Review: October unravels like the fragrance-notes of a soft perfume.

We live in the times of apathy and desolation. We rage and recover. We mourn and move on. It is the age of instant gratification and short-lived woe. Shoojit Sircar’s October speaks to a thick-skinned audience with life-affirming simplicity.

Very few films allow themselves to become the subject and the spectator. Even fewer accomplish this rare binary. But October is something of a wonder.

Its lived-in melancholy and gradually attained wisdom is akin to discovering the fragrance-notes of a soft perfume. Rejecting the mainstream framework of expository storytelling and calculated pace, it attains a profundity that feels earned and uplifting.

In this slice-of-hard-to-explain-attachment, Sircar’s frequent ally and writer Juhi Chaturvedi delves in the dilemmas and dangers of devoting oneself unconditionally to an uncertain future and man’s infinite capacity for hope.

The sadness of its theme, involving a hotel management trainee’s (Varun Dhawan) extraordinary concern for his comatose colleague (Banita Sandhu), is offset in Chaturvedi’s fine eye for everyday details.

Her matter-of-fact style imbues the gloom with a humanity and natural wit that is recognisable and relatable. Acknowledging the key to their prolific collaboration, Sircar strokes October in familiar sights, smells and sounds. Every second of his vision in a pulsating Delhi setting is like revisiting a known scenario with a refreshing insight.

Bustling glimpses of the hospitality industry look beyond hectic action in the kitchen to catch a knee-high guest engage in unusual mischief. A pressure cooker of khichdi and a bottle of aachar is witness to a clumsy post-ICU visit discussion between a pair of roommates. The all too believable sparring over hospital visitor’s passes, the unspoken bond of smiles and small talk created in the anticipation of a loved one’s recovery. A mother’s (Gitanjali Rao) incessant role between tending to her ailing 21 year old but not forgetting about her younger two, their meals and uninterrupted study.

What lends its emotional landscape distinction is Dan’s (Dhawan) unexplained empathy for Shiuli (Sandhu). There is a deliberate mystery around their attachment. But the extent of transformation her freak accident brings about within Dan’s moody, slacker disposition is telling of their bond even at its most inert and unspoken.

No less heartening is the mild-mannered appreciation of her family comforted by his reliable presence. It is what makes his mother’s disappointment at his absence all the more crushing.

October plays on these dichotomies exquisitely without getting dark or judgmental. Even its most sceptical characters are products of practicality.

The film’s romanticised ideals are evoked in Shantanu Moitra’s violin-rich theme and Avik Mukhopadhyay’s photography. The latter, especially, reads the poetry of Sircar’s narrative in ethereal frames capturing Delhi’s dust and cold, glamour and grandeur, pretty flora and posh neighbourhoods.

Varun Dhawan is its most famous face, but every single cast member is perfect in his or her part. While a soulful Banita Sandhu turns her limitation into her strength, Gitanjali Rao demonstrates maternal will beneath the furrowed face and distraught hair. 

Their names appear before Varun’s in the opening credits, but the actor is doing most of the scene stealing. His sincerity is the first thing you notice about his performance. But what is truly impressive is how entirely it is stripped of its gallery-playing glamour. For a top box office draw, it is like being Thor without his hammer, but the young actor has his finger on Dan’s purity and preoccupation.

October is the month when the sweet-smelling flower, known as parijat, shiuli, harsingar, night jasmine or prajakta, enters bloom. But the lesson of love and loss in Shoojit Sircar’s poignant new drama is likely to linger all year long.

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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Missing: A slogfest of lies and lameness

It is unwise to show all your cards in the beginning. Even worse is when you don’t have any. Suspense thrives on intrigue. But the so-called mystery in Missing is too barefaced to generate any impact or thrill.

Mukul Abhyankar’s directorial debut unfolds in Mauritius after a husband (Manoj Bajpayee) and wife (Tabu) duo check into a fancy resort with their sick three-year old daughter. The husband is a smarmy chap with a roving eye while his spouse keeps busy playing mommy to the sickly child. Not too long after, their girl disappears and a pushy cop pops up to investigate the mess.

Everyone overdoses on secrecy and nothing is what it seems. And yet, Missing is in a tearing rush to reveal why and stuff in another round of red herrings. The monotony is awfully exhausting and drab in the absence of script, craft and nerve-racking unpredictability.

Between Sudeep Chaterjee’s groovy camerawork offering a virtual tour of the hotel property and M M Kreem’s ominous background score working overtime to render Missing the bearing of a nasty albeit non-existent horror, the film is just an excuse to misuse Tabu’s exceptional talent and awaken Manoj Bajpayee’s dormant ham.

Perhaps its true intent is to highlight Annu Kapoor’s French accent and prowess in unintended hilarity. It is so painstaking and peculiar and oblivious, I may have laughed at his sincerity.

Missing stretches a 15-minutes premise into a slogfest of lies and lameness. What would still pass muster had it shown the slightest bit of smarts or slyness winds up somewhere between odd and awkward.

At the end of its 120 minutes, I felt as old and weary as the guy emerging from the jeep inquiring if they found anything. The answer is directly proportional to the contents of this movie.

Rating: 1

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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Super Filmi Week: Hitch-hiking with Supremo, Salman

The lasting influence of Amitabh Bachchan’s Supremo, hitch-hiking with Salman Khan for a school essay, a taste of Tom Alter, Padmaavat‘s best scene and more in my Super-Filmi Week.

Monday
While searching for a file in the cabinet, I come across the husband’s neatly bound copy of old comics.

What catches my eye straightaway is an illustration of a masked man in a pink bodysuit sporting a kilt tucked under a belt holster.

Any 1980s Indian kid will recognise this description.

But for those who came in late, I am talking about Supremo, a short-lived superhero comic book series based on Amitabh Bachchan.

