The Chhapaak review

More than half a decade ago, a monster threw chemical on my friend’s face because he wanted to punish her for breaking up with him. The episode injured her eye, altered her appearance, smashed her confidence and changed the entire course of her life. It was front page news in the national newspapers and the subject of speculation as some came out in support while others loose talked.

Naturally, it was a deeply traumatic time for her and it took a lot of pep talk, courage and trust before she could move ahead. She left the city, pursued further studies, found another job and began anew. If you meet her today, you’ll never guess this is her story.

People don’t dwell on their misfortune, but there’s no undo switch for certain experiences. It’s as Tolkien wrote: ‘There are some things that time cannot mend. Some hurt that goes too deep, that have taken hold.’

Learn to live with it should not be anybody’s only choice. Malti’s ordeal (Deepika Padukone) is even more horrifying.

hough it’s a story of inspiration, Meghna Gulzar’s Chhapaak is not the kind of film you walk out feeling entertained or ecstatic about.

Inspired by acid attack survivor Laxmi Aggarwal’s true story, it’s an uneasy reminder of the constant state of vulnerability a woman lives through all her life, where not even a shred of her aatma or anatomy is safe from the likelihood of violation.

If anything, the worrying statistics before its end credits reveal a substantial jump in instances of acid violence.

Meghna Gulzar documents Chhapaak‘s grim reality barefacedly without losing sight of its character’s quiet determination to fight the reasons that make such heinous crimes possible in the first place.

It opens with scenes of protest, no different from the ones storming the country right now underscoring a perennial short supply of sensitivity chips among people in power.

I find the quality in heaps in Meghna Gulzar though sensitivity comes naturally to her and shows in her storytelling aesthetics and gentle handling of ill-quipped characters confronting complex situations.

The soft-spoken film-maker has a keen eye for noting the uncomfortable truths without crying hoarse about it.

Be it to observe a hierarchy in crime where rape and acid violence are pitted against one another or society’s discriminating attitude alternating between callousness and pity.

She jumps headlong in Chhapaak.

When we first meet Malti, it’s been years since the attack and she’s desperately seeking a job that will support her family.

Pain and practicality go hand in hand, a certainty Meghna Gulzar bluntly puts across in her straightforward show of police procedure, medical rehabilitation and courtroom procedure.

Though not one for in-your-face drama, she does stress on the environment of insensitivity, caste politics, misogyny by throwing in scenes that intensify the tragedy, the taunts or the thin rope a family’s walking as they fall apart.

Poora phone ladkon ke phone number se bhara pada hai,’ remarks a lady cop and reads out a list of male names revealing a deep-rooted, problematic view of holding a woman responsible for provoking crime.

Contrary to some reports, Meghna Gulzar hasn’t changed the attacker’s religious identity nor does she play it down as evident from the sheer malevolence exhibited by a burkha-clad figure. But it is never an excuse for communal colouring or demonisation.

In Meghna Gulzar’s balanced worldview, there is still some room for all that is good and fair. Cruelty has left her disfigured, but compassion has given her wings.

Malti receives generous patronage from her father’s influential and affluent employer, her lawyer and assistant are single-minded in their fight for justice that calls to amend obsolete laws.

Malti’s all-woman support system inspires her to crusade for fellow survivors and raise funds through the NGO she works for alongside journalist-turned-activist Amol (Vikrant Massey).

Their breezy interactions offer a rare glimpse into Malti’s person. As strongly she feels about acid ban, she wants to live a little too. Just because she has gone through a harrowing time, does it mean it should be her only identity round the clock?

There is a lovely scene that puts Amol’s pessimistic progressive in his place.

Chhappak conveys her strain in the most basic of things.

It’s in the gaze of everyday world where even a guy offering you to go ahead in the queue barely feels like chivalry and the only people she hangs out with have suffered the same fate. It’s confining and discriminating.

How Malti learns to drop the veil and stop caring about the stares is a goal at which Chhapaak gently and gradually arrives.

If Raazi took a detailed look into a character’s tormented morality and angst, Chhappak gives weightage to the cause.

It is as much about individual suffering as it is about craving dignity and normalcy in life.

The nature of her scarring is already so acute, brooding on in any further would be inhuman, exploitative and Gulzar firmly abstains from it.

