Simmba Review: Little to roar about!

Wouldn’t it be nice if Bollywood stopped pretending it cares about women?

It’s almost the end of 2018 and I wish our film-makers would stop using rape as a plot point to execute reckless ideas of justice. Especially when it has little to do with social sentiments but more to flaunt its leading man in a valiant, chest-thumping, light.

I also wish they wouldn’t cast a woman if her sole purpose is to give the titular male someone to dream about or dance with.

And if Simmba‘s final few minutes are any indication, there’s already one too many men to carry forward Rohit Shetty’s khaki-themed justice league.

In his latest, a corrupt police officer discovers his conscience in the middle of the movie.

Right away, he slips into a previously untouched, super tight uniform — perhaps the extra kilos can be attributed to all the lunch dabbas Sara Ali Khan’s catering service keeps delivering him from across the road — and clobbering all the baddies he took bribes from before he turns a new leaf.

Ranveer Singh’s Simmba — short for Sangram Bhalerao — is crafted in the bribe-accepting tradition of Amitabh Bachchan in Shahenshah and Anil Kapoor in Ram Lakhan sans the chutzpah or characterisation.

A boastful background score (Thaman S) accompanies his slow motion kicks and sputtering rage.

Ranveer has got strapping charisma and hyperactive energy, but his consciously phony zeal is better suited for a chat show whereas the excessive Maratha overtones are insufferable after a point.

He does make a moment out of teasing Ashutosh Rana (far more subtle than anything else in this movie) to the tune of a 1995 Rahman ditty. But his parodical performance never goes beyond the grasp of a 1990s fanboy to acquire a life of its own.

The difference is most notable when Ajay Devgn’s Singham shows up in a swaggering cameo to save Simmba — the movie and the man. Too bad he’s 160 minutes too late.

Until then, one has to endure Sonu Sood growling murderously over his slain relatives for the umpteenth time.

Simmba‘s official source of inspiration — the Telugu superhit Temper, is hardly staggering stuff. But at least it wasn’t trying to rise above its farcical stature as a star vehicle revelling in NTR Jr’s brash heroics.

Simmba‘s attempt to seem ‘woke’ is problematic and falls flat on its face.

Rohit Shetty swaps leaping jeeps and fluorescent hues for lectures on ‘raise your sons right’ and ‘death penalty for rapists’.

All this purported sensitivity does little to conceal its heavy-handed drama where every now and then, someone is guilt tripped to stand in the assaulted person’s shoes and the word ‘rape’ is endlessly repeated.

During an absurdly staged encounter, the cops provoke the culprits by crudely taunting their manhood while inside the courtroom a lawyer states, ‘They raped her in a fit of rage’, sounding more defensive than disgusted.

If this is cinema that roars, I am happy watching cat videos.

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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Review: Shah Rukh stands tall in the supremely ambitious Zero

It takes Tolkien-sized vision to show how the smallest person can change the course of the future.

Aanand L Rai’s ambition aims sky high, but his creativity does not always match his cheek. When it soars though, Zero is a fun flight into whimsical connections and weird happenstances piloted by an entertainer adept in the art of lofty love.

One has to submit completely to the idea of anything is possible to make sense of its curious story, which seems to unfold in an alternate reality.

Often Zero feels like it’s playing inside Bauua Singh’s (Shah Rukh Khan) head, much like Big Fish‘s Edward Bloom, and offers a larger-than-life version of everything between Meerut and Mars.

His romances are coloured in grand gestures and implausible adventure within illustrious surroundings. He bowls over scientists and stars alike, tosses a zillion notes in air and has a clever comeback — written by Himanshu Sharma — for all his shortcomings.

The lavishness of his brash lifestyle is a means to overcompensate for his short stature (a pat on the back to Zero‘s VFX team) if not punish his small-minded father (an excellent Tigmanshu Dhulia) whose scorn and sperm rile Bauua no end. His amusing outburst makes a good case for evils of gutka.

Although Dhulia and Sheeba Chadhha don’t look old enough to play SRK’s parents, their snappy banter and Zeeshan Ayyub’s reprisal as his bumbling buddy (after Raees) does the job well.

Zero is as much about this 38-year-old man-child amidst them as it is about his cinema soaked imagination. He’s the hero of his daydreams rescuing the domestic help-in-distress from his daddy’s villainy as well as a starry-eyed aficionado besotted by Babita Kumari’s (Katrina Kaif) silver screen seduction.

Shah Rukh Khan works up every breathing second of this bigmouth bum.

Bollywood baits us to romanticise reality regularly. Bauua buys into it boldly. Sometimes paying lakhs to create the splendour of a courtship song. Sometimes by slipping into Shashi Kapoor’s dancing shoes. Sometimes simply flicking stars like pieces of a carrom board.

