Review: Saif is a hoot in Kaalakaandi!

‘I am a good person you know,’ laments Saif Ali Khan’s character on learning he’s dying from stomach cancer as if his propriety was supposed to be some kind of coverage from life-threatening conditions.

The only silver lining to it is that he’s now free to do as he wills.

With prescription drugs of no use anymore, he promptly proceeds to pop a hallucinogenic pill, one that looks more like a star-shaped cupcake candy, to behold a hawaldar in Asha Parekh’s most iconic costume and slip into a faux fur bolero sporting Gwen Stefani’s ‘hair turds.’

Akshat Verma’s A-rated directorial debut is a strange romp that treads the space between crisis and chaos with a humour that feels natural even in its most outlandish impulses.

Devoid of structure and sense, Kaalakaandi is much too fragmented and facile to provide the gratification of a conventional feature film. It’s often the point behind its deliberate irregularity.

Driven by aberration and not coherence, Kaalakaandi, which loosely translates to a big mess, peeks into three set of lives linked by recklessness and the varying degree of price they pay for it.

As is often the trouble with multiple storylines, the shift is uneven and disorienting.

Unravelling through the course of a rainy Mumbai night, the non-Saif narratives — a couple (Kunaal Roy Kapur, Shobita Dhulipala) caught in the middle of a drug raid and hit-and-run and two underworld small-timers (Vijay Raaz, Deepak Dobriyal) bouncing off various schemes to swindle their boss — lack the hysteria and cheek.

The conscience in the first and the deceit in the second story awkwardly lumber next to Saif’s psychedelic shenanigans and surprising sensitivity around a transgender prostitute (a terrific Naari Singh).

There’s a sliver of a subplot in the form of his brother (Akshay Oberoi), who between getting hitched and a haircut, finds time to keep a rendezvous with an ex-girlfriend.

Raaz and Dobriyal are a dream pairing, but their expletive-packed exchange never quite conveys the bite of deceit or elevates a trite plot point into something special.

The viewer is privy to their conversations, but never grasps their duplicity.

As the most dispensable property of this arc is Neil Bhoopalam’s daft gunslinger who looks even more pointless immediately after a shot of Feroz Khan doing his cowboy shtick in Kala Sona.

Verma may play against the grain, but his knowledge of mainstream Bollywood is craftily applied to generate droll humour. Who knew Amitabh Bachchan on a T-shirt could mean so much mischief.

Of course, the real scene-stealer is someone else, Saif is an absolute hoot in his unbridled delivery of a man with nothing to lose, unbothered by conventions of a formal society, openly flouting them to engage in brazen mockery and lustful inquiries on ‘Aapka Australia. Aapka Southern Hemisphere Aapka Cape of Good Hope.’

Although his character, whose name we almost don’t discover till the very end (and probably a hat tip to Akshat’s brother?) is overwhelmingly explicit, Saif ensures he doesn’t seem like a gimmick.

There’s a suppressed philosophy in his feverish outbursts that suggest a curiosity, sadness and an unfulfilled life in desperate need of a high.

Kaalakaandi doesn’t always provide it, but there’s enough intrigue to play along.

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My Favourite films of 2017

When one is constantly writing about films, there’s a danger of slipping into tedium.

And so it’s reassuring how every year, regardless of buzz or box office, some measure of brilliance makes the grade and renews one’s faith in the agency of cinema.

Businesswise, it wasn’t a profitable year for Hindi movies, but to say it was devoid of creativity would be undermining the efforts of those astute film-makers whose artistry inspired with its spirit and idealism, beat the living daylights out of convention, dug deep into the far-off corners of the soul and offered a refreshing, relevant perspective on social taboos.

Here they are then, 10 of my favourite Hindi films of 2017.

1. Mukti BhawanEvery once in a while comes a film that speaks to the depths and doubts of your mind and shares insights that’s tangible, tender and comforting.

Mukti Bhawan may be about mortality, but feels as real, as vivid and as mysterious as life itself.

Hands down, my pick of 2017.

My Review: Shubhashish Bhutiani’s serene yet stirring Mukti Bhawan views the world with sagacious eyes and attends to one of its most inconvenient truths with a pinch of humour and pile of wisdom. What comes forth is craftsmanship of staggering depth and sublime vision.

2. NewtonAmit V Masurkar’s spectacular study of contrasts, quandaries, disconnect and practical versus theory unfolds in an election official’s unwavering idealism and a CRPF officer’s burned out vigour.

Alternating between the challenges of conducting a peaceful poll in the troubled jungles of Chhattisgarh and glimpses of politics and neglect render Newton a conscience that is impossible to turn away from.

3. Shubh Mangal Saavdhan
It’s very rare that I like a remake better than the original but that’s exactly what happened in the case of director R Prasanna’s winsome reworking of Kalyana Samyal Sadham.

Shubh Mangal Saavdhan‘s humorous approach to a sensitive sexual issue combined with the idiosyncrasies of a North Indian wedding turn the spotlight on writer Hitesh Kawalya’s free flowing wit played out by a cast of brilliant actors.

