The Mardaani 2 review

Once again Rani Mukerji’s super stoic cop Shivani Shivaji Roy engages in a gripping game of cat and mouse to apprehend a boyish perpetrator and draw our attention to her skills. What makes her significant is that she is good at the job. What the movie makes it a point to tell you is that she is a woman good at the job.

Predictably then, the question of if a guy could have done it better has to arise.

There will be a pain-in-the-neck male subordinate making things difficult for her and a patronising boss insisting on playing by the rules.

Gender bias plays hugely on Mardaani 2‘s mind otherwise too, be it the hate crime it perpetuates or the culture of victim blaming.

Sometimes it is a bit too much on the nose — heroine ko hero nahi banna chahiye. At the same time, it’s nice how Shivani exploits the very patriarchy that obstructs her path to use it as a tool to get her way.

When she does get to have a final say, she cuts to the chase in a desire that is fuelled more by pragmatism than passion — barabari toh door ki baat hai, filhaal hissedari mil jaaye wohi bahut hai/

Mardaani 2 works best and better than its predecessor when it stays true to its slick catch-me-if-you-can potential.

The scene shifts from Mumbai to Kota where Director Gopi Puthran, and writer of the first one helmed by Pradeep Sarkar, creates an innocuous seeming demented antagonist called Sunny (Vishal Jethwa) — the kind evokes a couple of misogynistic, misanthropic psychopaths from the British television show Luther. (In the 2014 film, Tahir Bhasin’s character is a Breaking Bad fan and takes the name Walt after Walter White.)

What is unusual (and creepy) is how Sunny regularly breaks the fourth wall and lets us into the workings of his sick mind.

Imagine a Dhoom 2-like disguise changing chameleon adept at disappearing into the mundane yet teasing a face-off when he deems them worthy. What distinguishes him is the degree of crime. Sunny’s deception isn’t disposed to stealing. Here’s a baby-faced monster leaving behind a trail of brutally tortured and murdered women accompanied by a backstory that rejects any possibility of redemption. Young Jethwa persuasively makes your skin crawl as he viciously alternates between theatrical and grisly.

If only all its 105 minutes were as shrewd as he and Shivani project.

Between spoon feeding motives and relying on too many contrivances to provide Sunny an easy escape, Mardaani 2 loses on nuance.

Rani Mukerji is where it scores. Her perfect hair and eyelashes haven’t budged an inch, but there’s a serenity to her groomed, gritty policewoman. She is not playing to the gallery. Five years have passed and there is a sense of evolution and acceptance in her hawk-eyed persona. Her instincts, even the most far-fetched ones where you have to grant she knows because she knows, are trustworthy because of how she wears her perceptiveness on a sleeve.

Review first published on rediff.com.

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The Panipat review

When I was reading about the Third Battle of Panipat, what fascinated me most is the degree of ambition that drove both Maratha and Mughal imperialism. Even as the politics of desperate alliances and power mongering continues to repeat itself era after era, lessons are seldom learned.

There is wisdom to be found in defeat, but Ashutosh Gowarikar’s Panipat appears too awestruck by the bravado on display to recognise the error and fallacy of human judgement.

What could be viewed as a cautionary tale on ill-equipped aggression, overbearing leadership, pernicious infighting and floundering diplomacy turns into a chest-thumping exercise for Maratha pride.

In Gowariker’s lopsided view of the event and circumstances that led to the 18th century war, the Marathas are a patriotic lot determined to fulfil their vision of a unified India.

Their tendency to play solo and aloof relations with the Rajputs, Jats and Sikhs is largely ignored to focus on Afghan ruler Ahmad Shah Abdali’s (Sanjay Dutt) ruthless trespassing. Instead of a formidable opponent, he is portrayed as a freak stabbing and crushing skulls like a mad mafia boss in an underworld movie.

Lured into reigning over Delhi by Najib-ud-Daula of the Rohillas, he baits the Marathas into a fight that would result in heavy number of causalities and destruction.

Except the man at helm here is essentially a fair-minded, reasonable film-maker known to point fingers at evils of discrimination and bigotry. Panipat struggles over its stand on Muslim portrayal in Hindi films, which tends to fluctuate between increasingly hostile to creepy caricature these days.

