The Judgementall Hai Kya Review

You cannot miss Kangana Ranaut in Judgementall Hai Kya.

This edgy, erratic, turbulent thriller is a glorious manifestation of the contentious star’s ‘I’ll go down but take everybody down with me’ attitude known to endear some and enrage others.

Writer Kanika Dhillon and her director husband Prakash Kovelamudi use her notoriety and skills to the script’s advantage in a manner so surreal, you’ll never know when Kangana takes over and where Bobby Batliwala Grewal comes through.

Blurring the lines between real and reel, actual and imagined, voyeur and violent, Judgementall Hai Kya is an expedition into the unhinged, unstable, unreliable mind of a woman single-handedly refusing to be dictated by patriarchy. It’s also a provocative commentary on society’s tendency to label individuals refusing to subscribe to its established norms and decorum.

Referred to as ‘bawli‘ and ‘atrangi‘ at regular intervals through expository dialogues, Bobby doesn’t care to live down that reputation what with a bulk of the movie acting as an enamoured profile of numerous tics and mounting hysteria.

From her hyena laugh, unruly hair and bohemian wardrobe to her cockroach phobia, ambiguous asexuality, morbid humour, sleuthing tendencies, fixation with tongue twisters and crafting origami out of disturbing news clippings to her curious interactions around a dispensable boyfriend (Hussain Dalal) and penchant for slipping into the skin of the character she’s dubbing for in Judgementall Hai Kya‘s fascinating movie-within-movie scenario, Bobby is one irresistible mess.

The clutter in her personality extends to her surroundings as well whose self-referential nature is hard to miss.

Be it the pictures of her from Queen and Rangoon plastered on the house walls, her penchant for photo shopping pictures — an obvious dig on the ‘fake’ photograph of her and Hrithik Roshan that circulated across media — or claiming victimisation every time she threatens, ‘I’ll expose you’ sounding a lot like the headlines of her fiery interviews.

Even the use of Mr Natwarlal‘s Tauba Tauba, coincidentally composed by Hrithik’s uncle Rajesh Roshan, seems to point in the direction of their infamous feud. Judgementall Hai Kya would be something of a Silsila of these times if Producer Ekta Kapoor had managed to rope in Hrithik Roshan to play Rajkummar Rao’s role.

As terrifyingly sensational that would be, Rao is a perfect fit for the part. Neither Ranaut nor he are in novel territory, but their intensity and how they feed off each other’s energy is what keeps Judgementall Hai Kya exciting and engrossing till the end.

Once Dhillon, also doing a bit role as a stage actor, has laid out all her cards, there’s not much by way of intrigue. There are only two possible scenarios for where all the grimness is headed. But the staggering shortage of slyness lends Judgementall Hai Kya‘s feeble cat-and-mouse game a ‘template thriller’ predictability.

Only this is a movie so consumed by its busy, over stylised creativity, the decline goes largely unnoticed in the ensuing tennis of trust and truth with a little bit of Ramayana-inspired symbolism thrown in. It’s a wild move, but works because of how assured its cast is before and its crew is behind the camera.

Hussain Dalal’s desperate-to-get-laid beau, Satish Kaushik’s serial-snacker cop, Brijendra Kala’s sniggering assistant, Jimmy Sheirgill’s unusually patient theatre director, Amrita Puri and Amrya Dastur’s tailor-made virtue ably support the action around Rao and Ranaut’s relentless game of there’s more to this than meets the eye.

Nobody shoots night and darkness like Cinematographer Pankaj Kumar and here, he has a ball reflecting Bobby’s spectrum with his own. David B George’s background score, occasionally evoking the enchantment of Alexandre Desplat’s The Shape of Water, is perceptive in capturing the momentum.

Kovelamudi has a keen visual style where sound and sight is designed to stay in sync with the plot’s excessive mood and ominous plans. Mostly, the flamboyance overkill contributes to vibe of his storytelling. But there are times when his glamorous depiction of a troubled mind ends up conveying more exuberance than agony.

