Setters review: Shoddy take on education mafia

Setters

Close on the heels of Why Cheat India comes another movie set around the education mafia. And just like the Emraan Hashmi starrer, it’s not very good.

Director Ashwini Chaudhary’s Setters adopts a heist thriller’s tone to depict the practice of paid proxies and leaked question papers facilitated by a scamming service in Varanasi whose network extends all across India as Apurva (Shreyas Talpade), right hand man to the ill-tempered creep (Pavan Malhotra) running the business, travels between Mumbai and Delhi to get the job done.

Hot on their trail is local cop Aditya Singh (Aftab Shivdasani) instructed by his superior to end the racket.

Apurva and Aditya, we are informed, are old friends who appeared for their IAS exams together until they had a falling out over a common love interest. It’s a worthless bit of information considering the conflict is completely synthetic and the duo shares zero emotional connection.

Both assemble a ragtag team of able actors (Vijay Raaz, Manu Rishi, Neeraj Sood, Anil Mange) in throwaway parts and a tedious game of cat and mouse ensues against the mandatory cacophony of blaring guitar and ticking clock.

It’s all rather Special 26 but only because characters walk, walk, walk and vanish within the backstreets and corridors of crowded markets and private lanes. The scenario repeats itself so frequently in the narrative; two hours turn into monotonous slog.

Setters‘s biggest undoing is its sloppy, simplistic and full-of-loopholes writing. While the motivations and disenchantment of its characters remains vague till its abrupt end, the ease with which the break-ins and deception happen is shoddy to say the least.

Out of nowhere, a gizmo-peddling chap arrives with gadgets straight out of a 007 movie, mobile rings, scanner glasses, what not.

Even if Setters shows no inclination to understand the dark desperation that drives parents to buy marks for undeserving children, it could’ve made a little more effort to be sly or suspenseful.

Also, for a U-rating, Setters is oddly gruesome. A finger is chopped off and smacked on another man’s palm; a lady cop grabs a man’s crotch and gives it the third degree.

Most unpleasant though is Pavan Malhotra’s hamming, hysterical performance as a kurta and lungi-clad goon juggling religious devoutness and implicit kinky tendencies. Wearing a kurta two sizes too small, it’s hard to decide what’s flaring more — his chest or his nostrils.

Shreyas Talpade and Aftab Shivdasani fare better, but not enough to salvage this dubious looking tripe.

Whatever restraint or spark Setters demonstrated in its initial stages is tossed out of the window to crash into an untidy mess of snarling evil and tame virtue.

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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Blank Review: Bland and boring

A still from Blank

Between Sunny Deol straining his facial muscles for a good 111 minutes and Akshay Kumar turning up right towards the end credits to screech Ali Ali lies a star relative’s lacklustre launchpad. It is called Blank, but they could have gone with bunk too.

Directed by Behzad Khambata with story and screenplay by Pranav Adarsh, this wannabe thriller has a fairly curious premise concerning an amnesiac suicide bomber caught between his conscience and his conditioning.

Until whatever heft Blank is capable of by exploring his psychological upheaval is squandered for a meandering exercise in absurd revelations.

A young guy in a beard and black hoodie (Karan Kapadia) is on his way to blow up the city until an unexpected memory loss and ticking bomb planted into his chest, almost like Iron Man’s electromagnet, makes him a hot target of an Anti Terrorist Squad officer’s (Sunny Deol) probe.

Just to emphasise on Deol’s righteous, duty-bound character, there is an irrelevant subplot about his son being caught on the wrong side of law.

He’d rather focus on the Islamic cleric (Jameel Khan) breeding terrorism farms and brainwashing kids with promises of toffee trees in ‘jannat‘. His hateful network extends all the way to Syria, Blank informs us ambitiously, during clandestine video calls to another like-minded fella whose beard is all that the camera wants us to see.

As is mandatory in Bollywood these days, Blank too insists on painting a ferocious Muslim imagery of bushy beards, severe kohl-eyes and chequered scarfs spewing distorted religious ideology to impressionable young minds.

Only a growling Sunny Deol can save the world and the holy Quran from such ‘napaak‘ hands. The actor looks understandably rankled and ready to retire. Though the bit where he bellows, ‘Uska baap bhi bolega‘ is right up his alley.

It might wake the viewer up from involuntary slumber, but is not nearly enough to inject life into Blank‘s dull twists, monotonous action and bland confrontations.

Some of the contrivances provide unintended hilarity in a movie that takes itself too seriously.

