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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Kalank review: You won’t be able to look away. But…

A still from Kalank

What makes the great costume dramas of Hindi cinema so awe-inspiring is their ability to transfix and transport the viewer into another time. It could be built around fantasy or traditions but its success entirely depended on the people inhabiting this all-consuming world.

The highs have to be higher than the mountain, the lows beyond the abyss. Moderation is unacceptable to spectacle. Passion is everything. Except the language of make-believe has changed dramatically over the years and not everyone is equipped to articulate its histrionic zeal.

Kalank, the star-studded, sumptuous offering from Dharma Productions designed along the lines of a Sanjay Leela Bhansali extravaganza, only highlights this inadequacy.

Directed by Abhishek Varman (2 States), this 168-minutes long soap opera (hey there’s a hat tip to Lux too), based on Shibani Bathija’s story with Hussain Dalal’s dialogues, is stuck in a bizarre time warp of real world and surreal treatment. What ensues is not particularly poignant, but breathtaking to behold.

Between its haphazardly fluctuating timeline — 1944, 1946 and 1956 — Kalankrecounts forbidden love against the backdrop of caricaturish communal disharmony preceding India and Pakistan’s Partition.

Given its preoccupation with grandeur though, it would be unwise to expect the horrors of history to resemble anything out of Deepa Mehta’s 1947: Earth. Rather its aspiration appears to be a Pakeezah-meets-Mere Mehboob brand of coy romance harking back to a time when illegitimacy and kothas were the biggest source of infamy and obstacle.

For all its old-fashioned fervour though, the only thing old about Kalank is its dependency on out-dated tropes as well as toned and tanned bodies.

When we first meet Roop (Alia Bhatt), she’s running about town in a mid-riff baring lehenga like few maidens in the 1940s would dare. Her sartorial spunk isn’t the same as her spirit. Approached by Satya with a proposal most inane, she accepts it only to regret it almost immediately. Rest of Kalank is Roop and its script compensating for that one stupid folly.

Interesting how Satya’s (Sonakshi Sinha recreating the misty-eyed melancholy of her character in Lootera) mind works like Shah Rukh Khan’s in Kal Ho Naa Ho sans the wit or sass. Why Satya zeroes in on Roop is never explained nor is the mystery behind her ‘want to right the wrong’ statement.

Roop’s arrival in a dream-like town at the outskirts of Lahore, her palatial home and Hugo-reminiscent vast window peering through the luminous landscape, followed by a lavish song and dance encounter with Bahar Begum (Madhuri Dixit) transcends her interaction with the men — Dev, the silent type (Aditya Roy Kapoor), Balraj, the standoffish type (Sanjay Dutt) and Zafar, the philanderer type (Varun Dhawan).

There’s also Kunal Khemu, wearing a kohl-eyed and taqiyah (skullcap), vowing to throw out the entitled Hindus away. The only Muslims with some conscience are, predictably enough, the nautch girl and her love child.

Suffused in luxury, Kalank‘s exquisitely composed frames revel in its ritzy excesses. Lace curtains and velvet upholstery on horse carriages, cosy lotus ponds carrying quaint boats, giant harps and oversized chandeliers, regal costumes bearing intricate details, jewellery fit for a queen, ballet-inspired celebration of festivals and music, one could produce a movie in its budget for flowers and lamps alone.

Even a simple interview scene features Alia on a purple French sofa against purple walls. Kalank is that rare film where cosmetic excellence (Binod Pradhan’s cinematography, Amrita Mahal Nakai’s set design and Manish Malhotra’s costumes) conveys more than the writing. Interestingly, Sanchit and Ankit Balhara’s background score brings to mind Thomas Newman’s American Beauty.

But with not much else going on in its scheme of predictable twists and manufactured melodrama, the beauty acquires the air of a stiff spectator. Some of the songs are completely forced, especially Kriti Sanon’s item number and Madhuri’s big dance moment.

Kalank, if exploited for all its politics and ambiguity, has the material for a nine-part mini series. As a movie trying to cram in romance, betrayal, morality, sacrifice, virtue, ideology and tons of masala in under three hours with mostly miscast actors having to do all the heavy lifting, it feels like a lifetime.

All the pashmina in the world cannot conceal Sanjay Dutt’s inherently raffish personality or his gutka-damaged dialogue delivery.

Varun Dhawan’s attempt to seem fierce and sound flirty feels laughable when he’s made to say lines like Apni aankhon ki kashish ko apne palkon ke aitraaz se chuppane ki koshish na karein without batting an eyelid. Even Raaj Kumar would do a double take if asked to babble like that. His free-flowing chemistry with Alia remains caged in Kalank‘s stagy worldview.

While Aditya Roy Kapoor cuts a handsome picture in traditional wear, he lacks the heft that once made Jackie Shroff ideal for such parts.

Alia Bhatt is a compelling actress at all times. But one never gets a true sense of who she is between her transformation from perplexingly impulsive to flimsily love-struck.

An ethereal Madhuri Dixit is the only one who doesn’t look out of place in Kalank‘s ada-heavy atmosphere. Her wistful gaze and classical disposition picks the sur of its over the top world, blends in it, dances with it.

At the end of this rather long movie, Alia asks ‘What do you see in this story? Kalank or love?’ I saw beauty at its emptiest. You won’t be able to look away. But you won’t feel anything either.

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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