Review: Baahubali 2 is a spectacular achievement!

When S S Rajamouli’s multilingual Baahubali came out in 2015, it generated a euphoria that surpassed conventional applause. 

Not only did its Amar Chitra Katha meets Middle-earth aesthetics give us a whopping, unbridled blockbuster, its cliffhanger climax regarding Katappa’s motives prompted many inventive fan theories. 

A rare distinction for Indian movies.

While most delays torment, here it amounted to a strange thrill in speculating what lies ahead in the second and final chapter of director Rajamouli’s most ambitious venture so far.

And I have to say, it doesn’t disappoint.

Baahubali: The Conclusion continues its tradition of grandiloquence and magnitude. Except this time, high drama, more than spectacle, is what lends its riveting tale of revenge and glory all its wallop and wizardry.

The action harks back to the resplendent kingdom of Mahishmati and the politics brewing inside jilted father-son Bijjaladeva (Nassar) and Bhallaladeva’s (Rana Daggubatti) conniving minds even as the successor to their beloved throne — Amarendra Baahubali (Prabhas) is busy taming unruly elephants, hunting down wild boars and making kshatriyas out of kaayars.  

But before the focus completely shifts on his drawn-out romance (featuring a power play of pink versus blue arrows) with a fiesty princess Devasena (Anushka Shetty) while wandering about foreign lands to gain practical knowledge in the company of the ever-loyal and suddenly comic Katappa (Sathyaraj), Baahubali holds off to note Bijjala’s meltdown and Sivagami’s (Ramya) passive guilt.

Sometimes even a flash can be as telling as the flame. Rajamouli’s strength lies in utilising every oppurtunity to colour his distinctly black and white protagonists with more subtext than what most extravaganza-driven material allows. 

What follows may evoke memories of Ramayana and Beta but Rajamouli’s idealism and convinction in old school values lend it heft. For all its kinetic battles and combats, it’s not people but promises that cause trouble in Baahubali.  

Equipped with a cast that’s not only in tune with his vision but knows exactly where to hold back and when to give their all adds to Baahubali’s might.  

Always striving for a harmonious coexistence between sentiment and audacity, Rajamouli relies on his unfettered imagination to create a landscape of architectural marvels and fantastical beasts.

A herd of charging cattle sporting horns that resemble blazing torches, a batch of gruesome warriors clinging to a giant post set on fire, a furious display of archery skills within a corridor swamped by hostile invaders — there’s tons of visual marvel on display.

Against such sterling creativity, the kitschily filmed songs, especially in their Hindi dubbed avatar, seem like a bit of a disadvantage.

There are times Baahubali shows the strain of expectation, especially in the second half’s doddering pace, lacklustre combat and excessive, unconvincing use of VFX but when it communicates from a place of heart, it moves and enthralls.

Better viewed as a whole instead of parts, Baahubali is a spectacular achievement, which not only deserves its place in history but also proves filmmakers should dream big and more often.

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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Farewell Vinod Khanna: Heaven must be full of swagger today

My earliest memory of Vinod Khanna is sealed in anger.

On screen, he was burning up the dance floor with Raakhee to the carefree beats of Pyar zindagi hai in Muqaddar Ka Sikandar. Off screen, I was seeing red and feeling the intensity of Amitabh Bachchan’s heartbreak as if it were my own.

It didn’t matter how attractive he appeared or how happy Raakhee looked around him — how could I possibly like the man responsible for Amitabh’s misery?

My mother and her best friend would often get into schoolgirl-like arguments over who’s better, unknowingly giving me a clearer understanding of their neck-to-neck rivalry as Khanna had already retired to join Osho by the time I woke up to movies.

Despite my deep-rooted Big B bias, I couldn’t resist Vinod Khanna’s charms for too long. It’s like the gods had fussed lovingly over his chiselled features — cleft chin, soulful eyes, sharp nose and strapping machismo, so flawlessly captured in an iconic 1980s Cinthol commercial.

There was an obvious sophistication to him — one he smeared in the darkest shades of sinisterness to portray a dacoit in Mera Gaon Mera Desh or underplayed to uphold the solemnity of the teaching profession in Imtihan revealing a rare risk taker in the realm of safe playing leading men.

While most actors today are insecure about signing on two-hero projects once they hit the top league, VK’s resume is chockfull of multi-starrers. Yet, his poise stood out every time he was pitted opposite AB, Dharmendra, Shatrughan Sinha and Feroz Khan or Rishi Kapoor.

In Manmohan Desai’s Amar Akbar Anthony, his Amar is the most straightforward of the three — the classic no-nonsense cop. But when he finally gets to slip out of uniform, Khanna doesn’t miss any chance to show off his versatility, taking on every single musical instrument possible as if to prove a point. It’s delightfully unrealistic and a befitting fulfilment of Desai’s madcap vision.

