LoveYatri: A lousy movie by any name is still a lousy movie

The whole point of LoveYatri is Salman Khan has a brother-in-law who wants to act. And if ‘Bhai’ can do the needful for out-of-work actors and aspiring star kids, he surely won’t ignore his brother-in-law. The superstar’s generosity and Aayush Sharma’s good fortune may have brought about LoveYatri‘s existence but it doesn’t translate into a credible movie.

Set in Vadodara, LoveYatri begins with the mandatory ‘Kem Cho‘ lines and culture overkill in an overdone production design that cannot tell between a house and emporium. As the jarring tone gathers momentum we are next treated to Aayush’s timeworn Bollywood star son entry. Healthy hair growth? Check. Six-pack physique? Check. Dance demo? Check.

Aayush Sharma plays a chap named Susu, which is perhaps what the movie should have changed its name to from Loveratri if honest movie title counts for anything.

He’s a garba dancer and teacher who dreams of setting up an academy in his town when not loafing around with his cronies. And because he’s no Tiger Shroff on the dance floor, we never take those aspirations too seriously.

During Navratri time, Susu’s eyes meet London girl Michelle (Warina Hussain) and he develops wings of desire, quite literally, in a scene that could only make sense in a stoner flick. She’s a desi at heart whose philanthropic ways are just one Being Human T-shirt away from self-plugging.

Meanwhile, the done-to-death ideas occupying Susu’s uncle’s imagination (Ram Kapoor) orchestrate a romance so predictable you could go off to sleep only to wake up and witness the dandiya is still on just the venue has shifted.

Colourful mirror work costumes and chartbusters of the season take over the scene as the duo bonds over dandiya and dabeli. If only blandness could be camouflaged so easily. Their dull attraction is made worse by adding complications without which this bore would wrap up in half an hour. But these dimwits are just too duh to open their mouth.

LoveYatri‘s laziness doesn’t extend to its banal writing, but actors too. It has a cast full of people who need to act but cannot and people who can but are not.

The usually dependable package of Ram Kapoor and Ronit Roy seem to have taken some secret oath to ham like there’s no tomorrow. Kapoor spews gyaan like love is a SIM card that fits any phone — cheap or steep and Roy stands in for the disapproving daddy running a laundry chain called Lord of the Rinse.

In LoveYatri, a UK visa can be attained by doing a garba, London Business Academy is the sort of prestigious institution where geeks zoom off on a hover board in sports bra and micro shorts in the middle of fall and people are jobless enough to tolerate Ram Kapoor’s drunk salute to the Khans.

The whole point of this idiotic movie hinges on whether Aayush Sharma who wants to act can act. Unless a singular dazed expression qualifies as talent, not by a long shot.

There’s more effort gone in setting his hair than his ability to emote. His pretty co-star Warina complements his vacuousness in equal measure.

Bottomline: LoveRatri or LoveYatri, a lousy movie by any name is still a lousy movie.

Rating: 1

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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Andhadhun: Sriram Raghavan’s deliciously deadly masterpiece

Under that silver, wiry mop of hair dwells the brain of a reckless genius. 

Director Sriram Raghavan’s fertile mind is a breeding ground for awe-inducing mischief. The degree of devilry it plots in Andhadhun, a thriller so scrumptiously bereft of morality, it’s to be seen to believe.

And see it you must before watching trailers, reading reviews or bumping into that friend who beat you to it.

The clever wordplay in Andhadhun‘s title reflects a duality that colours nearly everything in the film. What they say and what we see, there’s plenty to read in between, from crabmeat cooking techniques to childhood injuries.

César award-winning French short film, L’Accordeur is at the heart of Andhadhun‘s twisted schemes and its standalone, centrepiece sequence. Flawless editing (Pooja Ladha Surti), masterful camerawork (K U Mohanan), macabre mood and Amit Trivedi’s rousing, rhythmic piano play place it up there in the pantheon of edge-of-the-seat classics. 

If music is both an instrument of composure and violence, Raghavan turns jump scares into something of an art form in this spectacularly staged masterstroke.

Both old Pune and burgeoning townships form an unsuspecting backdrop to Andhadhun‘s sinister events after a blind pianist (Ayushmann Khurrana) lands at a faded movie star’s (Anil Dhawan) door to deliver a live recital. Tabu, as the actor’s trophy wife (think I saw her reading Sujatha Rangarajan’s book about the same, Anita) is the intended recipient of this musical surprise.

There are others too — the girl on the yellow scooter (Radhika Apte), the cop who eats 16 eggs a day (Manav Vij), his hyper, Chinese bhel-serving better half (Ashwini Kalsekar), a genial lottery ticket seller (Chaya Kadam), a sneaky, prankster kid (Kabir Sajid) and a doctor caught up in life and liver (Zakir Hussain).

This isn’t some suspenseful setup for corpses and clues. Traps are laid without keeping us out of the loop. Alibi ready folk see through each other defences. People die and it’s no secret. It’s the defiance to withhold that really alarms and engrosses.

Lest you imagine you’ve got it all figured, it’s not the mystery of murder, but the murky, inscrutable human mind that truly interests the makers of Badlapur and Johnny Gaddar.

There’s a neat line in Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt — ‘I have the feeling that inside you somewhere, there’s something nobody knows about.’ A self-proclaimed admirer of the film-maker, Raghavan seems to have designed his entire script on those lines in company of writers Pooja Ladha Surti, Arijit Biswas and Hemant Rao.

