The Street Dancer 3D review

If Varun Dhawan’s abs and Shraddha Kapoor’s eyeliner ever dreamed of being in their own solo movie, Street Dancer 3D is it.

There’s so much focus on the above, they probably deserve separate billing.

As for the 3D in the title, it’s nothing but a scam where a donut or drop of sweat flung in your face is the film-maker’s idea of paisa vasool.

Choreographer-turned-director Remo D’Souza reunites his ABCD 2 stars for a 150-minute long dance off, but doesn’t give them anything besides donuts and dodo logic to work on.

Unlike the predecessors of this franchise ABCD and ABCD 2, which had its moments of snazzy choreography and spectacle, this one is only about cardboard central characters and side-lined sensations doing the same old, same old.

Between their contrived food fights and monotonous foot work lies a sliver of an idea about Britishers of Indian and Pakistani origins joining forces to help hungry illegal immigrants. Except it is so clumsily executed, philanthropy never looked more embarrassing.

If one half of this giant bore revolves around London-based desis Sahej (Varun Dhawan) and Inayat’s (Shraddha Kapoor) trivial rivalry over dance battles and cricket teams, the other is a quest to win an absurd dance battle so bereft of rules, you can bat for both teams, change sides right before the final, rope in dholak players as substitute for dub step and it’ll still be all good.

What? Looking for logic from a film-maker whose last release was Race 3?

Sahej’s arc takes some wishy-washy inspiration from Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar where his elder brother’s accident compels him to fulfill his dream and win the contest at any cost.

He joins an elite company of gora dancers alongside his super nimble girlfriend (an electric Nora Fatehi). It isn’t long before the rest of his troupe resent this.

Lessons are learned while groups disband, reboot, rebound — all for the greater good of mankind — in this hack job of a script where intensity reads something like ‘you loser’ and persuading the prissy Pakistani papa to let his beti dance is just a ‘Meri beeji hamesha kehti hain‘ speech away.

Two negatives make a positive, mumbles Prabhudeva as the cafe runner pushing for Sahej and Inayat’s partnership while masterminding Street Dancer 3D‘s unabashed show of pity and altruism.

But the only impact he makes is when revisiting those groovy Muqabla moves. The movie cashes in on our nostalgia once again with its use of the iconic Mile sur mera tumhara.

But between scenes that seemed to be scribbled on the spot for every song and dance session to follow in few minutes, there’s little to talk home about either.

The average display of lock, pop, twerk, breakdance, dub step dancing against loud, cumbersome music with lyrics like Lal dress mein rani bilkul red velvet ka cake lage only adds to the tedium.

The cast may be the ones to do all the grinding but at the end of its torturously long ordeal, it is the viewer who walks out dog tired.

Review first published on rediff.com.

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The Panga review

‘I’d like to thank my family’ is an oft-heard line in a winner’s speech.

Director Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari’s sweet and sunny Panga is a paean to the sentiment.

It’s also about a woman wanting to feel joy in her existence outside the roles and responsibilities she is conditioned to believe are hers alone and discover how challenging the pursuit of dreams can be even if one enjoys a solid support system.

A 32-year-old, out-of-practice, kabaddi player on a comeback trail is the soaring bird and her husband and son are the wind beneath her wings.

Though it is set in Bhopal, none of the small town cliches come into play and impose themselves for setting or seasoning.

Between packing tiffins for her spouse and son and punching tickets in her boring railways job, Jaya Nigam (Kangana Ranaut) has lost her distinction as India’s star kabbadi player.

At the peak of her career, she got pregnant and voluntarily retired to raise her boy whose low immunity is a source of her incessant panic and excessive concern.

Years later when her family rekindles her passion for the game, an overpowering impulse to return is revived. She is rusty but raring to go.

Although it’s anybody’s guess as to where it is all headed, I happily lapped up the modest charms and feel-good fervour of Iyer Tiwari’s affectionate view of relationships and ambition.

