Dhadak Review: Ishaan, Janhvi show promise. Not the film.

Dekho maine dekha hai yeh ek sapna. Phoolon ke shaher main hai ghar apna. (Love Story)

Akele hain toh kya gham hai chahein toh humare bas mein kya nahi? (Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak)

Humne ghar choda hai rasmo ko toda hai. Door kahin jayenge nayi duniya basaayenge. (Dil)

The optimism in these lines is hard to miss. Once young romance and rebellion looking at life with rose coloured glasses defined the course of condemned love until Bollywood made it a yardstick of sorts. 

But no one considered the practicality of such fervour or tested its endurance after first flushes of love wear out until film-maker Nagraj Manjule’s Marathi blockbuster, Sairat.

An epic love story combining an effective commentary on the evils of casteism, Sairat‘s raw realism and heartfelt portrayal is memorable even when its characters exhibit problematic behaviour.

 

Producer Karan Johar may have procured the rights to ‘adapt’ Dhadak but none of its underhand politics, authenticity of its milieu, the unfeigned, unchecked, unwise impetuosity of teenage love too young to know otherwise or the implications of the brutal final scene can be found under Shashank Khaitan’s direction.

This is quite simply a launch pad designed to bring to view two star kids and their potential. It’s unfortunate that the project already comes with its baggage of expectations given Sairat‘s overwhelming success.

What matters then is how well they carry it.

Not a hair out of place, not a patch of skin unattended — Janhvi Kapoor and Ishaan Khatter are far too groomed and self-aware to impress the rustic appeal and rash impulses of Sairat‘s Archie and Parshya.

Khaitan’s need to glam things up is just as dire. And so Sairat‘s cosy, provincial setting makes way for Udaipur’s tourism-friendly ambiance and the catchy Solapuri accent is displaced for gratuitous Marwari. 

He’s a smitten kitten. She’s an entitled brat. Parthavi (Janhvi) appears in Madhukar’s (Ishaan) dreams and then before his eyes at a local competition while he’s munching on chillies and the sun’s highlighting her porcelain complexion. He wins the prize. It’s not long before he wins her heart too. Why not? Madhu’s wardrobe of custom-made lehariya and bandhini shirts is on par with Parthavi’s sartorial numbers.

The class distinction is almost invisible while caste-related issues are crudely forced into the narrative after one father growls ‘Oonchi jaati‘ and another threatens to offer ‘beti ki bali.’

Khaitan regular Ashutosh Rana returns to his snarling roots — imagine Duryodhana in jodhpurs — as the power-mongering bigot running for elections.

As the perpetual symbol of disapproval, his hostility comes as no surprise on discovering daughter Parthavi and Madhukar’s liaison. Nothing in Dhadak does.

It does many things differently from Sairat for the sake of misplaced individuality. One of them is to reduce its running time considerably. Love doesn’t quietly bloom but zooms, zaps and Zingaats between the twain against Ajay-Atul’s soaring soundtrack. 

Instead of bashful smiles and coy charm, caricaturish pals and pedestrian humour flanks their inseparable ardour and half-hearted revolt. Forced to flee town, the starry-eyed lovers wander Mumbai, Nagpur and, ultimately, Kolkata to start from scratch.

The heartbreak of shabby treatment from one’s own family, the struggle of employment sans proper qualification in an alien city, the resentment, doubts and insecurities spawned by unending challenges hardly registers in Dhadak‘s superficial, clueless worldview.

If anything it just shows how little Bollywood steps out in the real world and what a mockery it makes of everyday hardships.

Dhadak is lacking in basics too.

A prudish approach to intimacy ensures Ishaan and Janhvi’s carefree chemistry is never explored beyond the first kiss.

The fights are equally dull. One of the most volatile moments of Sairat is when the guy’s jealousy gets ugly and irreversibly shatters the rosy picture. In Dhadak, it plays out in such a contrived fashion, it makes Ishaan’s discomfort and Janhvi’s confusion all the more glaring.

