Independence Day Resurgence: Done to death vision!

independence Day Resurgence1When Bill Pullman famously predicted, ‘We’re going to live on’ in his climatic speech as the president of United States, he wasn’t only referring to the indomitable American spirit but Hollywood’s fixation with franchise filmmaking.

Having said that, Independence Day did enjoy a 20-year long standalone identity before director Roland Emmerich decided to thrust a completely inessential sequel of a tediously recycled model — America saving itself and the ill-equipped world from intergalactic danger with a dash of token ethnicity thrown in the form of a Chinese space squadron, an African warlord and a French researcher.

Back in 1996, the sci-fi disaster drama packed in enough cheese, charm and Will Smith to hold its worth in popcorn. Time hasn’t diminished its photographic sheen; the technology looks pretty darn slick even today.

But, in its latest installment titled Independence Day: Resurgence, the glamorous display of high-minded heroism is swapped for toothless, tepid bravado.

There’s no shortage of CGI-aided spectacle, a visual palette alternating in blazing hues and ghostly vigour and truly immersive 3D. Except, Emmerich’s script relies on too much moronic logic and ludicrous contrivances for one to appreciate its old -fangled gusto of a done-to-death vision.

Smith’s refusal for an encore is sorely missed but Jeff Goldblum as the wisecracking, flight-fearing expert on all things alien is reliably droll. “They love to get the landmarks,” he adlibs as he and Liam Hemsworth (brawny boy, blank actor) glide across a barrage of alien ammo.

Brent Spiner’s madcap scientist wakes up from coma to reveal some more unknown facts about alien types but the only intriguing thread in the story is reduced to a puny plot point.

There’s also a gaunt Pullman who’s no longer running the country yet receiving the privileges of one. The current president serving the space-age version of this ‘unified than (haha) ever before’ nation is a lady (Is Emmerich predicting the outcome of the upcoming elections?). Only it doesn’t add up to anything.

Nor does the obligatory romance featuring Pullman’s daughter (Maika Monroe), bromance featuring Smith’s stepson (Jessie Usher) or any form of sentimentality in this laughably shallow film where characters get over their deceased loved ones within minutes and waste no time in discussing housing plans or dates.

A certain amount of crummy humour and corny one-liners are a given in this genre but Independence Day: Resurgence shows little creativity.

And so, ‘I got you baby,’ cries out the knight in shining plane to his suddenly damsel-in-distress or pees in the direction of aliens to express his displeasure over his parents’ murder. (How come Hemsworth taking a leak gets a U/A certificate and Shahid Kapoor’s bladder burst in Udta Punjab gets the boot?)

Independence Day: ResurgenceOne sees a lot more of the aliens in this edition though not necessarily in a good way. From shrewd control freaks engaged in absolute planetary invasion to sputtering monsters with Godzilla-sized egos, the indignity meted out at the extra-terrestrial ilk is unintentionally comic.

Independence Day: Resurgence only reiterates one thing. Be it alien, superhero, monsters or natural calamity, the blockbuster factory acts on the same pig-headed formula of mindless explosion, collapsing buildings, vast amounts of rubble and everything going up in a giant ball of smoke.

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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Review: Udta Punjab is a must-watch!

udta-punjabUnder a starlit sky, tall green trees flanking vast fields nod their heads to the swish of the cool midnight breeze as if caught in a trance. It’s the sort of magical setting that sparks romance and poetry. Just then, the serenity of the night is rudely interrupted by the appearance of a spherical package. What looks as wholesome as a wheel of Gouda cheese conceals a supply of pure and potent heroin.

Right at the onset the message is clear — even if preceded by an unusual number of disclaimers — the only high Abhishek Chaubey’s uncompromising Udta Punjab aims to probe has little to with the gifts of nature but rather the prolonged abuse of it.

The experience is so fiercely consuming and staggering, I cannot decide where to begin. So I’ll start by saying how well researched it is, weaving available information and episodes into a compact narrative yet retaining its own artistic identity in a manner most stunningly original and idiosyncratic.

For many years, Punjab’s severe drug epidemic, powered by freely operating cartels, sneaky cross-border trafficking, phony de-addiction centres and a mutually-beneficial nexus between greed-driven politicians and narcotics police has debilitated the state’s economical and social progress, wolfed down an entire generation or its psyche, hindered every possibility of reform and sucked the land of five rivers dry.

It’s a disturbing, incomprehensible reality, one the inhabitants of Mexico would instantly relate to, as cheekily pointed out in the movie on a couple of occasions. Chaubey incorporates a significant deal of the reportage and a cinematic sprinkle of the reference to fashion a gutsy drama that boldly alternates between dreams and nightmares, agony and adventure, loss and epiphany, bleak and ballsy, weakness and willpower.