At times it almost sounds apologetic about the friction between the Marathas and the Mughals and goes out of the way to highlight Sadashiv Rao Bhau (Arjun Kapoor)’s secular moral fabric. But it is little more than lip service given how the narrative plays out, the treacherous Mughals and barbaric Afghanis want to wield control while the virtuous Marathas travel miles away from home in pursuit of pride and glory.

Both sides suffered serious loss of lives and strength, but all the sympathy is reserved for one side and aggrandising its heroics.

Speaking of which, the Maratha empire’s third-in-command, Sadashiv Bhau makes a daredevil entry amidst heavy rain atop a human pyramid of red pagdis, trouncing the Nizam of Hyderabad and showing clemency to artillery expert Ibrahim Khan Gardi (Nawab Shah).

When the latter’s religious identity raises eyebrows, Bhau reminds traitors aren’t exclusive to any one community. Gardi is a crucial figure as is Vishwas Rao (Abhishek Nigam), son of Nana Saheb Peshwa (Mohinish Bahl). But their profile along with Bajirao’s other son Shamsher (Sahil Salathia) is strictly one-note and confined to the backdrop. That’s why you remain unmoved by their outcome in the climax. Gowariker just didn’t pay enough attention.

In a shrewder drama, its blood ties to Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Bajirao Mastani, which depicted the previous generation, would have made for an interesting companion piece.

Having viewed that period in Bhansali’s measure of opulence and Gowariker’s own ideas of magnificence in Jodhaa AkbarPanipat‘s splendour, despite extended scenes of pageantry and choreography, evoke a sense ‘I’ve seen better.’

A good deal of Panipat‘s nearly three hours running time is dedicated to romantic overtures between Sadashiv Bhau and Parvati Bai (Kriti Sanon) in atrocious Marathi if not the domestic power play of a Peshwa queen’s (Padmini Kolhapure is an easy fit, wish there was more of her) insecurity in manipulating Sadashiv and company into taking off to Delhi to ensure her son’s claim to the throne.

As the spectator and narrator of Panipat‘s brutal history, Kriti is more than an emotional anchor in its predominantly masculine world. She even gets to show her skill with the sword and show off her savoir faire around Sakina Begum (Zeenat Aman) resulting in much-needed provisions.

While it is great to see the yesteryear star on big screen, there is nothing remarkable for her to do. Meanwhile, a radiant and spunky Sanon, save for those awful Marathi interjections, infuses the proceedings with a vibrancy it otherwise lacks. But her chemistry with Arjun Kapoor never hits a chord.

Neither does Kapoor’s endeavour to play a man on the mission. There is visible effort on his part but the writing doesn’t allow him to venture beyond upright to a fault. His character blames everyone for the fate they meet, but refuses to see his own role in the blunders and betrayals that follow.

Unwise decisions like traveling all the way to Delhi for combative tours with family and entourage are viewed in endearment. The difficulty of waging a war, depleting funds, intense starvation, wobbly alliances and volte face aides never reflect in Gowariker’s feeble script.

Even the dialogues by Ashok Chakradhar, a distinguished literary figure fail to convey the fire in Maratha bellies or need for supremacy among Mughal forces.

A confused Dutt pops in and out to growl in fur-trimmed zardozi robes and staggeringly uneven characterisation. Reluctantly spearheading a war he doesn’t quite care for, Abdali proposes truce and expresses admiration towards the valour he’s up against yet his kohl-eyed, bald-headed menace adheres to the diktats of an ’80s Bollywood villain.

There are intriguing shades in there, but Gowariker insists we see the two sides as black and white. So it is almost comical when he stops his army from fleeing the battleground and commands them to get back in class like a cross schoolteacher of pre-schoolers.

More unintended hilarity follows in Kunal Kapoor’s portrayal of turncoat Shuja-ud-Daula. The occasional actor’s husky baritone sounds a lot like grandfather Prithviraj Kapoor, but there is a flippancy in his tone that keeps you guessing whether he is mocking or dead serious. Considering how crucial he is to the crisis; the confusion doesn’t help.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the Panipat story — the alliances — are depicted in the most lacklustre, cursory manner possible. The process of political negotiations and compromises in itself is so artful, there is little need to overstate things.

And even if it has to be dramatic, channel the eloquence in Aragon’s persuasion of Rohan and Gondor’s rulers to help him in the battle against Sauron.