In Qurbani and Chandni, it’s his turn to lose the girl. But he’s such a gracious loser and worthy opponent, I felt more respect than pity for his character’s loss.

The emotionality and vitality he projected through his innate elegance struck an enduring chord across various genres of storytelling. Though his work in Gulzar’s creations ranks among my personal favourites.

Whether it’s his angst in Mere Apne, remorse in Achanak, turmoil in Meera, curiosity in Lekin.. or even a brief part as Jeetendra’s buddy and roomie in Parichay, the geniality he brings to their interactions, showcased a sensitivity outside a space of glamour and guts.

Somewhere though his brawny appeal in action-heavy potboilers overshadowed his proficiency for nuanced drama, particularly in his post-Osho innings.

Still the excitement he generated on his comeback trail is a scene I will never forget. The deafening applause welcoming his dashing entry on screen in films like Insaaf and Satyamev Jayate spoke volumes for his unchanged popularity.

My most recent memory of Vinod Khanna is marked in anger as well. Only this time, it wasn’t directed at him. I was upset when the ailing actor’s photograph was insensitively tossed about in media to generate sensation.

As the news of his passing away comes to me, I choose to remember him at his fittest, fabulous best.

A scene from Qurbani featuring him and friend/filmmaker Feroz Khan, who died on this very day eight years ago, plays before my eyes.

FK comes to VK’s rescue following a scrap with the baddies. The latter thanks him for saving his life. In his trademark swagger, FK quips, ‘Maar bhi deta toh kya farak padta? Fauladi aadmi ho, goli takrake wapas chali jaati.’

Heaven must be full of swagger today and a cleft in its cloud.

This column was first published on rediff.com.

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Super filmi week with Hit Girl Asha Parekh

Kamal Haasan’s unrivalled make up skills, Jack Nicholson’s haunting imagery, Asha Parekh’s life as a Hit Girl and the surprise package of Beauty and the Beast, it’s all there in my super filmi week.

Monday
The Raabta trailer is out and it’s inspired-by-Magadheera vibe is hard to miss. So long it’s nothing like that disastrous reincarnation romance Prem. 

Whatever happens Rajkummar Rao’s campy guest appearance is bound to gather notice. Resembling a cross between Voldemort and Auro, the Trapped star is virtually unrecognisable under all those layers of prosthetic. 

Although special make-up effects tend to look gimmicky and still have a long way to go as far as our films go, their application has produced exciting results in an actor’s performance — be it Bachchan in Paa, Shah Rukh Khan in Fan, Rishi Kapoor in Kapoor & Sons and, hopefully, Akshay Kumar in 2.0. 

Still nothing beats Kamal Haasan’s turn as the utterly believable and matronly Chachi 420 — a remake of his Tamil comedy Avvai Shanmughi, which itself was inspired by Robin Williams starrer Mrs Doubtfire. The purpose of make-up is to unify with the character and Chachi achieves that greatly.

Tuesday
Thanks to the brooding Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why and Yashraj’s fun promos of their upcoming rom-com, Meri Pyaari Bindu, cassettes are back in the limelight. No matter how cool and uncomplicated technology gets, the unexplained thrill of buying cassettes or winding a jammed tape with a handy pencil can never be replaced. 

I still remember my first.

They were two actually. Both purchased from the legendary music store Rhythm House in south Mumbai’s Kala Ghoda, which shut down last year. One was an audio book of children’s fairy tales, the other Khayyam’s magical soundtrack of Razia Sultan. 

As a kid, all those heavy-duty Urdu words were obviously beyond my grasp but the cassette cover featuring its leading lady Hema Malini in a striking fuchsia costume and crown was enormously attractive as was Lata Mangeshkar’s silky rendition of Aye Dil-e-Nadaan. As as result, I started early on a diet of arzoo, charsun and dasht-o-sehras.


Wednesday
Barbadiyon ka jashn manata chala gaya,’ goes a line by Sahir Ludhianvi in an unforgettable song of Hum Dono. But few have understood its spirit like poet and filmmaker Gulzar and one of Sahir’s greatest admirers. 

There’s almost a pattern in the poignant moments he draws out of ruins. Though Gulzar’s characters are expressing different degrees of melancholy against the backdrop of a dilapidating building, in engaging its striking, smashed scenery he honours the poetic metaphors it effectively offers.

Thursday
When I think of Asha Parekh, I picture a coy young woman dressed like a Japanese doll trotting all over Tokyo or fluttering her big, beautiful eyelashes at a smitten Rajesh Khanna to bid adieu or tugging at Shammi Kapoor’s satchel like an attention-seeking imp.