Malti’s screams, when the attack happens or on discovering the extent of damage, will echo in your ears for a long, long time. That too feels like a luxury when she innocently asks the plastic surgeon if he can make her a ‘ear’ next?

Deepika Padukone puts herself out there like never before both in physicality and inwardness.

A portrayal marked by changing dynamics where prolonged misery and gradual progress converge in ways you need to know but not necessarily notice.

Her devastating transformation is akin to watching a wounded bird in agony. As she slowly but surely takes a flight towards purpose, Deepika gains in heft and heart. 

If her co-star Vikrant Massey embodies a dour faced, wry-natured activist in Fabindia kurtas quite effectively, Madhurjeet Sarghi as the upright lawyer behind Malti’s triumph steals every scene she is in with her power packed display of empathy and ethicality.

Chhapaak is solid, uncomfortable viewing, but it is also meditative and meandering. Towards the latter portions, it wanders off a bit unsure about the direction it wants to take — a personal story, a public story or catch a breath in Meghna Gulzar’s verse.

The process of healing, physical and psychological is slow, painful and expensive. As is the course of its long and arduous legal battle.

Chhapaak‘s to-and-fro timeline, penned by Meghna Gulzar and Atika Chohan, travels between decades to highlight the struggle as well as acknowledge the support.

Monsters abound as does humanity when compassionate folk rally around her in the form of doctors, lawyers, well-wishers demonstrating the power of collective altruism in society. Sometimes a tad overzealously and overcompensating in its depiction of the lawyer’s husband in an extraordinarily understanding light.

Chhapaak gets its casting (Gautam Kishanchandani) down pat. The editing (Nitin Baid) is seamless. The camerawork (Malay Prakash) breathes the mood through all its hues and highs. The ageing and passing of time isn’t specifically striking but Deepika’s physical transformation by make-up artist Clover Wootton is simply exceptional.

Usne mera chehra badla hai, mann nahi,’ believes Malti. Truly the only ‘manns‘ that need to change are the ones that empowers such atrocity.

Review first published on rediff.com.

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The Bhangra Paa Le review

Actors need only an excuse to break into a dance in Bollywood spectacles.

But in first-time director Sneha Taurani’s Bhangra Paa Le, celebrating the age-old Punjabi folk dance form, it forms the core and catalyst across two timelines running parallel between the past and present.  

It’s a fairly ambitious if unoriginal premise let down by staid vision, spiritless writing, middling choreography and music.  

What is immensely watchable around these flaws is a promising Sunny Kaushal — who, by the way, bears an uncanny resemblance to Kunal Khemmu even though they’re not related. (Vicky Kaushal is.) 

After leaving a fiery impression as the hockey-playing Sardar in Gold, the young lad takes centrestage as Jaggi Singh, a bhangra-obsessed college-goer in Amritsar spearheading his team of Khalsa college mates to take on their cutthroat rival, the unfortunately named GNDU at an inter-college festival.

Winner of said contest will receive a sponsored trip to London and a direct entry to compete internationally in Bhangra Battle.

 

Simi Kohli (Rukhsar Dhillon), a spunky dancer he bumps into a wedding and hopes to bring on board to improve his chances at a win turns out to be a GNDU-ite. Amidst their cute meet and uh-oh realisations, the story reels off to focus on Jaggi’s granddad, also played by young Kaushal.

Posted in the British Indian army during World War II to boost the morale of the troops with his ‘rhythmic, energetic and aggressive’ display of bhangra, the sliver of a plot relies purely on Kaushal’s soulful charm and Shriya Pilgaonkar’s wholesome loveliness to create a sense of a romance that would inspire his future generations.  

There’s more longing and belonging in their few and far between interactions than Jaggi and Simi are able to convey no matter how much vodka they gulp down throughout the film.

The latter doesn’t have anything close to a chemistry though Dhillon tries hard for Anushka Sharma in Band Baaja Baaraat’s sassy vibe and Kaushal is effortlessly disarming.

Taurani directs their scenes plainly, sans any filminess, even in places where some fuss and flimflam would make a world of difference. As a consequence, Bhangra Paa Le deprives its viewer of any emotional connect.  

Jaggi’s endeavour to commemorate his unsung grandfather’s memory rings hollow.