Judgementall Hai Kya may feel strongly about the repercussions of domestic violence and its impressionable beholders but it never fleshes out beyond cursory. What lingers on is the sensory overload of wild visual and symbolism — like a 10-headed Raavan through a mirror maze and blazing flames. Perhaps these exaggerations are necessary. Perhaps they are imagined. Judgementall Hai Kya leaves plenty of room for doubt and even sympathy for the delusional.

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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When Hrithik fulfilled his ultimate Lakshya

When Lakshya was coming out, hype hit the roof. Everything about Farhan Akhtar’s sophomore effort was expected to match the distinction Dil Chahta Hai had achieved three years ago through its contemporary, stylish, easy-going depiction of urban friendships that revolutionised the language of Bollywood filmmaking.

Only Lakshya, a coming-of-age tale woven within the context of the 1999 Kargil conflict, aimed to fire up a generation disposed to apathy and perfunctory flag-waving. Perhaps it baffled an audience hoping for another round of ‘Hum cake ke liye kahin pe bhi jaa sakte hain.’ Perhaps it was the plot’s tonal shift from breezy romance to wartime strategy. Either way, Lakshya opened to mixed reviews and disappointing box-office.

Over the years though, the film’s rose to prominence as an under-rated drama whose motivational zeal is believed to have inspired many young men to join the armed forces.

Whether or not it’s true, Lakshya remains, for a good part, an impactful journey of a youth from slacker to stalwart. Farhan lends it a sweeping scale and robust energy against Ladakh’s arid landscapes and military protocol, but his emotional process is steadily inward. It’s this refined aesthetic that makes me wish Farhan would get behind the camera more often.

He finds a spellbinding personification of his creativity in Hrithik Roshan’s exceptional talent. The actor’s sparkling eyes are all the dialogue he needs. Whether they’re lighting up on hearing his sweetheart share what she loves about him or welling up in pain on seeing her getting engaged or staring in disbelief after gunning down a cluster of enemy lives or telling his father he loves him on the phone in one of Lakshya‘s most beloved scenes, they are stuff of silver screen poetry.

When I revisited Lakshya recently, I found its merits remain the same as do the chink in its armour. The only thing I feel differently about is its soundtrack by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy. Its soaring and sublime melodies have brewed beautifully over time (something a day on repeat mode when I had to review it back then could not instantly establish) and developed a deep relationship with its listener.

The sentiment and idealism of its songs affect as profoundly on its own as they do in context of the movie. Lakshya wouldn’t be the same without its Haan Yehi Rasta Hai Tera, Tune Pehchaana Hai… ardour.

The Akhtar siblings are masters of self-realisation. All their stories are driven by individuals trying to find their place or themselves in the world. And their eloquent father always finds the right words for it. Written by Javed Akhtar, Lakshya benefits from the man’s lyrical rhythm and tajurba — an attribute he holds rather dear as pointed out in a scene but his storytelling is often weighed down by cinematic datedness.

His slightly sanctimonious tone on matters of feminism or colouring the army in secular shades has a rather ‘look what I did here’ obviousness about it. The predictability extends to clichéd exuberant soldier — freshly engaged or homesick — always the first to become casualties in the line of duty. These tropes may have worked well at the peak of his scriptwriting career but feel redundant and jarring amidst FA’s brand of subtlety.

Lakshya opens on a serene note as cinematographer Christopher Popp acquaints us with Ladakh’s remote splendour. Whether it’s the arresting long shots, riveting close-ups, elegant symmetry and lighting of his compositions, Popp’s vision for Lakshya is consistently exciting.

The German-born American Popp retired from cinematography in 2018 to work on his debut as writer with a two-part mystery thriller. Few have captured Hrithik Roshan’s gorgeous green eyes and the enormous emotion they brim with as Karan Shergill on whom lies Lakshya‘s entire focus.

