Super Filmi Week: Why I love & hate Dil Se..

Favourite movie homes, comparing Amitabh-Shashi’s beds in Kabhi Kabhie and discovering the truth about Salman Khan’s 1990s chartbuster…
All in my Super Filmi Week.

Monday
When not outraging, social media can be a source of a lot of fun compelling us to think about things we didn’t realise we care about.

Like the other day, someone brought up favourite movie homes.

One comes across a variety of houses on screen — dreamy, ostentatious, rundown, cosy and classy. But the minute I read this query, DK and Indu’s snug bungalow in Shekhar Kapur’s Masoom pops up before my eyes.

It’s perfect in the context of the script and has the air of a lived-in residence inhabited by a well-to-do South Delhi architect and his wife, with their school-going daughters.

The interiors are tasteful yet homely, where abstract artwork and kiddie doodles happily coexist and greenery abounds as furiously as books and brass.

And lest it all seems too good to be true, the mistress of the house sternly refuses to accommodate the cute puppy her kids wish to adopt following one destroyed photo frame, vase and curtain.

Hits close to home, doesn’t it?

Tuesday

Dil Se.. completes 20 years today.

I have a love and hate relationship with Mani Ratnam’s 1998 offering. I was watching it again a few days back to check if I feel any differently. But its problematic narrative of cursory politics and north east tokenism looks even shallower in retrospect.

Except Dil Se.. dares you to dislike it.

Aside from its breathtaking soundtrack, ethereal visuals, technical finesse and captivating performances, the film is loaded with such killer intensity, perhaps the only way to end it was in a huge explosion.

The ending completely shook me the first time. I hated its nihilistic guts and felt indescribable rage at Manisha Koirala’s character. Most movies fan your romanticism and a desire for the couple in love to get together against all odds. But Manisha’s mystery, manipulations, indecision messed with my head, especially because of how hauntingly hurt she seems all the time. 

The viewer in me wanted to save Shah Rukh Khan’s Amar from meeting her fate and see her for what she is. Preity Zinta’s cheerful presence only fuelled my frustration when he refused to move on.

Always feel so conflicted and compelled watching Dil Se..

Love it!

Wednesday

Started binging on a Chinese TV series called Meteor Garden on Netflix.

A live-action adaptation of the Japanese manga, Boys Over Flowers, it’s all things cute and cheesy, as one would expect from typical teenybopper fare. But it’s also got a lot of heart. Karan Johar should check it out if he ever runs out of ideas for Student of the Year 3.

Set in Shanghai, it’s about a middle-class teenage girl befriending a rich, hip clique of four guys that goes by the name of F4. The spoilt one in the bunch falls for her while she’s attracted to his more introvert best friend. A fleeting love triangle soon makes way for a classic rich-poor romance.

Despite its super trite premise, the fresh-faced leads, their goofy charms and adorable chemistry help Meteor Garden retain its innocence.

Thursday

After all that Chinese entertainment in my system, I am not surprised how much the incessant ‘All Chinese look the same’ jibes offended me at today’s Happy Phirr Bhag Jayegi press screening in Delhi.

Barring Jimmy Shergill and Piyush Mishra’s free flowing camaraderie I didn’t think much of this silly sequel.

But the thing that truly annoyed me is the crowd I was watching it with.

Short of livestock, the press shows hosted here allow pretty much anybody inside.

Journalists tag their kids along and don’t even bother to see if they aren’t pulling someone’s hair or disturbing the person on the front seat.

I don’t think it’s usual to have children in the audience unless the invite specifically mentions so for added perspective in case of a kiddie flick.

Friday

Close on the heels of Sacred Games drops in Netflix’s next Indian original series, Ghoul.

Originally a film split into three episodes, the supernatural drama works up a dystopian climate to announce a mood of intolerance and instability, specifically towards its Muslim population, in a not-so-distant Indian future.

Under Patrick Graham’s direction, it plays out like a graphic novel on to unnerving revelations following Radhika Apte’s appointment as an advanced interrogation unit officer of a hellish detention centre.

Her interactions with the spooked prisoners and cruel colleagues while she proves her credibility and copes with the guilt of putting her father behind the same bars occupy much of its running time.

Ghoul has its atmosphere and actors in place.

But between poorly planted allegories and laughable horror, its well-meaning albeit vain criticism of hyper nationalists falls short.

Saturday

Some movies have extraordinary repeat value.

Sometimes they’re a joy just to revisit, sometimes they provide brand new insights.

Watching Yash Chopra’s Kabhi Kabhie is always such a pleasurable experience — the dialogues, the performances, the songs, the scenery, the romance… what’s not to love?

