Shaurya’s metamorphosis in a manner that’s almost Kafkaesque in its contemplations but aspiring for a King Bruce and the Spider like allegory in its perseverance, while reminiscent of Castaway in its depiction of despair.

Under just 103 minutes, Trapped treads more complexities than a straightforward survival story can possibly offer. A bulk of the credit goes to Amit Joshi and Hardik Mehta’s deft writing. Their leading protagonist is no Sunny Deol. He cannot break doors. He cannot scream his lungs out beyond a point. Armed with a pan and pakkad, Shaurya finds tools of hope in fire, blood and rain. Desperation drives him into making an irresponsible choice. Desperation inspires him to the path of self-rescue.

Somewhere, indirectly, Trapped mocks the invincibility we assume to have acquired as residents of this magical city by painting Mumbai as a distant, dark and depressing land taken over by concrete zombies. Where everything that one craves in Mumbai — space, privacy, view, trees or people minding their own business — seem like a curse.

Trapped is not an easy film to stomach. And not just when blades and pigeons show up in unison.

It’s how it notes down the extremes of mundane occurrences… when the red indicator light of the phone battery fading out is the greatest horror one can imagine. When people on the street look tinier than the ants in your room. When a flickering light from a distant room gets lost in the crowd of flickering bokeh of late night Mumbai. (Much praise for Siddharth Diwan’s camerawork and Anish John’s sound design.)

Gloomy as things get, Trapped isn’t doused in cynicism. Rajkummar Rao, as the man at the receiving end of this unending ordeal, has everything to do with it.

Quite early in the story, he establishes Shaurya as plain but resourceful. Though he has only a few lines to utter and props (broken bits of a fast wrecking flat) to wield, in addition to a believable musophobia, I was alternately moved and mortified by the depth of Rao’s agony. He internalises the frustration and willpower to craft someone heroic yet practical, shattered by the prevailing insanity yet simple enough to not hold grudge.    

Every man is a master of his destiny. It may not always bring him love but a new lease of life? One can always try. Trapped says it’s a good thing. Even in big, bad Mumbai.

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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