Some scenes stand out — the spyglass face off across Yamuna river, Parvati trying out the crown and feeling its sway or the final confrontation high on kinetic battle vigour until interrupted to zoom in on Kriti Sanon’s shocked face or clumsy CGI-aided explosions.

Panipat has all the meat for a political drama meets war movie. But in Gowariker’s failure to process its complexity, the material never rises beyond a mediocre hurray to the Maratha manoos.

Review first published on rediff.com.

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The Pati Patni Aur Woh review

Alright, we are back in Kanpur/Lucknow/replace with any major city of Uttar Pradesh to endure yet another bumpy rom-com ride where Kartik Aaryan dresses up as Surinder Sahni sans the grace or ardour for his significant other like everybody’s favourite employee at Punjab Power.

But no moustache or mea culpa repentance can change his position as Bollywood’s poster boy for sexist messaging. A special appearance from his preferred partner-in-crime only reinforces this imagery.

Mudassar Aziz’s remake of B R Chopra’s 1978 Pati Patni Aur Woh retains the title and basic premise of a philanderer husband cheating on his devoted wife with his attractive secretary by feeding her falsehoods about the better half’s frail health. This time he lies about her promiscuity.

I was never a fan of the original, but I liked how Sanjeev Kumar submitted to his compulsive rascality. The only other actor I can imagine to find entertainment in the politically incorrect is Govinda. Kartik Aaryan’s calibre is limited to ranting misogynistic spiels about male victimhood.

Although the makers have changed some of the offensive dialogues that caused a furore after its unfortunate trailer, the contemporary take doesn’t move too far from its ‘men can’t help it’ narrative.

What it does well is create two sassy women conscious of their agency if not entirely in control of their emotionally foolish hearts.

Through his tellingly named Chintu Tyagi (Aaryan), Vedika (Bhumi Pednekar) and Tapasya (Ananya Panday), Aziz suggests the monotony of marital life, lack of excitement in small-town existence and, er, soft spot for strangely giggling men in its respective players has sparked off a need for hanky-panky.

Once again, arranged marriage between unsure youngsters pressurised into domesticity is sort of held responsible for the subsequent side-effects. There’s a relevant story in that, which never goes beyond catalyst.

So Tanu’s mom (Navni Parihar) and Manu’s dad (K K Raina) pair up as Chintu Tyagi’s parents and squash his dreams of a Spanish holiday to marry Vedika who looks at the prospect as an experiment.

‘I’ve tried rebellion, now let’s try restriction.’

But for someone who claims to enjoy sex so vocally, she shows little inclination for the deed post saat-pheras.

Equally coy is the attraction between Tyagi and Tapasya, a chic Delhi lass he falls for while helping to find a plot.

There are some other plot arcs too. Like the two sets of parents and a glutton uncle engaged in a tug of war over whose kid has looser character or Vedika’s smitten student Rakesh Yadav with his Shah Rukh Khan fetish and Main Hoon Naa-esque fascination adding to the comic confusion.

All through this Aparshakti Khurrana shoots off some zingers one has come to expect out of him as Chintu’s Muslim best friend and adultery aide fuelling his ‘kapol-kalpana.’ If Lukka Chuppi, also cast as Aaryan’s Muslim best friend, accorded him at least one good line to shut up the right wingers, here he’s at the receiving end of some cringeworthy police prejudice.

But it would be foolhardy to expect better from a movie whose idea of feminism is a woman thinking of herself as a spiteful ‘kulta.’ The only thing it does underscore is what do smart girls see in moron’s syndrome.

Bhumi is an ace actress, can make steel out of thin air. This is practically a cake walk for her. She is always in command without being in your face about her sureness or sauciness. The most honest moment in the movie is her thoroughly unimpressed face while watching an episode of The Kapil Sharma show.

Ananya’s smarts and easygoingness in a role that has a history of being buried under the weight of gullibility make for a nice change of pace.

Alternating between a farce and melodrama, thankfully none of it coming from the women, Pati Patni Aur Woh can’t decide whether it wants to be the climax of a Priyadarshan comedy or give the cad a dose of his own medicine brand of cheeky payback.

What is certain is every straying male deserves sympathy. So did the devil.

Review first published on rediff.com.

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