He toys with our judgement, shames our sleuthing instincts, challenges us to second guess and laughs when we miserably fail. Intellectual humiliation was never this enjoyable.

Yesteryear actor Anil Dhawan’s presence adds a winsome, whimsical touch. There is no false note to his flamboyance or harmless has-been ways as he revels in his forgotten legacy going over old videos and songs in a sprawling apartment whose cerulean, floral walls are plastered with poster-sized reminders.

Andhadhun shares its retro knowledge of his once successful career in handpicked songs, their smartly packaged instrumental version whilst paying ode to Doordarshan’s beloved Chitrahaar and Chayageet.

Raghavan’s love for pop culture references incorporates everything from Sholay to Shakespeare. And as the lady well versed in both Lady Macbeth (Maqbool) and Gertrude (Haider), Tabu’s delicious insights into the disconcertingly unruffled keeps you invested and at arm’s length all at once.

As the cat AND mouse of this constantly shifting game undecided between boy who cried wolf and closet Gandhian, Ayushmann Khurrana delivers the most nimble performance of his career. Andhadhun tests his ‘acting’ skills like never before and he rises to the challenge like a pro.

Andhadhun is completely aware of its intelligence and quick wits mercilessly testing our gullibility while Raghavan leads us to its staggering finish with the finesse of a Mikado champion.

It’s stunning, comic, grisly, absurd, intense, cold, crazy and must-watch.

Rating: 4.5

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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Sui Dhaaga review: Lagaan of the sartorial world!

Anushka Sharma’s contorted, crying face became the subject of wholehearted parody in a series of viral memes. But the same scene left me in tears on watching Sui Dhaaga: Made In India.

In the movie, it is a moment of minor triumph for a husband and wife in the throes of desperation and despair. For that brief instant, nobody except the two recognise the value of an opportunity almost lost and no World Cup can seem as precious as an arduously won sewing machine.

Writer and director Sharat Katariya’s new drama delivers reality, its beauty and bites with a touch of humour, warmth and purpose in the tradition of Dum Laga Ke Haisha.

In Sui Dhaaga too, household bustle and familial tiffs form the core of a joint family of limited means.

Somewhere in Madhya Pradesh resides an elderly couple whose one half (Raghuvir Yadav) is a cantankerous old man coming down hard on the compliant son and the other (Yamini Dass) is a nurturing homemaker so consumed by her daily chores they have become her sole identity. ‘Pateela lekar maregi?‘ inquires her irate husband when she collapses in the kitchen, still tightly holding on to the panhandle even after what seems to be a mild heart attack.

The younger couple in the house — son Mauji (Varun Dhawan) and his significant other Mamta (Anushka Sharma) have forgotten what it feels like to be a couple in their fulfillment of domestic duties.

When Mauji, a tailor by lineage relegated to a minion in a sewing machines shop, alters Mamta’s blouse for a family function, a shy smile lights her face. It is the closest thing to a touch.

Mauji is the sort of person who agrees to belittling antics just to please the bosses. He is half convinced it is entertaining too. ‘Sab badhiya hai‘, he insists in the ironic tone of ‘Brutus is an honourable man’. It is not.

Taken for a pushover and butt of ridicule by everyone around him, it is only after Mamta voices her hurt over the humiliation that the seeds of self-respect are sown.

Self-employment appears to be the key. Except small-town aspirations are often weighed down by a constant need for survival. With financial challenges and unmasked exploitation obstructing their path at every juncture, professional autonomy is hard to come by.

The focus isn’t so much on Mauji’s craft as his struggle for better life as well as Mamta’s support and guidance in empowering their vision. 

Katariya goes for a beloved movie trope where triumph of spirit and contests go hand in hand. Sui Dhaaga advances from the marriage of industrious minds to a Lagaan of the sartorial world.

Within its feel-good fervour, Sui Dhaaga touches on the difficulties of grass root labour — the tribulations, rotten deals and measly remuneration reserved for their hardworking hands and engrossed eyes even as so-called ethically conscious designers steal credit and design. Step beyond the elegance of their fancy boutiques and steeply priced sustainable fashion, the woeful state of the artists and weavers across India is as telling as their handiwork.

Despite scenes of misplaced feminism and celebration of underdogs, body types and social classes, Sui Dhaaga is not looking to make villains out of anyone. Instead, Katariya dodges cynicism, endorses reconciliation and views self-seeking folk as products of disappointment and disgruntlement.

No overblown drama, no weepy speech, Sui Dhaaga‘s sunshine spirit and throwaway nok jhonk pervades the uncertainty and exploitation. Some of it is simplistic, some sentimental.

Often earnest displays of goodwill and spirit compensates for its arguable breakthroughs. But Mauji and Mamta are such genuine souls — a protective feeling is spontaneously elicited for the duo and their well being. No better feeling than crying and laughing along with the characters on screen.

Varun Dhawan and Anushka Sharma portray the world of Sui Dhaaga with a gentleness that turns everything it touches into gold. They play out a marriage coming into its own in such delicate hues, to review their performance as anything but combined would be unjust.

An actor for all seasons, Raghuvir Yadav shines as the sceptic father haunted by his own failures. Watching him on the ramp is one of Sui Dhaaga‘s truly heart melting moments.

As his zinger-ready wife, Yamini Dass carps on how they’d be better off if he’d glug down a bottle of alcohol through three days instead of downing two packets of milk in one. She is a winner.

So is this film.

Rating: 4

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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