Today something else caught my eye. There’s so much thought put in the smallest of details. They say one’s home is a reflection of their personality. It’s evident in the choice of beds as well. 

Rigid, imposing, firm — the wooden headboard of Amitabh Bachchan’s bed reflects his stoic, unyielding disposition.

Cut to Shashi Kapoor passionate sleeping space, featuring a red leather futon surrounded by a bright red lamp and painting, which reflect his flamboyant style and torrid affections for his better half.

Sunday

That feeling of betrayal when you learn the song you flipped over as a college kid is a blatant rip-off.

On my way back from Raksha Bandhan lunch, I put on a playlist of Western disco hits from the 1980s on Amazon Radio. The song to come on is called Born to be Alive by Patrick Hernandez. That opening riff sounds very familiar, I mumble to myself.

Bummer, mukhda tune confirms it.

Clearly, music directors Jatin-Lalit took more than inspiration from Hernandez to compose Pehli Pehli Baar in Jab Pyar Kisise Hota Hai from? (Yep, that Salman Khan-Twinkle Khanna rom-com where a womaniser’s philandering past catches up with him just when he’s found his dream woman.)

I found this track from the album immensely catchy. Should have known better.

Ugh Bollywood, you hopeless crook!

This column was first published on rediff.com.

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Happy Phirr Bhag Jayegi Review: Silly sequel

Save for a few laughs, I didn’t care much for Happy Bhag Jayegi‘s clamorous comedy of confusion. 

To jog your memory, an Indian runaway bride accidentally lands at a Pakistani politician’s home causing much pandemonium amongst her many pursuers. Its sequel, once again directed by Muddasar Aziz for producer Aanand L Rai evokes identical sentiments.

Happy Phirr Bhag Jayegi retains its love for incessant chaos and besotted suitors. Only this time it’s a case of mistaken identities and ethnic tangles stirring up a hornet’s nest.

In its hodgepodge scheme of dim-witted mystery and twists, half a dozen characters from Patiala, Amritsar and Lahore are tossed into the heart of Shanghai to no avail. Without novelty or sense, the gag’s already on thin ground and relies entirely on the loony camaraderie of its ensemble cast to work, which it does but only sporadically.

 

The silliness ensues almost immediately once newly married Happy and Guddu arrive in China to perform at a concert, Bagga (Jimmy Shergill) and Afridi (Piyush Mishra) are abducted from their respective wedding and retirement ceremony by a bunch of Chinese mobsters and a brand new Happy (Sonakshi Sinha) is held hostage by the same goofy bunch in place of her namesake.

Keeping with the film’s title, she quickly escapes and bumps into a embassy worker (Jassi Gill) at a gathering where he’s karaoke singing to Sunny Deol’s Don’t Say No. The Ghayal actor’s songs are a running joke ever since Jimmy Shergill broke into a Yaara O Yaara jig in the first one. He obliges again with an encore.

There’s also the Urdu-spewing Adnan Chao (Denzel Smith), a Chinese Pakistani businessman, referred to as Kancha Cheena by Afridi, who spends more time showing a bunch of locals the difference between biryani and sticky rice and Feroz Khan’s Qurbanidance moves.

Now there’s no good reason why any of them should hang out so director Aziz throws in a familiar flashback about the events leading to Happy’s hunt for her absconding groom (Aparshakti Khurrana) until they all pledge to locate him in, where else but, Shanghai.

The contrivances this sequel imagines to extend our China Darshan are to be seen to believe. Really though, the script is an endless pile of bunkum where every single scene is just an excuse to make a joke.

There are times when a character is standing just a few feet away and can tell the other person what they want to directly. But no, they’ll still engage in long-winded tactics like dumb charades to convey that message and the recipient still wont get it.

This may be funny to a four-year-old but not to an audience expected to cackle at innuendoes disguised as names (Fa Qui) and phrases (Makaju).

Characters slipping over dropped noodles, dancing in tacky superhero costumes or simply drugged and behaving out of character as casually as demonstrating incessant racism (all Chinese look the same) and homophobia (you’re a librarian, Labrador? Oh lesbian) that’s casually played for laughs — there’s nothing amusing about such slapstick, disrespectful humour.

Taking pot shots, being politically incorrect is all right as long as one knows where to draw the line. It’s not like Happy Phirr Bhag Jayegi doesn’t know what that means. Some of its funniest moments are full of it.

When Shergill steps out of his kidnapper’s vehicle and realises he’s in a foreign country, he quips, ‘Yeh Pakistan nahi hai woh toh taraqi se hi pata chal raha hai‘ Or that funny threat about someone’s Ghaziabad’s origins. But the writing lacks consistency as acutely as it forgoes sense.