Karan is a living proof of what happens when what Aamir Khan sang in Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak‘s Papa Kehte Hain comes true. The man doesn’t have the slightest idea of what he wants to do. Karan’s cluelessness and inaptitude soon become a concern for his parents and pals as well as a perfect excuse for Farhan to sneak in a slick Prabhudeva choreographed ditty on Hrithik, Main Aisa Kyun Hoon.

While his stern father (an excellent Boman Irani) exhibits all the typical desi parenting traits, threatening him with ‘You’ll do as I say’ or face the consequences speech, his mild-mannered mum (Anjula Bedi) suffers from ‘Why ca’nt you be more like your older brother?’ syndrome.

Told from Karan’s privileged perspective, he fails to see what the fuss is about as long as the domestic help delivers breakfast in bed and his girlfriend Romila aka Romi tells him she adores him because he never thinks small or talks cheap.

Their interactions would be far more memorable if it wasn’t for all those tacky, woefully distracting wigs. I always though Lakshya would be a superior film if only Farhan had stuck to regular hair. Its over styled looks and conscious effort to surpass the hip quotient of DCH result in unintentional comedy.

Thank god then, Hrithik joins the army.

Clearly, Karan has potential to do better, an admission in the Indian Military Academy only reaffirms it, but it’s only when he realises how disappointing his lack of effort is perceived by his father and ladylove, he is inspired to do better. Kumud Mishra’s ‘Toote hue dil se hi sangeet banta hai‘ logic applies in other fields of work too.;

Against Shankar’s thumping title track, Karan pours his heart and soul into becoming the model armyman even as India and Pakistan enter peace talks acting as prelude to the consequent Operation Vijay, which forms the second half of Lakshya.

Farhan steers clear of the politics whilst treading the subject and resists in-your-face jingoism, but the hint of displeasure on Amitabh Bachchan’s otherwise deadpan Colonel Sunil Damle (solid as always even if least persuasive as a Maharashtrian) while watching a news clip of then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee embracing Pakistan’s then PM Nawaz Sharif says it all.

The only time Farhan breaks away from his clear cut, level-headed narrative is to accommodate Kandhon Se Kandhe, pandering to Border-reminiscent patriotic tastes and further prolonging the running time of an almost three hours long movie.

Lakshya has two distinct moods. One of which unfolds during the flashback as a subdued Karan recalls the drama that led to him finding his calling. It’s the lightness of those earlier scenes and Hrithik and Preity Zinta’s easy warmth that the second half builds on to make his transformation and their estrangement and uncomfortable silences all the more poignant as captured deftly in the lingering melancholy of Kitni Baatein Yaad Aati Hain.

The second involves abundant war combat. Sequences of rock climbing and night-time shelling, maps and tactics, bombardment and martyrdom; Lakshya packs in tons of crisp action. There’s visible admiration for the men in uniform, their dedication, discipline and contribution, a lovely line from Om Puri sums it all — ‘Sipahi kitni jaldi apne aansoo pee jaata hai.’ But Lakshya isn’t so much about war as it is about bravery. Sometimes recognising who are you and wanting to be only that is the bravest thing a man or woman can do.

Preity Zinta’s spunky Romila, modelled after journalist Barkha Dutt, certainly does, dumping guy after guy if not worthy of her respect. Eventually Karan will too. From a father rebuking his drifter ways, ‘Aise hi time waste karte rahoge ya zindagi main kuch kaam bhi karoge‘ to a father beaming with pride and stating, ‘shabaash,’ his mission is clear and simple.

Though Lakshya is teeming in valour, only one man’s courage matters. Planting the tricolour is symbolic and conclusive of Karan’s complete metamorphosis from boy to man. He has to do it alone and prove he’s hero not hopeless. It’s this solitary soldier that admirers of the movie find inspiring while detractors see as a weakness and dumbing down of a collective team effort.

This column was first published on rediff.com.