Easemytrip.com is one of Blank‘s producers and the company’s enthusiasm for product placement, even if it means looking as a front for terrorist activities, could not be more awkward. Not to mention bombs are activated and defused as easily one orders or cancels a sandwich on Swiggy. Adding to our woes is a deafening background score and the bungled-up frame rate of Blank‘s photography.

The point behind this poorly made wingding is a debut.

Karan Kapadia is Dimple Kapadia’s nephew and the late actress-turned-costume designer Simple Kapadia’s son. The latter worked on quite a few Sunny starrers. That also makes him Twinkle Khanna’s cousin whose husband Akshay makes a song and dance appearance in a blatant copy of Kendrick Lamar and SZA’s All The Stars video.

Karan is as subdued as he is deadpan. Staggeringly so. No matter how hard he cries, screams or defends, it only draws a blank.

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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Avengers Endgame: An emotionally draining, exhilarating, electrifying goodbye

Avengers Endgame

One keeps groaning about the nature of franchise film-making but at the end of Avengers, I felt this decade-long relationship between the movies and me had grown too deep to permit any cynicism. It’s time to acknowledge — I had a blast.

Of the 22 films produced in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, standalone origin stories or connect-the-dots superhero alliances concerned with long-term plot outcomes — some dazzled, some fizzled out.

But the stakes got higher and the enthusiasm grew progressively communal with every passing end credits tip-off. That it was all escalating into something bigger and bolder than the previous scene of destruction was certain. That it would also achieve soul along the way turned out to be the real surprise.

People became superheroes and people again, gaining an identity beyond their cool costumes, extraordinary strength and skilful weaponry. One’s wit, another’s wisdom, the coming together of such contrasting ideologies provided both conflict and Vision.

If Avengers: Infinity War zoomed in on the antagonism of Thanos (Josh Brolin) and came dangerously close to seeing sense in his Malthusian views, its 181-minutes long second and final half, Avengers: Endgame is a rumination on time and nostalgia after the purple philosophical maniac has wiped off half of Earth’s population and left it in complete despair.

What ensues is unexpectedly poignant and genuinely satisfying.

The world is still reeling from the aftereffects of his horrifying ‘snap’ in the sombre opening scene of Avengers: EndgameDo anything take us out of this gloom plays gently in the endless space. This line from rock band Traffic’s Dear Mr Fantasy perfectly summarises the forlorn mood of its invincible saviours at their most defeated.

Their foe might not necessarily be at peace either. A telling image of the Mad Titan’s bulky armour hung up like a scarecrow in the fields says a lot about him that the film leaves unsaid.

Sensing his enormous charisma, resulting in one of the most memorable villains of this decade, would once again dominate over the titular superheroes, the Russo Brothers — Joe and Anthony (who also directed Infinity War) — shrewdly sideline his presence to focus on retribution.

Time has hurt and not quite healed. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) may have picked up the pieces, but fresh starts cannot erase painful memories.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has turned into The Dude from that Coen Brothers movie. Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) are sulking. Captain America (Chris Evans) is mellower than usual. Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) seems okay and that’s what makes it bizarre.

The damage is too severe, but spirit and sense of humour (often at the expense of Back to The Future) persevere as the Avengers alongside War Machine (Don Cheadle), Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), Nebula (Karen Gillian) and the freshly minted Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) assemble to embark on the ‘fight of our lives’.

As stunning such spectacles are, they’d feel empty if not for the friendship and banter suffusing the screen with charm as they get past over matters of politics, physicality and past transgressions.

Avengers: Endgame may sell a lot of toys, but its details and symbolism reveal a landscape beyond fun. Of miracles in the shape of Marvel and inner conflicts that pit future and past, enlightenment and ignorance. Of diversity and inclusivity, race and sex. Of entitlement and ethics, snap or save.

When you’ve savoured these delightful characters and their lovingly developed arcs as ardently as its collectively cheering audience has, including yours truly, it’s like you’re inside the mind of a movie and one with it.

For all the studio’s paranoia over spoilers and secrecy, I could anticipate the surprises and shocks in store purely on instinct not predictability. The Russo Brothers appreciate how invested this fandom and celebrates it through a culmination that screams glory beyond words.

Avengers: Endgame is a three hour-long emotionally draining, exhilarating, electrifying goodbye.

Did I cry? Yes. Did I smile? Yes. Did I get goosebumps? YES! Do I want to watch it again? Of course! Do I believe this is the end? Not quite. I am inevitable, repeats Thanos. So is the world of Avengers.

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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