What’s nice is that the new Happy isn’t a picture of wannabe whimsy. Sonakshi Sinha exudes spunk and sees the airheaded premise for what it is. Its true source of cheer lies in Jimmy Shergill and Piyush Mishra’s bonhomie and banter.

In comparison, their co-star, the Punjabi singer and actor Jassi Gill starts off a bit bumpily but grows on you.

Of the rest, Denzil Smith’s sophisticated culture mishmash seems out of place around such chaos whereas Aparshakti Khurrana is pure wasted in a role that is thrust in bizarre places and fizzles out just as easily. Meanwhile Ali Fazal and Diana Penty appear to be on a paid vacation in whatever little they have to do.

The joke has gone on for far too long already. How about a happy ending?

Rating: 2.5

This review was first published on rediff.com. 

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Review: Gold is let down by Akshay Kumar

A national hockey team captain (Vineet Kumar Singh) forced to leave his town and team after Partition and play for its newly created neighbour.

An aristocrat (Amit Sadh), who excels at the game but is too smug to realise why he must not exert his privileges on the field.

A hot-tempered Sardar (Sunny Kaushal) lad blessed with extraordinary talent frustrated by his under-utilisation and internal politics.

Gold has three noteworthy stories to tell. Yet, it sidelines their potential to say something pertinent about a freshly freed country, its hopes and uncertainties, to focus on a drunkard manager’s flimsy contribution in Independent India’s victory at the 1948 Olympics.  

Tapan Das or Tuppen, as he likes to pronounce it, is nursing a dream since 1936 after his hockey team got gold for British India before an elated crowd that includes a world-famous German tyrant (more like Bertie Wooster with a toothbrush moustache).

A decade goes by as India becomes free from British rule, Pakistan is born and World War II cancels the 1940 and 1944 Olympics. In this time, a disappointed Tapan has taken to the bottle and bets against wrestlers.When he finally lands an opportunity to put together his dream hockey team with star player-turned-coach (Kunal Kapoor), a surly senior creates problems for no legitimate reason.

Director Reema Kagti, who put together a quirky ensemble in Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd and combined sorrow and supernatural so sublimely in Talaash, struggles to give her distinct voice to Gold‘s wishy-washy complexity. As a consequence, Tapan’s disillusionment feels exaggerated and grating.

Nationalistic fervour is pretty much thrust upon him after the tricolored flag fortuitously lands in his hands. But since those hands belong to Akshay Kumar, rest assured, it shall not be taken lightly.

Bollywood’s go-to crusader reminds us repeatedly of his plans to avenge ‘Do sau saal ki ghulami‘ by speaking in a jarring accent that is clearly more Bollywood than Bangla, breaking into a dhoti-clad bhangra as though he’s confused Gold for Singh is Bling while being a hockey hero from the sidelines. It is a sloppily written role performed with equal ineptitude, a rare misstep from the actor, who hardly gets it wrong anymore no matter how partisan or embarrassing the contents.

As Gold grows into a timeworn underdog tale, the British emerge as the unanimous bad guys having changed their objective from divide and rule to divide and defeat.

It is nice to see Kagti remembers that India and Pakistan break up is too recent to view its common enemy differently. It gives the climatic scene’s communal cheer a heartrending unity, years before it would be looked upon as romantic idealism in Bajrangi Bhaijaan

Barring these little details, her recreation of the era feels more postcard than living. Gold‘s glossy, sepia toned rendition of retro revelries is fancy, but the contemporary energy they betray is telling of how accurate the endeavour is. Characters are dressed in vintage, set designs throws in the decade appropriate props and knick-knacks, but one never gets a sense of those times or the wave of patriotism it so conveniently whips up to suit its purpose.

Gold‘s other issue is the game it builds itself around. Hockey isn’t a visually exciting game for everybody. Unless its stakes and soul are smartly and shrewdly woven into the narrative like Chak De! India, viewers are unlikely to invest.

Half-hearted depiction of the sport, a moment of epiphany to showcase barefoot bravado and starstruck fan following of a former legend among Buddhist monks do very little to promote its cause. The only thing Gold borrows from Shimit Amin’s deeply layered classic is the Sabharwal-Chautala rivalry.

Luckily for Kagti, her supporting cast stands her in good stead and does well in bringing out the vulnerability and ambition of their characters. If only they’d get a little more screen time.

At 150 minutes though, Gold digresses too often to accommodate a bizarre episode of Amit Sadh’s philanthropy, Mouni Roy’s domestic chatter and heavy-handed federation politics.

It is only when Gold moves away from Akshay Kumar’s blundering Bangla and hockey humbug to become a story of grace among go-getters that it comes close to becoming the movie it should have been.

And then the national anthem plays and manipulation wins once again.

Rating: 2

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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