How do they fare overall? The newcomers have an inherent likability and exude oodles of charm. Ishaan’s electric dance moves are in perfect tandem with Zingaat‘s infectious zeal. As seen in Beyond the Clouds, the lad has a knack for persuasive portrayals. He never seems out of his depth no matter how silly the setup. Janvhi’s dialogue delivery evokes a mix of Karisma Kapoor and Hema Malini, but her Chandni eyes have their own stories to tell. There’s a gentleness to her that should find its own place in time.

As a remake of Sairat, Dhadak is a travesty. As a standalone, Dhadak is standard Bollywood boy-meets-girl drivel. As a showcase, Dhadak is a promise that will take some more effort to fully fulfil.

Rating: 2/5

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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Karenjit Kaur: The Untold Story of Sunny Leone review: A confused biopic!

Sunny Leone’s journey from an awkward, unibrowed teen in Canada to adult industry darling in Los Angeles to Bollywood actress in Mumbai has all the elements of a sensational story. 

More than her struggle or success, it’s a stoic ‘so what?’ attitude that set it apart. But Karenjit Kaur: The Untold Story of Sunny Leone — a 10-episode Web series on streaming platform Zee5 — is too confused a biopic to appreciate its subject’s undaunted spirit or explore the intricacies of unconventional fame.

A keen mind would explore Leone’s unapologetic ambition and eroticism in an atmosphere of moral scrutiny, sexual repression and social alienation. But director Aditya Datt seems to be heavily inspired by Madhur Bhandarkar’s school of sensibilities.

Given such perspective, the infamous Bhupendra Chaubey interview of 2016 is tailor-made for overstatement and Datt doesn’t miss any opportunity to milk the hostility and laud Leone’s compulsions.

In a cringe worthy recreation, Chaubey’s condescension turns into full-fledged disgust whereas Leone’s serene response is enhanced to reflect the hot-selling wisdom of quick think pieces. Raj Arjun, Zaira Wasim’s cruel daddy in Secret Superstar, is woeful, almost unwatchable in his overemphasised display of snobbery. The man strains himself so hard; I am surprised he didn’t fall off the chair.

 

On the other hand, Leone plays herself and involuntarily shows the difference between person and performance. In her case, it is the lack of latter the biopic regularly suffers from. 

As she recalls episodes from her teenage, 20s, 30s, there’s no real sense of growth or time. Barring a cell phone, there’s no conspicuous effort to explain a decade, its mood or trends. Much of this flimsiness stems from a haphazard timeline that moves on whim and resists focusing on any one chapter of Leone’s life.

Between a Chaubey clone drawing parallels between porn stars and prostitutes, Leone’s friend urging her to ‘remove her flower’ and get over her ‘stinky, stupid values’, brother Sunny (a phone call from him inspired her professional name) peddling autographed pictures of his Penthouse Pet of the Year sister who turns down a million dollars to study paediatric nursing only to later admit ‘making money always makes me happy’, the picture to emerge is staggeringly erratic.

Throw in an unemployed father, alcoholic mom, gossipy relatives, nasty boss, lousy boy friend, offended best friend, contrived racism, token sex and the Sunny Leone soap drags on and endlessly in no particular direction. 

Things feel less phony around Rysa Saujani. As the 12-year-old Karenjit, the bright-faced youngster offers some glimpses in the life of a dissatisfied NRI kid raised by a conservative Sikh family. Both Grusha Kapoor as the grumbly housewife and Bijay Anand’s silently suffering significant other adequately bring out the embarrassment and distress prompted by their daughter’s professional pursuits.

Few exceptions aside, Karenjit Kaur is exploding with dreadful acting and awful dialogues.

Whatever impression Leone’s so-called rebellion, experiments, failures, secrets, (bi)sexuality and hard-to-digest success is striving for is immediately diluted by an unsteady narration and contradictory stance.

Who is the real Sunny Leone? 