Our movies aren’t too kind to women who wish for more out of life. Either they will cast aspersions on her capabilities by tilting all sympathy in the man’s favour like Akele Hum Akele Tum or simply sacrifice her spirit to facilitate her significant other’s redemption like they did in Sultan. Panga not only has the wisdom to encourage Jaya, but shows genuine regard for her feelings.

Immediately after Jaya’s outburst (‘Sabko samajhne ki zimmedari sirf meri hai?’), her husband Prashant (Jassie Gill) enlightens their oblivious son, ‘You only know what she is, I know what she used to be.’

Few Hindi film husbands have the grace to admit to their wife’s stature let alone acknowledge her sacrifices.

Prashant is simple, sensitive and supportive — the kind who gets his butt walloped in sleep, texts ‘missing you Ladoo’ and quickly adds ‘but so proud’ so that there’s no guilt or offers to be on the school moms’s WhatsApp group in his wife’s absence.

Jassie Gill is wonderfully real and restrained as the cooperative better half, seldom vocal yet perfectly human in how he copes outside his comfort zone.

He never allows his character to appear high-minded for doing the right thing or as Sanjay Mishra in Newton would say ‘imandaari ka ghamand.’

Neither is Kangana Ranaut some overwrought, overexuberant siren bullying him under her command.

Sure, she’ll test his domestic know how every now and then and nag her son with her list of do’s and don’ts but she’s a grounded, gentle and friendly being fully aware of her strengths and weaknesses.

Ranaut is remarkably radiant in her portrayal of the same. Be it her fizzy interactions with the smarty pants son Yagna Bhasin (reminded me of Manny in Modern Family), lived-in chemistry with best friend Richa Chaddha (ever the cool cat), endearing banter with mom Neena Gupta (delightful), effortless intimacy around Gill or display of sportswoman swiftness, there’s plenty to thumbs up. 

Contrary to its feisty title, Iyer Tiwari’s world is inhabited by good-natured people, caring family, 4 am friends, helpful neighbours and reassuring roomies.

Barring for a grouchy boss in the beginning and snappish skipper towards the end, Jaya doesn’t have too many prickly thorns in her path. 

What it lacks in depth or surprise, Panga‘s slice of life makes up for in its gentle depiction of everyday struggles and pleasantries, lending it a consistently warm fuzzy feeling.

There are bad days too.

Refusing to limit itself as an underdog athlete’s triumph of spirit, Panga pauses to rue, if only for a moment, on how some decisions, no matter how happy or proud they make us, can be tough to stick to. But a flash of cheer and all the irritation and doubts vanish.

Panga doesn’t preen in idealism as much as surround itself with positivity and decency.

Shreds of cynicism appear in the politically-motivated decision making behind Jaya’s selection by the kabaddi federation and the ageist mindset of a society that deems every woman who is married or mother as over the hill.

What lingers on are the little, lovely details in Iyer Tiwari and co-writer Nikhil Mehrotra’s portrayal of Jaya’s experiences.

The post dinner strolls she takes with her husband, the smiley faces she slips in her son’s dabba, the absence of jaggery in mom-made ladoos, the carrying on of tradition by reprimanding your kid using the exact same phrase as her mother, the lightening up of her face on learning her son wants to take part in a sport’s day race, the excitement of knowing your mother saw your game on a good day at any age more precious than panga this.

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior review

Close on the heels of Panipat comes yet another tale steeped in Maratha pride.

I am now a little wary of any film (or should I say ffilm) that peddles itself as a conflict between saffron and green flags. There’s a great deal of bhagwa fervour and flag waving in Director Om Raut’s Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior as well, but a penchant for Islamophobia is largely spared.

A tribute to Maharashtra’s martyr, Tanhaji has so much fun recreating a bygone legend and fictionalising history, authenticity and spellings, it gets infectious.

Considered Shivaji Maharaj’s right-hand man and friend, Tanahji Malasure occupied an invaluable position as the military leader of his army. The latter’s sacrifice whilst fulfilling the Chhatrapati’s Swaraj pursuits are lionised for purpose of drama and sentiments like duty, honour and friendship on screen.

Following the treaty of Purandar, Shivaji (Sharad Kelkar) has lost several forts to the Mughal empire.

