VIP 2: Dhanush-Kajol spar in a shrill, silly movie!

Only yesterday I was watching an old clip from a Bollywood award function.

Salman Khan and Karisma Kapoor had just announced Kajol’s name as the winner for her negative portrayal in Gupt.

Clad in a casual salwar kameez, the famously temperamental actress appeared a mix of smug and indifferent as she marched on stage to collect her trophy and vamoosed after a curt ‘Thank you.’

Somehow though, Kajol’s haughty manners made for a refreshing change in a gathering of cloyingly sweet, politically correct and lobbying-for-laurels movie stars.

Two decades later, Kajol is a lot more fashion conscious and friendly but her inherent sass is as staggering as ever.

And it’s the first thing to catch my eye in the introduction scene of VIP 2: Lalkar, where she’s, what do you know, accepting an award with an entitlement that becomes her.

Kajol is a spontaneous snob and breathtaking bully. She never attempts to tone down the blatancy of her conceit as the auburn-haired Vasundhara Parmeshwar — a fiery cross between Aaina‘s Amrita Singh, Laadla‘s Sridevi, The Devil Wears Prada‘s Meryl Streep and producer Ekta Kapoor.

Under the snooty CEO’s leadership her construction company has become a force to reckon with. But in the absence of subtext or subtlety, her grit is as empty as her growl.

Directed by Soundarya Rajnikanth, the sequel to Velraj’s winsome Tamil hitVelaiilla Pattadhari neither retains the footloose humour nor the populist fervor of its predecessor.

A tedious caricature of everything that endeared us about the first one, VIP 2: Lalkaris excruciatingly shrill and silly.

There’s no technique, thought or thread that binds the two. Its sole purpose is to cash in on VIP‘s goodwill and trumpet Dhanush as the outsmarting underdog turned messiah of the masses on screen and a star entertainer who has the audience eating out of his hand off screen.

Although his Raghuvaran spends most of his time in glugging alcohol, slo-mo dancing on streets and sexist squabbles with/about wife (Amala Paul), he’s still bagging prizes and job offers.

If you’ve watched the first one, you too will wonder what’s gotten into Amala Paul. From genial girl-next-door to cantankerous half, her character is an altogether different person.

But the real problem is VIP 2: Lalkar has no real conflict to pit its two talented protagonists against.

Director Soundarya is fixated by the idea of her brother-in-law Dhanush and his hallowed simplicity standing up to Kajol’s mighty star power over punctured ego and skewed ethics.

So they spar to the best of their abilities over random reasons asserting their supremacy in a game of one-upmanship against scenarios that look embarrassingly manufactured.

What could have been a crafty take on power play and gender politics between architect and engineer dumbs down into a clichéd bickering of elite and everyman.

The film may decorate Raghuvaran and Vasundhara with awards and insist they be taken seriously but their recklessness and unprofessionalism they display makes it impossible to do so.

At one point, Kajol is yelling at Dhanush and the crowd gathered around them like an exasperated schoolteacher admonishing an out-of-control classroom. She may have even thrown in a F-word in there. The Hindi dubbed print I watched muted it out.

Expletives or not, it’s always better to watch a film in the language it’s originally created. The sur of a conversation is lost in translation especially when the dubbing is as clunky and inconsistent as it is here.

No wonder my favourite bit is when the film is at its quietest and quirkiest, when Dhanush and Kajol catch a breather and the script, at last, comes into its own.

I would have liked to see more such free spirit in VIP 2. Pity, it had to be the final five minutes.

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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Toilet: Ek Prem Katha: Akshay’s bombastic fight for pyaar, potty & privacy

In Hrishikesh Mukerjee’s winsome Kisi Se Na Kehna, Utpal Dutt’s buttoned-down patriarch looks down on all things modern as evil and a threat to Indian culture. He insists on finding a traditional, illiterate daughter-in-law for his son (Farooque Shaikh).

As it turns out, his son is in love with a smart, educated doctor (Deepti Naval). He doesn’t have the courage to evoke his heart patient father’s wrath and devises an elaborate scheme to pass her off as a village-dwelling sanskari bahu until the truth is discovered and preconceptions are cast off.

Mukerjee makes a good point about unfair prejudices with a healthy mix of amusement and sympathy.

Somewhere in that bombastic tone and overblown revolution of Shree Narayan Singh’s Toilet: Ek Prem Katha lies a similar story of a quick thinker and his offbeat tactics, scrambling to create an environment of coexistence between his dynamic wife and bigot bapu.

Except the problem here is even more basic than education — it’s the right to relieve oneself in private.

Open defecation is a cause for great concern in India, one that grows despite campaigns, catchphrases and allocated budgets revealing irregularities in supervision as well as its object’s warped views on sanitation.

Toilet: Ek Prem Katha has something pertinent to say but isn’t clever enough to venture beyond screaming platitudes to underscore its milieu of antiquated values.

It’s the sort of meaningful cinema that pauses to linger on Sana Khan’s cleavage, lust over Sunny Leone, jest about Hrithik Roshan’s thumb detail, and where Mathura district’s small-town fervour and conservatism fills the frames, yet characters talk Ray Ban and Syria and idle away on smartphones quite comfortable in their toilet-less existence.