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The Lion King review

One of the momentous father-son stories to come out of Disney’s dream factory, back when emotion was valued as much as economics, The Lion King‘s Shakespearean soul and spectacular animation spoke to viewers across all ages.

When I first saw it 25 years ago, I was awestruck by its refusal to paint death, pain or guilt in candy-coloured hues.

Mufasa wasn’t placed in some fancy, gold-rimmed glass coffin and no amount of love from Sarabi’s side or remorse from Simba’s would bring him back to life.

No Fairy Godmother would Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo her wand at Scar and turn Simba into King.

The Lion King‘s fable-like tone, reminiscent of Bambi and The Fox and the Hound, resists hocus-pocus even if its characters burst into vibrant song and dance or contradict their fundamental nature.

Its photorealistic computer animated remake — in the on-going tradition of Disney reboots cashing in the good will of its stockpile of beloved classics — directed by Jon Favreau lacks, as Mufasa would say, the ‘delicate balance’ between technological advancement and contemporary relevance to feel worthwhile.

Unlike Maleficent, The Jungle Book or Aladdin, which subverted some of the original’s context to appear more topical, The Lion King remains faithful to what is tried and tested.

All its distinction is by way of visuals and voice acting.

As much as I appreciate this seamless show of computer graphics — the gobsmacking detailing of its manufactured wildlife and landscapes — there’s something awkward about its authenticity. Neither does it match the vigour of The Lion King‘s dramatic plot.

The 1994 film whipped up a burst of colours and choreography, scenes full of Savannah sunsets and starlit nights, cheerful display of flora and fauna, Hakuna Matata and Circle of Life. In a nutshell, 88 minutes of subtle spiritual and breathtaking poetry.

Favreau’s depiction of Pride Land — or Gaurav Bhoomi, if you are watching a Hindi dub like me — features all these scenes and yet none of their spirit. It’s a grim scenario worsened behind 3D glasses. For those coming in 25 years late, here’s a recap.

A king is deceitfully murdered by his wily brother so that he can reign over and blames it on his baby nephew. The nephew runs away and grows up around carefree company until his father’s spirit prods him to fight his uncle and take back his rightful place as king. Where Super 30 declared ‘Ab raja ka beta raja nahi banega‘, The Lion King centres its entire premise on the archaic rules of royalty.

What is the law of the jungle holds true of Bollywood too. And it couldn’t be more emphatic than Shah Rukh Khan using his gift of eloquence to play Mufasa while son Aryan makes his voice debut as Simba. Majestic and smooth, ‘King’ Khan’s famous voice forms an instant connect. Perhaps a little too austere, as though conscious it is James Earl Jones’s larynx he’s filling in. Occasionally Bollywood too, when his trademark quavering sneaks in and he calls out Simba in the same panicky papa tone as he once did to Anjali.

Aryan sounds a bit like his father but there’s more rhythm and mood to his rendition. He gets the medium and does well.

Ashish Vidyarthi’s cunning Scar appears to be enjoying the gig. As do Sanjay Mishra and Shreyas Talpade whose warthog Pumba and meerkat Timon converse like Mumbaiya taporis. It’s not one bit funny. Neha Gargava’s Nala and Shernaz Patel’s Sarabi do not leave an impression. The hyena troika spearheaded by Shenzi (a terrifyingly screechy Achint Kaur) fire hostilities in a Bihari accent. The hyena intimidation might be a bit daunting for younger kids.

But the real star of the show is Asrani’s gusto as Zazu, the red-billed hornbill. His sprightly articulations and well-timed wit, as he hat tips a certain Angrezon ke zamane ka jailor and Yamraj’s deputy, are a hoot.

If only the studio had focused on better writing too. The translation is often hopeless and ruthless in butchering the humour and dumbing down the wisdom.

Watch it if you are curious about seeing a photorealistic take of a treasured tale or maiden attempt of a star son who ‘just can’t wait to be king’.

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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