His mother Jijabai (Padmavati Rao) is displeased about this development and vows to walk barefeet until Kondana or what we know as Sinhgad today is back in Maratha charge.

And so Tanhaji (Ajay Devgn) takes leave of wife Savitri (Kajol looking so much like Priya Tendulkar) and puts their son’s child marriage on the back burner to duel with Mughal emperor Aurangzeb’s (Luke Kenny) trusted trooper, Udaybhan Singh Rathod (Saif Ali Khan) and reclaim the fort of Kondana.

Their dynamic tussle and not some tedious show of patriotism is what engages from start to finish.

As does its impressive visual scale in 3D and kinetically choreographed combat sequences strengthened by adrenalin pumping background score that keep the ardour at its optimum.

More fantasy than historical, Raut creates a cross between comic book aesthetics and mythmaking that is closer to Amar Chitra Katha than any historian’s records.

Amar Chitra Katha, as it so happens, is one of Tanhaji’s publishing partners, a special new edition now has Ajay Devgn and its odd new spelling splashed on the comic book cover.

Bravado like numerology is right up the actor-producer’s alley. Devgn’s face lights up in excitement as he dives into the 17th century hero’s daredevil missions armed with blades, face covered till eyes, sneaking in and swooping down across narrow ravines, flying and furious like a badass Bollywood-themed ninja whose mere nudge is enough to throw a rider off his horse.

Up in store is an even formidable villain, Udaybhan.

Saif Ali Khan oozes Gabbar Singh’s greasy, gleeful aura and destructive instincts resembling Donald Trump’s ‘cocked and loaded’ eagerness to strike the enemy.

Khan’s visible relish in going all-out wicked is infectious despite a needless backstory to explain his cruelty. I was more fascinated by how vibrantly he had embraced the Mughal culture.

Unleashing creepy smiles, vile wit and smooth barbarism on his abducted, detained or unsuspecting victims or even the manner he fights, holding his sword upside down, the actor is wonderfully mercurial in his meanness.

It is his calibre that rescues a scene shamelessly designed for cheap laughs wherein a minion’s name is a deliberate slur to slip in an innuendo.

If Udaybhan has cannons and elephants, another knows tricks of guerrilla warfare.

Weapons and will to trounce the other are what they share in common.

While the Hindu morality is signified in poojas, yagyas, saffron and rangolis, the enemy camp is filled with sights of roasted crocodiles and spa-like services offering massage and milk baths.

Raut gets it right as long as they are sparring, but his politics doesn’t have any complexity or texture. The Rajputs are cunning and cruel. The Marathas are patriotic and valiant. The Mughals are arrogant and entitled.

Dialogue writer Prakash Kapadia (a regular in Sanjay Leela Bhansali period pieces) even throws in a line to that effect: ‘Hum Mughal toh hain hi mauka parast.’ If only it was expressed with sarcasm.

Almost as a safety measure there is a scene involving a good Muslim and a bad Muslim. When the bad one tries to hurt the good one, the good Hindu steps in and saves the day and temple bells start ringing out of nowhere. How’s that for divine intervention?

Amused or not, Luke Kenny is quite an idiosyncratic choice for Aurangzeb. He plays it like the hookah-smoking caterpillar of Alice In Wonderland.

Only replace the hookah with a crochet needle.

Others appearing only briefly like Sharad Kelkar, perfectly render Shivaji’s stature, power and sympathy, Neha Sharma is not just named Kamal but looks like one too whereas Kajol’s real-life marriage to Devgn gives Tanhaji a readymade emotional connect.

A 300-like artistic palette, waterfall that leads into a secret cave like Phantom’s and perilous landscapes evoking Lord of the Rings, Tanhaji‘s technical slickness and rich production values take more inspiration from pop culture than historical accuracy.

A couple of unnecessary, boisterous songs distract Tanhaji from its action-packed course.

Once its back to business, it’s all guns blazing. Give me the edginess and smarts of its bloody and urgent ambushes over Bhagwa boy’s patriotic pageantry any day.

Review first published on rediff.com.

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