My Review: With its fine zingers and feisty acknowledgement, Shubh Mangal Saavdhan does more for sex, both noun and verb, than any Hindi film can claim to in a long, long time.

4. TrappedTrapped is a consuming experience.

It sucks you inside its world and makes you feel everything its protagonist is going though.

I felt I was Rajkummar Rao all through Trapped. I felt his panic, his claustrophobia, his desperation, his rage, his resolve, his exhaustion and, finally, his release.

What. A. Film.

My Review: Vikramaditya Motwane feeds off the negativity of disastrous coincidences to explore a human being’s most profound fears as well as marvel at his dormant instincts. He documents Shaurya’s metamorphosis in a manner that’s almost Kafkaesque in its contemplations but aspiring for a King Bruce and the Spider like allegory in its perseverance, while reminiscent of Cast Away in its depiction of despair. Under just 103 minutes, Trapped treads more complexities than a straightforward survival story can possibly offer.

5. Death In The Gunj Everything is deceptively serene in Death in the Gunj‘s ambient, intriguing scheme.

Except Konkona Sen Sharma’s directorial debut closely examines the workings of the unknowable human mind, where insecurity masquerades as rebellion, bullying is overlooked as banter, shame confuses itself for fear and keeping appearances is the only way to conceal the familial imbalance.

6. Anaarkali Of Aarah
There’s one scene in Anaarkali of Aarah where a bawdy dancer, played by Swara Bhaskar, is reacting to her much public molestation.

She says she’s no ‘sati savitri‘, but that doesn’t entitle anyone to behave indecently.

Bhaskar’s undaunted performance and the film’s spunky cry for consent drive this point home in the most unforgiving, unforgettable manner.

7. Jagga JasoosBlending music, mystery and madness at free will, Anurag Basu’s Jagga Jasoos is pretty much bopping with activity.

The reckless degree of bounce and breathlessness accompanying its singsong adventures, from anywhere to everywhere, work as pure adrenaline for the whimsy-starved viewer.

My Review: Verse and action spurt out by the second in the wildly alive and mobile phones-free universe of Anurag Basu’s Jagga Jasoos.

Dispensing with the notions of realism, Basu sets up a frothy space around his adventure fantasy that revels in its lavish imagination, meddlesome inquiries and delicious Bongness, never once pausing to catch a breath or make sense.

8. Tumhari SuluA character you root for, a film you wish to hug.

Tumhari Sulu‘s sweet triumphs and feel-good fervour come alive in Vidya Balan’s infectious zeal and taste for winning as a woman adamant on pursuing her own identity whilst coping with the constant guilt tossed in her path for being who she is.

My Review: There’s an effortless familiarity to the close-knit world Tumhari Sulu weaves in its 140 minutes running time. Its inhabitants are simply human in all their flawed, fallible existence, taking comfort in monotony, finding purpose amidst conventionality yet dedicatedly endeavouring to move up in the world.

9. Secret Superstar
Though it unravels quite a bit like a fairy tale and centres on a teenager, Secret Superstar is impressive in its depiction of troubled low-income households and small town aspirations.

There’s something to be said about the spirit of its leading lady’s ambitions as she goes about seeking empowerment for herself, her mother and inspiring a little breakthrough for her benefactor along the way.

My Review: Secret Superstar‘s cheerful, feel-good imagery of a rotten reality reflects a young adult’s hopeful perspective yet to be crushed by the weight of cynicism.

10. Jolly LLB 2
Jolly LLB 2 is the perfect blend of persuasive star power, crisp creativity and comical eloquence.

And the sheer pleasure of watching Saurabh Shukla, Annu Kapoor and Akshay Kumar spar and size each other up is alone worth revisiting its unabashedly crowd-pleasing antics again and again.

My Review: Jolly LLB 2 scorns at the intense rot eating up a noble profession without compromising on the rascality of its titular character.

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My picks of 2017’s worst Hindi movies!

It’s that time of the year again when all the blotted out memories of shoddy cinematic experiences resurface to write about Hindi movies that tortured, tired and disgruntled the cinephile soul.

2017 was worryingly wholehearted in this effort and fired every possible variety of tripe.

My pick of this year’s 10 most unpleasant is a mix of ghastly gone gaga, bilge that makes one reconsider their profession and faith-shattering misfires from the masters.

1. Bhoomi

I didn’t have to wait for the year to end to know that Bhoomi would occupy the top spot of the dirt pile.

In Omung Kumar’s revolting rape and revenge story, an oft-repeated trope this year, it’s not just the problematic extolment of reckless behaviour but also a disturbing adherence to crude aggression debunking Bhoomi‘s so-called feminism and vindication goals for what it really is.

My Review: Blatantly exploitative and excessive, Bhoomi treats rape as less of a trauma and more of a tool to create a nauseous atmosphere of torture and stigma.