More implausibility follows when a considerable chunk of its 161 minutes running time is wasted to manufacture a romance between a 36-year-old Keshav (Akshay Kumar) and a studious Jaya (Bhumi Pednekar) over a stale pattern of he stalks-she berates-he ignores-she pursues-both fall in love and get married.

Akshay’s age is repeatedly pointed out lest we forget how gutsy it is for a superstar to play a character almost 14 years younger than his real age. Perhaps it’s the generation gap that makes it hard for him to fathom why his new bride is making a big fuss over the lack of toilet in their house.

Jaya is livid to learn about the existence of an early-morning communal event wherein women squat in the fields and lighten their load over gossip and gas.

Used to doing the deed in privacy, such humiliation is unacceptable to her. Although Keshav is unable to understand her firm resistance at first, he comes up with ingenious ways — jugaad — to ensure she doesn’t have to join the ‘lota party’ even as his dogmatic father refuses to permit a toilet at home.

The Keshav-Jaya story acquires a more personal skin in crisis. Keshav may be a product of his conditioning but he’s driven by his emotions. An ordinary man’s ascension into decency and compassion and a woman’s tenacity to accept nothing short of what’s her fundamental right is what lends Toilet heft, if only the director had focused more on this.

As long as it appears to be a domestic matter, there’s credibility in Keshav-Jaya’s challenges as well as the solidarity they deal it with. But when it becomes a full-blown crusade, it’s almost sycophantic in its politics. As is Toilet‘s sanctimonious tone and melodramatic inclinations that takes every possible complexity — social, cultural or religious — and shoves it down the viewer’s throat in the garb of half-hearted feminism, rushed protests and simplistic resolve.

Toilet treads unevenly between movie and movement. It only works well when it allows Akshay Kumar’s influential charisma and Bhumi Pednekar’s fiery spirit to use their instinctive humour, warmth and spontaneity to build a relationship that’s based on something more sound and striking than the sight of Sudhir Pandey’s pee.

Rating: 2.5

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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Super Filmi Week: When Akshay met a scientist fan

A brief encounter between Akshay Kumar and a scientist fan. Lauded filmmakers, lame last films. And the worst Kapoor to hit the silver screen. All this and more in my super filmi week.

Monday
Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it breakMacbeth

Last week was one of the saddest in my life. I lost a beloved family member to prolonged illness in front of my eyes. Within few hours, hopes dashed and the reality of our impermanence hit me hard.

It’s a new day, a new week, but my grief is irreparable so I take comfort in his memories.

My uncle, or Mamaji as I addressed him, was full of pep and wit. I’ve never come across anyone more knowledgeable or humble. A wonderful singer and guitar player, he introduced us — my brother and me — to the magic of Boney M, Beatles, ABBA and the German electronic band Kraftwerk and encouraged our craze for cinema. 

Every single summer vacation was spent on VCR/VHS rentals watching all sorts of wonderful and weird Hindi and Hollywood movies on his cool Uptron TV. It meant a great deal. Not everyone had a colour TV back then. We could rent everything from the Carry On series to 007, Qatilon Ke Qatil to Hatim Tai and he would neither dissuade nor judge.

After I became a journalist, he would proudly tell everyone how he got to meet a movie star because of me.

It had only been a few months since I joined Rediff.com and secured an appointment to interview Akshay Kumar after a lot of dilly-dallying.

The actor was shooting in a far-flung area of Mumbai’s sprawling suburbs for a movie called Vidroh. It was an unmemorable, endlessly delayed project that eventually released four years later as Police Force.

When we met, Hera Pheri was still a month away from release and Akshay, predominantly recognised for his action skills, was consciously working towards respectability and an image change.

Our meeting was scheduled for close to midnight and Mamaji, who was visiting us that time, volunteered to chaperone me as things tend to become unpredictable on the sets and I wasn’t certain how late it would be.

This happened almost two decades ago, but I still remember Akshay’s splendour and warmth once he stepped inside the vanity van we were waiting.

Dressed in a spick-and-span formal shirt and trousers, the Khiladi appeared absolutely smashing and genuinely thrilled on learning Mamaji is a scientist and a fan.

After making small talk, he excused us while I threw my volley of questions at the ever-sporting Akshay.

On our way back home, my visibly impressed uncle thanked me and raved about the down-to-earth star.

You’re one of them now, Mamaji.

Tuesday
Discussing Mani Ratnam’s Kaatru Veliyidai with a friend.

Every time I talk about this film, my blood pressure shoots up. I’ve had identical conversations on this subject before, but I am unable to view Kaatru as a romance. It’s a horror film in denial. (Psst, if you haven’t watched it yet, jump to Wednesday.)

And that climax, that idiotic, implausible climax — I’d still forgive everything preceding it if the last scene wasn’t shoving down the hero’s glorious reform and heroine’s big heart down my throat.

It’s unlikely he would not be an abusive ass to her again.

