Jia Aur Jia Review: Lame itinerary, lousy pursuits

Hindi films about girl bonding are in short supply. Most filmmakers are happier pitting them as romantic rivals.

In Jia Aur Jia though, two women sharing absolutely nothing in common, except their name, take off to Sweden in a trailer van.

A promising premise, except it’s such poorly planned trip that it goes nowhere and infuriates with its inadequacies.

Howard Rosemeyer’s wobbly direction of Mudassar Aziz’s wishy-washy script is a mess past hope and feels like a slog even at 92 minutes.

Jia Aur Jia pigheadedly resists telling the story of bright, independent women in charge of their lives despite the possibilities.

Rather, it starts out like a dull, drab version of Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara‘s title track highlighting the contrasting personalities, where an overly perky Kalki Koechlin’s Jia throws in her stuff into a rucksack while the woefully miscast Richa Chadha’s Jia takes her own sweet time to set up her suitcase.

They’re carrying a lot more baggage than meets the eye, but the stilted first conversation and several more to follow make it increasingly tough for us to care.

One Jia is a sassy, sneaky, self-seeking, spirit-guzzling chain-smoker; the other is a grim-faced banker.

One makes a crack at the other’s scarce smile, the latter remarks about the former’s scanty wardrobe.

It’s as awkward and unfunny as their Victoria’s Secret jokes. But when it tries to be dramatic and serious, Jia Aur Jia becomes even more insufferable.

Both the Jias carry a dark secret.

Let’s just say those statutory warnings you see in the movies mean something here as the duo embrace the irony enveloping their names. Public service shorts and insurance policy commercials display more heft than Rosemeyer’s insipid celebration of life.

What falls flat here is the bond itself.

As Jia Aur Jia recklessly trudges towards its live-and-let-die goals, one fails to see the closeness of their suddenly acquired BFF status quo or the shabby love interest (Arslan Goni) thrust into the proceedings out of the blue.

That he’s called Vasu Bergman is only part of the problem.

(Ingmar/Ingrid) Bergman and Absolut (realms of reel dedicated to its promotion) is the most Swedish Bollywood knows anyway. A pity, considering how postcard pretty the country is.

But Jia Aur Jia has little interest in showcasing its scenic landscapes, glorious architecture or lively cafes. This same vapid approach dumbs down the talents of Kalki and Richa into pictures of hollow passions and iffy motives.

Add to that heaps of blah humour, contrived sentiment and dummy imagination.

This journey ends long before it even starts.

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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Victoria & Abdul review: Watch it for Judi Dench only

It’s not easy keeping pace with Queen Victoria’s (Judi Dench) gorging speed as she wolfs down one scrumptious course after another at a grand banquet celebrating her Golden Jubilee on the throne.

But Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal), the 20-something Indian clerk bundled off from Agra to present her with a ceremonial mohar, is much too agog about being in Her Majesty’s presence to notice her clumsy table manners or drool at the luscious looking menu.

Strictly warned against making eye contact, he does exactly that and furthermore plants a reverential kiss on her feet.

Both floored and flattered, the sexagenarian sovereign takes an instant liking to her handsome ‘Hindoo’ import. That ‘Hindoo’ is not the same as Hindi, Muslim or Indian eventually dawns upon her, but the embarrassment is downplayed with whatever’s the royal equivalent of a typically ‘aw shucks’ sentiment.

Predictably, her stuck-up courtiers and uppity son are none too pleased. Their almost comical resistance to this briskly blossoming equation forms the crux of Victoria & Abdul.

The year is 1887 and the Queen appears dulled by the monotony of aristocratic engagements and unresponsive to the responsibilities of reigning over three fourths of the globe. Unwilling to move past her late husband Prince Albert and departed friend John Brown’s memories, she grieves away in the gloomiest shade of black.

As unsociable and inconsolable as she is, the Empress is also a woman of immense passion and appetite. Turning a deaf ear to the doctor’s (a marvellous Paul Higgins) suggestion of the ‘royal colon’ needing ‘more roughage’, her face lights up at the sight of jelly and a description of the mango — the Queen of fruits.

What she seeks is the stimulating company of a suave storyteller and Abdul’s intriguing knowledge of carpets, mangoes, garam masala and the Taj Mahal fits the role to the T. In exchange of his gyaan and Urdu lessons, she promotes him from servant to munshi, sort of an honorific title providing credibility to the privileges he enjoys.