As do his feelings for Simi, which are thrown in and out of context as per convenience while the mood frantically shifts between Love Aaj Kal to Aaja Nachle to ABCD 2.  

When it does get all dramatic highlighting its character’s resolution to overcome his circumstances, Bhangra Paa Le’s previous inclination to keep it low-key is ditched to embrace corny sentiment. 

Bizarre to and fro tonality aside, Kaushal’s portrayal never loses sight of the earnestness he stands for. The man’s got swell moves as well.

Co-star Dhillon, on the other hand, is no great shakes.

Neither her gawky dancing nor flimsily treated daddy issues, abandoned by her father (Samir Soni) after he ran off to London as an illegal immigrant, give her much scope for muse or melodrama.   

This staggering shortage of masti in its dance and pulse in its music — inevitably falling back on remixes from Karan Arjun and Rangeela for gusto — never let Bhangra Paa Le soar as a musical it so desperately wants to be.  

Review first published on rediff.com.

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The Dabangg 3 review

When the Abhinav Kashyap-directed Dabangg came out in 2010, Salman Khan’s flippant, brash, disposition proved to be a delightful fit for the comic chops and audacious antics of cop Chulbul Pandey.

With a punch and a line, ‘Robin hood’ Pandey swaggered his way into pop culture.

Two years later, its sequel by producer turned director Arbaaz Khan cashed on its popularity by playing so spectacularly safe, what emerged was all too formulaic if not entirely futile thanks to Bhai full steam.

Seven years down the line, the darling of the frontbenchers has repeated the gig so many times over in slow-motion, presuming schlock like Dabangg 3 will carry forward Chulbul Pandey’s legacy is beyond foolhardy.

In the latest, auto-piloted by Prabhudeva, the 50-plus superstar takes off his shirt, takes off his pants too. But the only thing he bares is a desperation to succeed.

Trapped in an image puffed up beyond recognition, Salman now plays a version of what’s expected out of him. It’s as exciting as watching Om Shiv Puri.

Once a picture of spontaneous tomfoolery, Chulbul Pandey’s frivolous fun is reduced to a wind-up toy whose manual reads fight, dance, jest, repeat.

A shoddily put together mess, of which Salman and Prabhudeva share screenplay credits, Dabangg 3 is the kind of indulgent rubbish that dispels the fundamentals of film-making to highlight its hero’s virtue and vigour at any cost.

Its action amounts to forcefully drawn fights where threats look like gym subscription flyers and confrontation a VFX-aided duel.

Random gyaan slips into the dialogues commenting on everything from dowry, gutkaa, paan, paani. Dolly Bindra is whacked and winks to make no point. A battery of cops growls or groans to make Pandey look good.

The goon with a Wanted mobile ringtone shows up like a wall lizard to make a joke nobody gets.

Vinod Khanna’s younger brother Pramod stands in for his late sibling to bizarre effect. Salman’s younger brother Arbaaz repeats his Loki behaviour to no effect.

Salman and Sonakshi’s still-to-be-potty-trained seven-year-old son wants to watch his uncle do the deed. And wit like ‘why are you carrying a gulab jamun in your pocket?’ occupies its innuendo-heavy writing.

Lacking the calibre to create something fresh, the makers pick on the most popular attributes of the original — the catchy dialogues, the quirky name by scribbling the sloppiest possible Chulbul Pandey origins that does little besides prolong the Dabangg 3 torture to nearly three hours long.

What ensues is a flashback resembling banian ads featuring a wrinkle-free Salman doing his bit for Beti Bachao Beti Padhao except the contender (a suitably doe-eyed Saiee Manjrekar) of this slogan is intended as more biwi than beti.

There’s also Sudeep, his foreboding presence spills over from past to present, as the proverbial bane of Chulbul’s existence. Except his villainy is so embarrassing in its provocation, the only thing you notice is his designer belt fetish.

Sonakshi Sinha’s catchy ‘thapad‘ line in the first Dabangg underlined her hit debut. In Dabangg 3, she is the only one to say the most meaningful thing ever said in this movie — ‘News nahi padhte?‘ She’s right.

The real dabangg folk are out there on the street while the make-believe hero has long overstayed his swagat.

Review first published on rediff.com.

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