Characters aren’t obliged to fulfil our ideas of morality, but it’s important to depict them transparently, honestly.

Perhaps if the director would treat it like the black drama it is and not romanticise messed-up love like a candy-hued cupcake, I’d remember it for something beyond Aditi Rao Hydari’s photogenic allure in all those gorgeous Vrisa outfits.

Wednesday
Think Kapoors, think gold standard in acting.

For generations, this family has served the silver screen with their passion, beauty and talent.

Not every single one achieved iconic stardom, but there’s one Kapoor who’s so bad, he single-handedly invalidates Saif Ali Khan’s genetics theory.

Shashi Kapoor and Jennifer Kendal’s blonde-haired, blue-eyed, beautiful son Karan could make a thousand girls weak in their knees, but as far as acting goes, he’s so unequipped, it hurts to even remember.

Watching Loha on telly now, I am simply dumbstruck by his range of expressions. Limited Collection, anyone?

Thursday
Revisiting Vijay Anand’s Guide for a column and the face-off between Dev Anand’s divinity and Dev Anand’s pragmatism, his faith and scepticism — the pièce de résistance moment of this 52-year-old classic — is connecting to me now more profoundly than ever.

Sawaal ab yeh nahi ke paani barsega ke nahi. Sawaal yeh nahi ke main jeeunga ya marunga.’

Sawaal yeh hai ke is duniya ko banane wala, chalane wala koi hai ke nahi?’

Agar nahi hai toh parwah nahi zindagi rahe ya maut aaye.’

Ek andhi duniya mein andhe ki tarah jeene mein koi maza nahi. Aur agar hai toh dekhne yeh hai ke woh apne majboor bandhon ki sunta hai ya nahi.’

Few films have ever argued or introspected as effectively as the one between Guide‘s self and suspecting.

Friday
The day begins on a disappointing note with Imtiaz Ali’s spectacularly dull, Jab Harry Met Sejal.

Like I wrote in my review, it ‘has the stars, the songs, the scenery and all the trimmings for a riveting romance’ but ‘in the absence of soul bears little magic.’

I didn’t feel any heat in Harry and Sejal’s chemistry or predicament of their resistance or submission.

Rather, I found their togetherness contrived and stretched to justify a series of poorly conceived machinations.

Saturday
Earlier this week, the lively promo of Shubh Mangal Savdhan came on air and piqued my curiosity.

That’s when former film critic-turned-filmmaker Sudhish Kamath recommended I watch the Tamil original Kalyana Samayal Sadham of which the Ayushmann Khurrana-Bhumi Pednekar starrer is a remake.

Caught it on Hotstar today, where it’s streaming for free with English subtitles.

Kalyana Samayal Sadham is a gentle yet effective, light-hearted but layered commentary on sexual dysfunction against the backdrop of the hassles of an Indian wedding.

What I liked a lot is the play between the superficial and the sentimental through the rituals of the wedding and foundation of marriage.

And so I quite agree with its leading man Prasanna when he says, ‘Anybody who watches this film will connect to it, especially those who are about to get married or who have just got married.’

Sunday
Happy Friendship Day!

Tyson (Gulshan Grover) and Gibran (Raza Murad) may not be among the forefronts of Bollywood’s big screen chums monopolised by the good guys of Hindi cinema.

But the campy friends of Rajiv Rai’s masala multistarrer and their brightly burning ‘dosti ka roshandaan‘ make them quite a pair.

This column was first published on rediff.com.

Previously:
John Wick’s Amar Akbar Anthony moment
When the bride cried Sallu
Imagining Ranbir Kapoor as Balraj Sahni
Long live Aamir’s Model School Pajamachaaps
King’s Speech by SRK
Getting ready for the Baahubali juggernaut 
Super filmi week with Hit Girl Asha Parekh
Feasting on Achari Alia, Mastani Papdi!
Grace under fire
More power to Anushka Sharma
Rishi Kapoor’s page-turning debut!
Picking Jedi skills from Amitabh Bachchan
Mera wala Shah Rukh
Ranbir-Ranveer, sigh sigh!
When Tabu struggled with a 500 rupee note
Of post-festival blues and toilet titles!
Finding links of life in Dhoni’s Ranchi and Madhuri’s Mujrim!
Inside Dharmendra-Hema’s intensely private world
Power of Pink
The irrepressible cuteness of Pooja Bhatt
Indradhanush was our Stranger Things
When Saif Ali Khan wore Rishi Kapoor’s sweater
Getting nostalgic about the 1980s, Winona Ryder & Kishore Kumar
Rediscovering Gulzar’s Ghalib & finding Free Love
Applauding NTR’s Superman on screen!
Tripping on A R Rahman
A millipede and Kimi Katkar’s monsoon romance
Udta Punjab, worst casting decisions, and naheeee…!
Of warring Khan bhakts and meeting Mogambo!
Ranbir’s forgotten romance in Bachna Ae Haseeno
Funnier than Aishwarya’s lips
Clashing superheroes and crying Khans
OCDing on Neetu Singh’s LPs!
Garam Dharam, Mantrik Origins, Rockstar Cruise
 

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