At that time, he was the biggest superstar imaginable and a unanimous favourite among us kids. It was a matter of pride to procure these comics and later brag about it to the less fortunate ones.

At the beginning of Adventures of Amitabh Bachchan: Treasure Island, Amitabh averts a near accident-like situation and helps out a young boy on crutches by driving him to the orphanage he lives in.

Those were simpler, innocent, times and just the idea of ‘Amitabh Uncle’ offering a lift in his car felt like the ultimate wish-fulfillment fantasy.

The celebrity hitchhiking bit in the story, which develops into an action-packed pursuit of treasure featuring the Big B’s on-screen alter egos Vijay and Anthony, had a lasting impression on me.

Some years later, Salman Khan’s Maine Pyaar Kiya came out and turned him into an overnight sensation. I was one of the countless ‘Prem’ fans responsible for it.

Around that time, our Hindi teacher assigned us a topic for essay, something along the lines of ‘The most unbelievable day of your life.’

I wrote about how I was running late for exams and couldn’t find an autorickshaw for school.

Tears rolled down my cheeks and just when all hope was lost, suddenly, out of nowhere, a shiny luxury car emerged and stopped right before me.

The window screen rolled down and a friendly face peeked out — it was saakshatSalman Khan inquiring, ‘Kya hua, beta?

My classmates burst into laughter at this point of my read-aloud narration while Rodrigues Sir rolled his eyes at the sheer audacity of his pupil’s super filmiimagination.

I explain to Salman the reason for my despair. Somewhat amused, he magnanimously offers to get me school on time, which he does.

Not only do I get to sit for the exams, but pass with flying colours. End of essay.

Let’s just say, my teacher was thoroughly unimpressed and my classmates got their laugh of the day.

In an alternate universe perhaps, his journey at Being Human started with me. 😉

Tuesday
One of the most attacked Hindi movies of this decade, Padmaavat is now streaming on Amazon Prime.

I found Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s imposing period drama somewhere between ornate and overdramatic.

Although I am in no mood to revisit it so soon, a desire to watch my favourite scene — when Ranveer Singh’s Allaudin Khilji drops in at Maharawal Ratan Singh’s (Shahid Kapoor) palace to break bread — compels me to do so.

What I enjoy most is how diplomacy tiptoes around deceit to generate juicy tension. Triggered by Khilji’s quirk and glib phrases and contained in an amused Ratan Singh’s temporary tolerance for it, plates are swapped and then returned to their original order.

This is one the few occasions Bhansali allows these characters to be flesh, blood and fascinating instead of one-note purveyors of prestige and power.

Wednesday
It’s a full house at PAYTM’s special IMAX 3D screening of Ready Player One in Noida.

Steven Spielberg’s love song to 1980s pop culture may be lost on those unacquainted with the decade but is rewarding for suckers of nostalgia.

Hands down, the movie’s pièce de résistance‘s Spielberg revisiting Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.

Recreating the eerie ambiance of Overlook Hotel to a T, what renders it even more special is the knowledge that Spielberg hated The Shining on first viewing.

He’d later watch it over two dozen times. ‘It’s one of my favourite pictures. Kubrick films tend to grow on you, you have to see them more than once.’

In an interview featured under the Special Features of the Eyes Wide Shut DVD, Spielberg talks about first meeting Kubrick when the latter was in the finishing stages of Shining, which would eventually become the site for Raiders of the Lost Ark

Both film-makers possess a distinctly unique voice. But hearing Spielberg on Kubrick, a colleague he deeply admired and a friend with whom he often played sounding board, you see what he is achieved in Ready Player One is not mere tribute but a moment of becoming one with the Kubrickian vision.

Thursday
Browsing through the pictures I took during my recent trip to Mussoorie, I find one delectable shot of a vegetable and cheese pot pie I ate at Café De Tavern.

Named after the late actor and Mussoorie native, the Tom Alter Express is a light, creamy, baked casserole that is mild yet flavourful and richly satisfying.

Often recipes named after movie stars are gimmicky in nature, but this is a truly yummy and befitting interpretation of a warm, eloquent, artist.

Friday
I am at a theatre near home watching Baaghi 2 and it’s nice to see the hall is almost fully occupied by college kids.

Tiger Shroff’s latest excuse to suspend my disbelief and his muscle-rippling frame mid-air is pure hokum, but I refuse to give up on the guy.

He is loaded in charisma and what seems serviceable now can be shaped into exciting talent in the right hands. The dude is one smart script away from breakthrough.

Saturday
Amitabh Bachchan has worked with numerous actors, but I’d rate his chemistry with Amjad Khan among his best.

A song from Yaarana is playing on television, Bhole O Bhole. This breed of bromance simply doesn’t exist any more. And if someone tries, it’ll just end up looking contrived and unnatural.

The Big B’s village bum is beseeching a Shiva idol to patch up things up between him and his pal. He has got a gifted voice and Amjad Khan, his city-dwelling best friend, wants him to realise its full potential.

Khan is so effortless playing cross that Bachchan’s earnestness almost feels exaggerated.

But there is this invisible tuning between the two, which makes it imperative to root for their reunion and Yaarana is a feel-good flick despite its glaring inconsistencies and patchy execution.

What is particularly notable is their ability to effortlessly change equations as per the script — worst enemies, estranged father-son or simply best friends that go by the name of Kishen and Bishen.

Sunday
1990s fashion never fails to amuse.

Here’s a throwback to when Sunny Deol wore his growling reputation on his sleeve and stole the scene from Suresh Oberoi’s scowl, Kiran Kumar’s sneer and Karisma Kapoor’s docile arm candy.

Pity he didn’t get his own Tiger, Tendua or Cheetah franchise.

This column was first published on rediff.com

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