As in his previous films, Chaubey picks a fine ensemble of stars and character actors to convey this disorderly journey of individuals both directly and indirectly in grip of/or responsible for Punjab’s indiscriminate drug scourge.

udta-punjabOf the four, Kareena Kapoor Khan gets the least in terms of length. She’s the narrative’s most conventional character but the one Udta Punjab greatly relies on for warmth and virtue. As a doctor engaged in rehabilitation, she’s the voice of sanity and optimism. And because it’s someone as gifted as Kareena, it comes wrapped in oodles of luminous grace too. Even if the romantic track between her and Punjabi star Diljit Dosanjh, marking his Hindi film debut, is a tad abrupt, it progresses sweet-naturedly enough to rankle.

In a film justly critical of highs achieved from injecting dangerous drugs, it’s only fair to celebrate the ones we reach in the grasp of new love.

Meanwhile, Dosanjh packs in a compelling screen presence. He is precise and discerning in his portrayal of a police inspector familiar with both the sides of the story – the victim, the victimiser.

Despite the ostentatious surface, Shahid Kapoor’s bursts of manic energy never once hit a false note. Like an actor who’s honed his skills and understands the essence of timing, Kapoor is spectacularly unbridled as the high-strung, expletive-firing, irreverent pop star who pees in (and at) public, only a portion of it makes it on screen. But the believability he brings to his complex transition while preserving his inherent flakiness deserves all the praise.

As the Bihari immigrant, with whom he shares a flawless ‘strangers in the night’ moment, Alia Bhatt’s is the most unsettling arc in Udta Punjab. A tangible illness wears her discoloured being and disturbing interactions around even more unhinged folk. Bhatt and her skilful accent convey this formless existence, in the absence of past, presence or future, with an extraordinary mix of melancholy and madness.

Udta Punjab doesn’t spell out the withdrawal syndrome its characters endure or the addiction’s all-consuming cravings. It’s apparent in the irregularity of their behaviour, which lends the film an unequal texture. This conflict in tone is appealing as it not only conveys a chorus of issues but also plays up its uncertainty. Like a certain cold twist in the third act caught me completely unawares.

udta-punjabWhat didn’t is the strong language, mostly in Punjabi, some Hindi and little bit of English, which blends seamlessly into the mood and the narrative. Only there’s a lot more to its nuanced writing and eclectic soundtrack than the controversy-courting offensives. Some of the most casually said lines (penned by Sudip Sharma) “Pehle banda banja phir banna VIP” or “Tune S-class le li” or “Koi problem hoy toh WhatsApp kar di” earned a more full-throated laugh out of me than the Coke-Cock rap.

Udta Punjab is a wake-up call, an important film and a mighty impressive one at that, carrying a loud anti-drug message. It stands for everything that is opposite of what it was accused of. The extreme nature of its actions strives to stress on the absolutely pathetic state of Punjab’s affairs, perfectly encapsulated in a scene featuring a stoned gatekeeper who can neither guard nor confront.

Stars: 4

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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Column: Udta Punjab, worst casting decisions, and naheeee…!

I wouldn’t go that far but every film, good or ghastly, brings it share of wisdom and warning. Here is my learning from this week.

Monday

A still from Stardust

It’s possible to feel differently about a movie when revisiting it after a long gap.

Some movies age badly or lose relevance or simply cease to hold the same charm as they once did in our memory. Conversely, sometimes we notice things we hadn’t earlier on and begin to view it in a renewed light.

I am watching Matthew Vaughn’s Stardust, based on Neil Gaiman’s fantasy novel, for the first time since it released in late 2007. I don’t remember it too well but the leading man looks awfully familiar, as does the silly lad he’s scrapping with over Sienna Miller.

Why that’s Charlie ‘Daredevil’ Cox and Henry ‘Superman’ Cavill of course before spandex and superpowers consumed them for good.

A still from Stardust

While this part of my discovery is fun, the other only rubs in a previously held belief I still strongly uphold — Claire Danes is a TERRIBLE choice for the part. And it’s not only because of her creepy now-you-them-now-you-don’t eyebrows.

The actress plays a luminous star with an agonisingly severe aura, radiating zero charm or wit, that’s even more conspicuous around the adorable Cox or effervescent Robert De Niro. Vaughn’s adaptation isn’t half bad, one I would have judged far more favourably if not for the lacklustre, lumbering Danes.

Tuesday

Nargis Fakhri in Rockstar

Claire Danes and her lack of ‘star’ appeal prompted me to learn how others feel when it comes to ‘movie-ruining worst casting decisions (external link) ever’ on Twitter. An outpouring of names suggests I’ve hit a chord and my fellow movie buffs were only waiting to be asked and answer.

The one to be hit hardest by this spontaneous survey is Nargis Fakhri in Rockstar,followed by the likes of Katrina Kaif, Imran Khan, Sonam Kapoor and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. I wonder if we tend to confuse choice of actor for inadequate skill.

Personally, I didn’t mind Nargis in Imitiaz Ali’s film, which I thought camouflaged her limitations just about enough to focus on Ranbir Kapoor’s spectacular story of song, soul and self destruction.