Someone who feels good about herself by indulging in cheap payback? Someone who responds to criticism with grace? Someone who does things out of social pressure? Someone trying to provide for her family? Someone who enjoys what she does? Someone who is not sorry? Who knows! Karenjit Kaur: The Untold Story of Sunny Leone is too boring to celebrate her, too dull to criticise.

Rating: 2

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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Soorma review: Diljit Dosanjh ups his game!

Stories about sports icons are tailor-made for inspiration. The whole idea of succeeding against all odds commands glory and awe. Biopics draw on its vigour and hardship to create a powerful symbol of watch and learn.

But our movies have a tendency to bask in reflected glory instead of revealing the man behind the medals.

Shaad Ali’s Soorma, which tells the story of ace Indian hockey player Sandeep Singh and his phenomenal return to form after a bullet left him incapacitated, does not make that mistake.

There’s a hands-on approach in Diljit Dosanjh’s delivery as Singh that makes it easy to invest in his character’s remarkable real life and his dramatized depiction endearing.

Whether it’s his naiveté as a lad genuinely surprised to learn his bird-shooing action is a bonafide hockey move or amusing logic in persuading the coach to let him play despite an injury or hilarious embarrassment after coming down heavily at a kabbadi player, Dosanjh plays out various stages of Singh coming into his own with nuance and simplicity. 

Though far from perfect, Soorma benefits from the winsome appeal of its wonderful cast in telling a story that’s as much about starry-eyed romantics as it is about steel-willed resolution.

Set in a small town of Punjab where hockey is religion, Soorma centres on a young Singh’s renewed interest in the sport after sparks fly off between him and a pretty, plucky athlete, Harpreet (Taapsee Pannu is a combination of Singh’s wife and former girlfriend).

All flush and flirtations, the chemistry between these two is so sweet and substantial; the screen appears to have turned a shade of beetroot. Common local trainer and advocate of corporal punishment (a waspy Danish Hussain) grabs every chance to growl with disapproval.

Although he starts out playing purely to woo his ladylove, Singh’s naturally dazzling drag flicker quickly realises its star potential amidst impressed new teachers and hockey bigwigs. And so a delightful Vijay Raaz struts into the frame mouthing crowd-pleasing threats like, ‘Bihari hain hum, thookh ke maatha chhed kar denge‘ and Kulbhushan Kharbanda sounds like he’s waited all his life since Shaan to deliver his most badass line ‘Main hi federation hoon.’

The humour is abundant. So is the heart — in Taapsee’s trusty warmth, Angad Bedi’s solid turn as Singh’s big brother and Satish Kaushik’s simple-minded daddy bear. Often it lends Singh’s rise more meat than the cursory glance at his victories deemed worthy of exploring only when playing against an ever-hostile Pakistan.

I cannot claim to have much knowledge of the game. But Soorma takes it for granted you do.

If it has deep grudges about cricket hogging all the limelight, it only mildly expresses. If it resents the lack of medical care and respect accorded to hockey players, it only fleetingly complains.

Hockey isn’t particularly cinematic to watch. Chirantan Das’s flatly shot sequences are anything but breakthrough and fail to whip up any excitement.

The blandness would be a lot more glaring if not for Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s pulsating soundtrack to Gulzar’s lively lyrics. The composer trio are masters of bucking your spirits up and Soorma‘s playlist reflects that amply.

The biopic hits some high notes right until mid point, especially its depiction of the ill-fated moment when an accidentally fired bullet in a train compartment pierced through Singh’s back and leaves him paralysed waist down for two years.

It’s a deftly shot moment that avoids the typical ominous set-up to bring out the casual, completely unexpected nature of the incident.

What comes across is far more horrific than deliberate drama.

The second half of Soorma wallows in heartbreak, pity and a drastic decline of fortunes until ‘Flicker Singh’ resolves to put an end to the humiliation and get back on his feet.

Too much dependence on songs, gratuitous drama and formulas negates a great deal of good that Shaad’s earlier impulses have accomplished.

But Diljit Dosanjh’s striking self-possession, like the champion he’s portraying, doesn’t let it come in the way of a performance that screams g-o-a-l.

Rating: 3

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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