There’s a fair share of tearjerkers in her resume but the yesteryear cutie impressed best in fun, frothy fare. Often as the snooty, fashionable heiress scoffing at the hero in the presence of her omnipresent girl gang or displaying her dancing prowess in strategically designed stage shows; Parekh infused freshness to a monotonous gig. 

The Teesri Manzil star’s onscreen effervescence is overwhelming enough to believe, it translates into a rosy reality as well. But as I start reading her recently launched autobiography, The Hit Girl, co-authored by journalist and filmmaker Khalid Mohamed (and a prologue that provides no new insight by Salman Khan), I realise there are some uncomfortable truths in her carefully weighed admissions. 

She may shroud her words in diplomacy or matter-of-factness but I found the rough behaviour of her co-stars like Joy Mukherjee or Guru Dutt disconcerting. Commitment to art is fine but to bruise a colleague for its sake no matter how unintended is unacceptable. The actor’s casually shared anecdotes unwittingly exposed the film industry’s massive ego, deep-rooted chauvinism and an appallingly ‘chalta hai’ attitude around it. 

The steeply priced memoirs have their blithe moments too — like Rajendra Nath’s fizzled attempt to woo her with a heart-shaped bouquet of roses, the weekend she and Rajesh Khanna went from to dead to alive to salvage Baaharon Ke Sapne’s doomed box office fortune and Satyajit Ray’s sweet gesture following her inability to act in his Kanchenjunga. 

Anxious to read what else the star who once sang, ‘Parde mein rehne do parda na uthao. Parda jo uth gaya toh bhed khul jayega’ will reveal.

Friday
Raveena Tandon and Sonakshi Sinha battle for box office supremacy in Maatr and Noor respectively. If one’s about a woman going on a revenge spree after she and her minor daughter are brutally gang-raped, the other focuses on a bumbling journalist’s efforts to be taken seriously. 

Both films mean to further the cause of women taking centre stage on screen.

Both star charismatic leading ladies capable of delivering under keen guidance.

Both are let down by senseless scripts that cash on their charisma and believe that is enough to draw an audience in. 

Needless to say, it’s not. 

My Maatr review: ‘Crammed with glaring loopholes and stupid contrivances, Maatr‘s simplistic depiction of a volatile, scarred psyche (of a rape survivor) prefers to exult in unaccountable violence.’ 

My Noor review: So long it’s true to its confection roots, Noor works. But when it engages in shallow activism for the heck of it, it rambles and drags. 

Saturday
And Jack Nicholson turns 80 today! 

I claimed to be his fan even before I had watched him in any movie. Just because my know-it-all big brother was mad about Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfeiffer, I decided I had to be too. 

As kids, we had these silly slam books where we would list out our favourite films, stars, food and other pop culture highlights. One’s coolness quotient was directly proportional to how cool the answers were. Cool=All things western. Without thinking twice, I scribbled down their names even if could barely spell them. 

Not too long after that I watched Tim Burton’s Batman. And that scene when he falls into a tank of green chemical and becomes The Joker is deeply etched in my memory.  

Over the years, I savoured his versatility in roles full of edge, depravity, warmth, aggression, humour and enigma in One Flew Over a Cuckoo’s Nest, A Few Good Men, The Shining, Five Easy Pieces, Chinatown, As Good As It Gets, About Schmidt, The Departed, and loads of other films including one of his earliest — Roger Corman’s The Raven. 

Not to forget that incorrigible smile and groovy sunglasses he’d flash seated in the front row of an Oscar ceremony. It was a performance in itself.  

Happy Birthday Jack, you goddamn marvel of modern science

Sunday
So happy to catch a show of Disney’s live-action adaptation of Beauty and the Beast before it left the theatres for good.

Tale as old as time it may be but Belle and Beast still make warm magic through their journey of overcoming pride and prejudice against Alan Menken’s resplendent score and a harmonious mix of VFX and art design. Emma Watson and Dan Stevens use all their charms to ensure this transition from foes to friends is credible. But it’s Emma Thompson, Ewan Mc Gregor, Audra Mc Donald and Ian McKellen’s vocal wizardry as the enchanted teapot, candelabra, wardrobe and mantel clock that injects their courtship with gaiety and zing.

The biggest surprise of Beauty and the Beast is the braggart Gaston. I was never too taken in by his animated avatar but Luke Evans’ (the sincere Bard of The Hobbit trilogy) free flowing flamboyance turns Gaston’s narcissism into a wonderful, witty spectacle of valour and vanity.  

This column was first published on rediff.com.

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