2. Begum Jaan
In this loud and languorous Partition-time tale about a brothel single-handedly taking on the governments of either sides of the border, perverse imagery, chest thumping show of feminism and shrill performances masquerade as artistry.

What’s worse it doesn’t come with a pair of cotton plugs and sleep mask.

My Review: There’s something exploitative and insincere about its brashness, designed to grab attention or congratulate itself over its widespread audacity for featuring nudity, homosexuality and strong language.

3. Haseena ParkarEver seen a mattress with a mouth?

Or a person change colours faster than a chameleon?

Or heard a snail talk?

Shraddha Kapoor’s benumbing avatar in this sketchy biopic of the Gangster of Nagpada is so embarrassing I’d be worried if I were Saina Nehwal.

The Rediff Review

4. Half Girlfriend

One could write an entire thesis on all that’s idiotic about Mohit Suri’s adaptation of the Chetan Bhagat novel except that one shot of Bill Gates photoshopped on the screen already conveys it and so much more in a jiffy.

My Review: The sole purpose of this stuffy confection, which feels twice its 135 minutes length, is to prolong the union of its two protagonists as long as possible by throwing in one lame twist after another.

5. Tubelight

Kabir Khan knows his craft but even the best of filmmakers falter when trying to emulate their own formula.

In an attempt to feed off the triumphs of Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Tubelight ends up looking like an ode to synthetic candour and cloying sweetness.

There’s nothing genuine about Tubelight, its phony idealism and Salman Khan as the naïve nitwit at the centre of it all.

My Review: It takes a good deal of suspension of disbelief to accept middle-aged men as naujawans. Salman and brother Sohail Khan, playing siblings on screen too, in all their beefy-bodied, puffy-faced, vest and khaki shorts-clad enthusiasm don’t look the part.

6. Raabta
Where do I even begin?

Let’s see, there’s a comet called Love Joy, Rajkummar Rao looking like Voldemort after an acid attack, Sushant Singh Rajput channelling his inner Prem Chopra and Ranjeet, an ancient tribe called Muraki that seems to retail in kajal and Kriti Sanon as a chocolatier in Budapest dealing with two boyfriends from her previous birth.

My Review: Dinesh Vijan’s unintended allegory on ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’ syndrome, flitting between rom-com and rebirth, could not be more bizarre.

7. Baadshaho

Slick action dramas used to be a Milan Luthria speciality.

Baadshaho makes you rethink.

Weaving an exhausting web of lie-for-a-lie against its cosmetic Emergency-era setting, the Ajay Devgn-led baloney is devoid of common sense and cunning.

What it packs in abundance are birdbrained plot twists played out by jaded heroes and dummy heroines.

My Review: Things get truly down and dirty towards the end. Which is to say the concluding 20 minutes of Baadshaho are so hazy and dusty, I found myself mentally vacuum cleaning the screen. I wish to do the same to the memory of this movie.

8. Tiger Zinda HaiGod bless all those faithful fans for turning Tiger Zinda Hai into a super success.

Although as someone who enjoyed Ek Tha Tiger‘s worthwhile exertion of Salman’s sweeping charisma, watching it regress to blindly accommodate the sequel’s lazy vision, laughable political worldview and facetious ideas of aman ki asha just won’t do.

My Review: Directed by Ali Abbas Zafar, the follow-up is a work of staggering stupidity jostling its thoughts on humanism and harmony through sanctimonious speeches about insaniyat and images of Ganpati and crucifix lodged side by side.

Its sloppily written script — fitted into a worn-out Hollywood action template — Tiger Zinda Hai preens at its rickety reporting of Middle East terror and comical understanding of the business of war for what seems like a lifetime.

9. Jab Harry Met SejalI liked Shah Rukh Khan in Jab Harry Met Sejal. I could relate to that pained expression he wore through most of Imtiaz Ali’s confused, contrived rom-com about a garrulous woman with some serious personality disorder looking for her lost engagement ring and a desolate tourist guide coming to her aid.

Jab Harry Met Sejal is too gutless to be complex, too posturing to reveal nuance, too blah to be spared.

My Review: Jab Harry Met Sejal has the stars, the songs, the scenery and all the trimmings for a riveting romance.

Alas, the writing is staggeringly sloppy, unoriginal and deviates from its premise involving a starry-eyed nitwit and skirt-chasing cynic to entangle itself in superficial complexities that made me judge instead of root for its oddball protagonists.

10. Rangoon
It’s never a good thing when you are looking at Saif Ali Khan in a Vishal Bhardwaj movie and thinking of Saif Ali Khan in a Sanjay Gupta movie.

Hamesha climax deja vu, anyone?

Vishal Bhardwaj is usually better than this inexcusable hack job. Rangoon‘s affected, indulgent, patchy, muddled take on love in the time of war left me heartbroken.

My Review: In Rangoon, Bhardwaj abandons his hallmark whimsicality and relevant effrontery for big scale chaos and bloated showmanship. His romanticised if meticulous take on history of the country and its cinema would feel a lot less inadequate if it could actually decide what it has on its mind.

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