Casting is a curious business in Bollywood and, sadly, not always dictated by the requirement of a script. There are actors who play to their strengths and others who transform as per their role. But there are some who are a major box office draw. More often than not, it’s enough.

Wednesday

A still from Udta Punjab

The more its detractors pull down Abhishek Chaubey’s unreleased Udta Punjab, the greater the curiosity to watch it.

The on-going battle over its ‘controversial’ content takes a new turn with co-producer Anurag Kashyap’s furious takedown of Censor Board chief Pahlaj Nihalani — after the latter’s bizarre claims that the Black Friday director took money from Aam Aadmi Party to show Punjab in a poor light — at a press conference attended by the film’s many producers (Vikas Bahl, Ekta Kapoor) and filmmakers like Zoya Akhtar, Imtiaz Ali, Mahesh Bhatt, Mukesh Bhatt, and Aanand L Rai.

Amidst passionate columns about the right to unrestrained creativity as well as sceptics dismissing it as shrewd PR work, it’s interesting to notice every time an authority objects to a brand of creativity as inappropriate for public consumption, it becomes the most broadcasted fodder for open discourse. So who’s protected from what anyway?

Perhaps instead of deleting scenes despite an A-certification, torchbearers of moral policing should attach cautionary watermarks along the lines of ‘Smoking Kills’ as guidelines for decency.

Let’s see: Peeing in public is injurious to health.

Expletives can cause mouth ulcers.

Skin show may cause eczema?

Thursday

A still from Andaz Apna Apna

It’s easy to mistake her vehemence for aggression but I find Raveena Tandon’s candour rather refreshing. So it’s a pleasant surprise to learn her role as columnist, one I wasn’t aware of until now.

I haven’t read all her blogs but they’re pretty engaging and personal. Also, devouring every single film magazine in the 1990s is reaping fruit as I can easily figure out the undisclosed individuals mentioned in some of her blind items.

In one piece, she addresses Bollywood’s double standards when it comes to age as well as the film industry’s inherent gender bias with humour at its sarcastic best.

‘I am often asked if I would act in the remake of Andaz Apna Apna. Director Raj Kumar Santoshi has clearly stated that he will never make it without Raveena or Karisma. In good humour, I reply: Yes, certainly, the first frame will show Raveena-Karisma’s garlanded picture on the wall and Aamir-Salman paying homage to their dead wives and sobbing on each other’s shoulders… and the rest of the movie will show them chasing Alia Bhatt and Sonam Kapoor!’

Friday

Gupt

The promos of Te3n packed promise but the film doesn’t live up to its potential.

Like I stated in my review of the mystery drama, ‘At what pace a story wants to unravel is entirely the storyteller’s prerogative — some narratives speak in poetic pauses and cryptic musings; others succeed on a throbbing tempo. In Ribhu Dasgupta’s Te3n, the leisurely movement isn’t so much to examine the scene of crime, as it is to document the accumulation of evidence. It would be effective too if the film wasn’t so willfully minimizing its drama and dynamism to conceal the obvious.’

I love watching suspense; it’s one of the most interactive of all genres. The thrill of guesswork while journeying into intrigue to realise what the famous crime writer Agatha Christie said, ‘Very few of us are what we seem.’

Later that evening, while watching Rajiv Rai’s slickly packaged whodunit Gupt, I am reminded of the same.

I will never forget the excitement surrounding the identity of the killer or the shock ensuing it. Back in the social networking free age, the answer found its way on the walls of college restrooms while those who caught the first show would threaten to reveal the spoiler if you rubbed them off the wrong way.

Running houseful everywhere, it was a while before I procured a ticket (in black, no less) but my brother who reviewed it for Rediff would neither confirm nor deny if XYZ is the murderer. I didn’t see it coming. Did you?

Saturday

Shabana Azmi in Lorie

Out of anger, denial, disgust, grief or shock, countless Bollywood moments are punctuated in deafening, dramatic versions of the indispensable ‘Naheeeeeeeeee…’

And coming across a glorious gallery of shrieking nahis (external link) is the best thing I’ve seen all week.

Thanks to the very awesome Hindi film aficionado behind Beth Loves Bollywood(external link), I learn about this gem curated by the marvelous movie blog: MemsaabStory (external link).

I loved it so much; I couldn’t help make a teensy contribution. One where it looks like Shabana Azmi (Lorie) is demonstrating what to do in the absence of noise cancelling headphones.

Sunday

Trailer of Psycho

Stunning, surreal and strategically secretive — the Mirzya trailer is all about building up Anil Kapoor’s son Harshvardhan’s entry into films.

Trailers are no longer about announcing a movie’s presence but a marketing art form — ranging from gimmicky to imaginative — hoping to generate buzz and influence early box-office.

A fascinating 15-minute video essay (external link) by Filmmaker IQ examines the evolution of movie trailers in Hollywood while noting the contribution of game-changing visionaries like Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick and Steven Spielberg through the decades.

This column was first published on rediff.com.

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