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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Maatr review: Raveena shines in a shoddy revenge drama!

There’s a tendency among films about crime against women to garner respectability by championing a cause that demands urgent attention and action. But in the absence of artistic merit, they have as much influence as slogan-bearing tees.

Kind of what goes wrong with Ashtar Sayed’s Maatr while chronicling the vengeance spree of a woman (Raveena Tandon) after she and her 12-year-old daughter are abducted and sexually attacked by a politician’s wanton son (Madhur Mittal) and his equally nefarious cronies. Wish Sayed would understand the difference between a well-meaning crusade and a well thought out one.

Maatr begins with tawdry glimpses of debauchery inside a secluded Delhi farmhouse, a foreboding sign of the brutality the afore-mentioned guys are about to commit. But the mother-daughter pair they prey on are too busy basking in their triumphs from the school’s annual day function to get a whiff of it.

I am not sure how much of it was retained in the final cut, but when it comes to censorship of rape scenes, I am not one to complain. They are inevitably exploitative and disturbing to watch.

Consequently, director Sayed’s low-angle filming of the horrific events gets an uncomfortably close view of the agony a mother and her child go through, but neglects to establish a real bond beyond superficial pleasantries.

This lapse in priorities hurts Maatr as much as its shoddy writing. A good deal of which is epitomised in Rushad Rana’s wishy-washy portrayal of an obnoxious husband snapping at his traumatised wife for her poor GPS skills and demanding sauce and seperation in the same breath. Even if he has to be portrayed in a misogynistic light, give the chap some subtext if not a more decent actor.

Maatr would like to believe its relevance comes from true events that headline news channels regularly, but its typically Bollywood tropes to attain justice modelled on the likes of Aakhri Raasta and Mohra are not half as engaging. Even in an out and out masala fare like Mohra, Suniel Shetty has to suffer the consequences of his actions.

Crammed with glaring loopholes and stupid contrivances, Maatr‘s simplistic depiction of a volatile, scarred psyche prefers to exult in unaccountable violence. 

Through the course of its less-than-two-hours duration, things go from bad to ballistic. 

Killing people is as easy as quashing bugs. Armed avenging angels cross heavy police bandobast as easily as getting past a circle of dandiya dancers. Cabbies partake in car chases. Gas leaks at will. Indecisive fools beg for life only to take it with their own hands. Maatr doesn’t make much sense — the hurry it wraps up in suggests it probably realises it too.

What’s unexpected though is how easy it’s on histrionics. Too bad the background score doesn’t follow this brief and comes across as jarring as much of the film’s supporting cast. To Maatr‘s advantage, the ones who matter most do well.

If Madhur Mittal is aptly repulsive, Anurag Arora plays his casehardened cop with a smidgen of humour before driving Raveena to ‘Google’ and ‘Facebook’ her way to settle scores. 

A riveting combination of tough and tender, Raveena shines all the way. Her character doesn’t talk much or let on the frenzy of her heavily burdened mind. In a performance marked by amazing maturity and restraint, the actress conveys the dark, brooding and internal process of recuperating from grief and finding closure.

It’s obvious she feels strongly about Maatr‘s theme and her sturdy ambition is the only thing that holds your interest even when the film does not.

Rating: 2

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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Review: You just can’t take Noor seriously!

The manic pixie dream girl has a whiny sister. I like to call her the uppity scatterbrained pinterest princess. Unlike the manic pixie, this one is a goofy grouch blaming the world for the inadequacies of her life while harbouring grand notions about her own importance in it on the strength of aspirational quotes and a set of friends purely existing for her benefit and rescue. 

In Noor, she finds an embodiment in Sonakshi Sinha whose energetic vibe and easy likeability nourish the film’s fluffy bits.

The actress has a good voice, one that you get to hear abundantly through the course of Sunhil Sippy’s adaptation of Saba Imtiaz’s Karachi, You’re Killing Me! But when her soliloquy shifts from romantic crisis to a soppy, sanctimonious diatribe against Mumbai, Noor is completely out of its depth. 

The film starts out like a typical, well-shot rom-com with a sprightly voice-over and natty visuals of a cluttered lifestyle, where every single imperfection is systematically assigned its place in the frame. 

Sporting hipster glasses and a wardrobe of boho-chic outfits, Noor rolls her eyes at her father’s preferential treatment of the house cat, a faulty geyser, an AWOL domestic help, her weight gain and lowly Twitter following before storming to work. She’s a journalist, you see, and not a very good one at that. 

Noor’s irritation only grows when her boss (Manish Chaudhary) in a local news-broadcasting agency orders her to interview Sunny Leone at a suburban studio when she would rather investigate a whistleblowing piece.

“I am a college topper,” she barks indignantly at her editor whose tolerance for Noor’s insubordination is so far-fetched, the chances of seeing a unicorn would be more believable.  

Continuing her romedy pursuits, the half-hearted Bridget Jones immediately falls for a smooth talking photographer (Purab Kohli) while BFF (Kanan Gill) cannot quite decide how he feels about it. 

In the midst of munching on Haldiram product placements and a demure depiction of an affair where a couple sleeps together but never locks lips, Noor’s professional ambition finally catches up with her.  

She unearths an organ harvesting scam, one that could provide her respite from frivolous journalism. But Sippy treats the magnitude of the crime and ethical practices around its coverage in such a muddled manner; it dumbs down Noor — both the film and its titular heroine irrecoverably. 

What’s even more convoluted is Noor’s unwillingness to face the repercussions or atone for her actions. By sending her off to holiday in picturesque England for a breather, Sippy practically ensures none of her latter attempts to take the moral high ground be taken seriously. 

Nowhere resembling the frothy premise it promised to be, Noor’s initial display of quirk is just a ploy to endear the audience, one that is conveniently forgotten for the sake of cloying emotionality and absurd symbolism where accepting a Facebook request is indicative of reconciliation.   

So long it’s true to its confection roots, Noor works, thanks to the attractive bonhomie Gill and Kohli’s real guy appeal generates around Sonakshi’s star. But when it engages in shallow activism for the heck of it, it rambles and drags. 

Rating: 2.5

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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