Curiously, Abdul has no objection in accepting his accomplice from India (an excellent Adeel Akhtar) as his servant once he becomes a person of rank.

Directed by Stephen Frears, the costume drama serves as an unofficial companion piece to Mrs Brown — John Madden’s 2007 film exploring the Queen’s frowned-upon friendship with her Scottish attendant — but relies too heavily on Dame Judi Dench reprising her role of the crowned head to accomplish little else.

The 82-year-old English actress humanises the frumpy, myopic and overindulged Queen Victoria into something of a fantasy figure propagating progressive ideals and cultural consciousness, even if it contradicts the squeamish imagery of the ‘Victorian’ age. The screen feels the warmth of her enthusiasm as she lisps in Hindi “Aaj kal Agra main mausham kaisa hai?” with the zeal of a teacher’s pet.

There are occasions when her ignorance over the enormity of the British Empire or the origins of Kohinoor, until then just another diamond she ordered to be cut down in size because it wasn’t shiny enough, beg to be taken with a pinch of salt and confirm its ‘Based on real events… mostly‘ disclaimer.

Despite the exclusive finery and brocade he drapes himself in, there’s nothing dazzling about Ali Fazal’s meek, fawning portrayal of an individual whose charisma and insights influenced the second longest-reigning British monarch. At best, he’s an easy-on-the-eyes opportunist, happy to go along with the film’s orientalist fixation.

An adaptation of Shrabani Basu’s book, Victoria & Abdul doesn’t rise above glossy historical fluff that zigzags between drama and comedy. Its lenient exposition of Britain’s intense imperialism and still milder appeal for anti-racism lacks the ambition to deem it as a work of social value.

What it packs with significance is a leading lady whose authority in cinema few can hold candle to. And it’s to her credit that even the most dubious figures of history can boast of a heart.

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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Review: Justice League has moments of freshness and fun

A year ago, when director Zack Snyder got Batman and Superman together on celluloid, the so-called cinematic event turned into a mighty snooze fest, a mindless exercise in franchise worship and a biting embarrassment for DC Comics’ biggest icons. 

A year later, Snyder remains a glutton for excess, stuffing the frames with CGI-whipped eruptions and enforced gloom. 

Except Justice League, which reunites the superhero duo along with a bunch of spunky new members and makes more room for Wonder Woman to flex her unbelievably toned muscles (and with legitimate reason), benefits from intermittent moments of freshness and fun. 

Though a definite improvement on Dawn Of Justice, the sequel appears too pleased on getting some of the essentials right to display any more ambition. Having said that, the post-end credits scene hints at a long-term planning in franchise narrative and its beliefs of slowly showing its cards. 

Things move forth at a vigorous note around a completely stale scenario — a new evil by the name of Steppenwolf has emerged and, aided by his army of airborne Parademons, gained possession of three power-packed mother boxes safeguarded by Amazon, Atlantis and Earth respectively. 

To save the world (read a family of four) from their wrath, moneybags Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) and his faithful aide Alfred (a crackling Jeremy Irons) assemble a counter attack team starring Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) still sighing over that blue-eyed pilot from her solo movie, Arthur Curry aka Aquaman (Jason Momoa), a burly surfer dude sporting dip-dyed locks and a tattooed torso, Barry Allen’s The Flash (Ezra Miller) too busy being starstruck around superhero elite to gloat about his lightening fast speed even as Victor Stone, now Cyborg (Ray Fisher), makes peace with his fractured face and fantastic powers.

Throw in a newly resurrected man in the red cape (Henry Cavill) and this Justice League concert is ready to hit the road. 

Their introduction and interaction, banter and bravado fill Justice League’spredictable proceedings and serviceable action pieces with a playfulness that’s uncharacteristic of its brand but most welcome.

What’s not is how there’s no urgency around the antagonist, no heft in his pursuit or magnitude around the apocalyptic crisis. 

Justice prevails in the form of Gadot as she unleashes her inner goddess and does her best to draw us away from Cavill and Affleck’s insipid presence.

Fisher makes most of his defined backstory, Momoa is pure swagger but it’s Ezra Miller’s goofy charm and spontaneous humour in a Spidey-Stark reminiscent equation with Batman that evokes the maximum laughs.  

They are the only reason why nearly two hours of Justice League‘s blobby structure, sullen palette and superfluous battles are all right to endure. 

I wasn’t bedazzled. I wasn’t bored. 

Rating: 2.5

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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