Bauua’s coarse charm isn’t lost on Afiya Yusufzai Bhinder (Anushka Sharma), the wheelchair-bound NASA brains affected by cerebral palsy. Not for long anyway. There’s a disarming air to their match made in misfits heaven, which keeps us invested even after Zero drifts away into predictable tropes and soppy melodrama.

Anushka Sharma’s contorted expressions aren’t particularly consistent, but it’s a portrayal defined by warmth not affectations. The patience and assurance she conveys on learning her beau’s need to stay a koyal(cuckoo) is all kinds of heart-warming.

As Bauua’s passing soul mate, Babita embraces her troubled stardom and his strange companionship with a lightness that reveals Katrina Kaif’s little-seen vulnerability like never before.

There’s a moment in the car when her tall tales seem straight out of Bauua’s fantasy filled imagination. She has your rapt attention throughout. And that is the only crucial thing Zero loses when it sends off its leading man on a NASA themed roller coaster.

Swapping its marvellous idiosyncrasies for misplaced ideals, two exhilarating hours are followed by forty indulgent minutes. The upshot is a well-aimed mess that never quite lands.

Still Zero is far from a misfire. Its cheerfully absurd aspirations are strewn in metaphors laying value to imperfections and SRK’s gallery playing showmanship.

This time he spreads more than his arms. He finds wings.

Rating: 3

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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Review: Aquaman makes a splash!

I can imagine Julie Andrews to do a lot many things. 

Sing like her life depended on it, play an airborne nanny at 17 Cherry Tree Lane or give the royals a run for their money. But a sea monster, I simply cannot.

Up until I watched Aquaman that is and discovered DC’s still quite capable of springing some pleasant surprises.

Under the sea is where the action lies in the latest offering from the studio that makes us groan at the mention of Batman and Superman. Take Sebastian-the Crab’s word for it — Darling, it’s better. Down where it’s wetter.

At nearly two-and-a-half hours, Aquaman is one lengthy joyride into the deep. Only it’s so unstoppably fun that you don’t mind the endless lark.

After showing off his scruffy swag in the middling Justice League, Arthur Curry aka Aquaman (a badass Jason Momoa) comes to the fore in an obligatory origins story. Given how factory-like the whole comic book movies universe has become, there’s more scepticism than excitement towards such ventures.

Director James Wan (Insidious, The Conjuring) comes in prepared and goes all out to dispel our apprehensions in a movie that breaks two of the most annoying rules plaguing DC movies, post Christopher Nolan’s stint. It embraces both — colour and cheesy humour.

The screen is smattered with a riot of iridescent hues befitting an underwater fantasy that throws up visuals that evoke a wild mix of everything from Japanese anime and Tolkien to Avatar and Star Wars. Often CGI is limited to spectacle but in Wan’s vision, it assumes a reality that lends its breathtaking view the quality of a long hidden treasure.

For a good part, we discover Atlantis and several other mythical kingdoms through the enthralled eyes of Aquaman and his spunky guide Mera (Amber Heard, all grit and good looks).

A redhead princess (think Brave‘s Merida, all grown up in green leotards) who prioritizes nationalism over making eyes while her father’s (Dolph Lundgren) allegiance to the bad guy, Aquaman’s half-brother Orm (a suave, snobby Patrick Wilson) and his Ocean Master aspirations prompts Thor-Loki face-offs over mommy (Nicole Kidman, ever so nimble) and throne.

Adding to the nemesis count, there’s Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II doesn’t make much of an impression) hating on Aquaman whose lack of mercy leaves him daddy-less.

Keeping the balance is Willem Dafoe’s sagely Vulco, an Atlantean Dronacharya and daddy figure to both Mera and Arthur.

It’s a terrific line-up of actors and action heroes and neither disappoint.

Amidst all the infighting, endless back-stories and undersea diversity portrayed in exquisite costumes and resplendent production design, our hero reluctantly seeks an all-powerful trident to lay claim as king.

Such ‘put aside the ranger, become who you were born to be ardour as well as a great deal of its ethereal darkness and sly exchange brings to mind Peter Jackson’s epic.

The writing, of course, is far from solid.

When Mera extracts a drop of Aquaman’s sweat to unlock a cue, he quips, ‘I could have just peed on it.’ Wan’s film is so comfortable in its absurdity; it has a blast with it. This is a live-action comic book that doesn’t take itself seriously even when it’s unleashing the ocean’s wrath over humans polluting it.

Parental, not environmental, concerns mark the conflict in the glibly written jaunt.

Wan’s joy in orchestrating battles around demi-gods riding sea dragons and giant crustaceans, trench monsters hijacking a ship in the middle of a raging storm and a virtually unrecognisable Julie Andrews strong arming a rockstar superhero prone to smirk his way through every obstacle ensure this is the most fun I’ve had at DC since Wonder Woman.

Rating: 3.5

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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