Padmaavat Movie Review

Director: Sanjay Leela Bhansali
Cast: Ranveer Singh, Deepika Padukone, Shahid Kapoor, Aditi Rao Hydari and Jim Sarbh
If there’s one thing that Padmaavat, earlier titled Padmavati, tells us it’s that Sanjay Leela Bhansali is the monarch of grandeur, opulence and splendor. The director’s vision carries forward his legacy of larger-than-life films, so even though the battle is between Rawal Ratan Singh and Alauddin Khilji, it’s Bhansali’s unfazed vision and technical finesse that takes the cake.

If there’s another thing that Padmaavat tells us, it’s that the film is, in fact, meant to uphold the valour, sacrifice and glory of the Rajputs. And nothing else that has been fed into the minds of viewers over the past few months, courtesy protests by fringe outfit Karni Sena.

The film, as clarified by Bhansali, is based on the legend of Rani Padmavati, a legendary Rajput queen mentioned in the Awadhi-language poem Padmavat, written by Sufi poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi. Padmavati (Deepika Padukone) is a free-spirited princess who loves to hunt in the jungles of Singhal. And on one such plucky hunt, she chances upon Rawal Ratan Singh (Shahid Kapoor), the Rajput ruler of Mewar, who is searching for precious stones (motis) to fulfill his wife’s command. Given the exceptional combination of beauty and brains that Padmavati is, it doesn’t come as a surprise that the two immediately decide to get married.

padmavati cover photo

While the royal love story is brewing, there’s another power-hungry Turkish-Afghan ruler, Alauddin Khilji (Ranveer Singh), who, upon setting his eyes upon anything exquisite (nayaab), doesn’t breathe a sigh of relief until he’s in possession of it. After taking over the Delhi sultanate, Khilji is told by a priest Raghav Chetan that if he wishes to be the true Sultan of Hind, he needs to have Padmavati by his side and rule the Rajputs. Soon after this, he’s almost possessed by the idea of Padmavati and decides to lay a siege on the Chitttor Fort in Rajasthan. With no surprises, the film follows the exact trajectory of the poem and builds up to the large-scale jauhar, self-immolation of the women to protect their dignity, as their men sacrifice their lives on the battle field.

First things first, the film is a quintessential Bhansali work- it’s a visual spectacle in every which way. The scenes are shot and edited (for most part) with such finesse that despite not having a surprise ending, the film makes for a gorgeous cinematic experience. Sudeep Chatterjee’s cinematography creates a canvas that comes to you as a magnanimous painting and especially during the war scenes, wherein the expanse is grand and the imagery is flattering. The kesariya colour of Rajput pride is well woven in every second frame except for the ones wherein Khilji’s dark side begins to prevail. And you’ll call yourself a sadist but Bhansali can even make a jauhar scene look spectacular and a few others, a bit overwhelming.

Deepika is an epitome of grace and she delivers a knockout performance as a Rani yet again. Her portrayal of Padmavati is all things ethereal and keen. And even though she doesn’t have many dialogues, it’s her eyes that do the talking. Plus, her being a strategist in times of conflict, gives her an edge. Shahid does a controlled act of the righteous king and does full justice to his part. With kohl-ed eyes and an impressive build, he looks the part. But the film only and only belongs to Ranveer Singh. He is in top form and doesn’t bat an eye lid while playing a character so black and honestly, despite being an anti-hero in the film, he actually makes you root for him. He is eclectic and wins every scene he is in. His eccentric moves and dialogue delivery make him an ever-ideal fit for Khilji. As a menacing ruler, who is atrociously self-consumed with the idea of victory and becoming the Sultan and gaining possession of all things exquisite, Khilji’s depiction might raise some eyebrows but as far as performance goes, no one could have done it better than a meat-mincing Ranveer.

Plus, despite the fact that Khilji doesn’t even share a frame with Padmavati per se, their forbidden love story is likely to stay with you long after you leave the theatre. And ironically, the film revolves around Khilji and is narrated from his point of view, so much for naming the film Padmavati in the first place.

ranveer padmavati photo

There’s also Aditi Rao Hydari as Mehrunisa, wife of Alauddin Khilji, who makes the best of what little screen time she gets and Jim Sarbh, who plays Malik Kafur, an eunuch slave-general of Khilji. Both do a decent job with Sarbh going over-board in some scenes.

But no matter how big a visual delight the film is, one has to pull the plug when necessary. And at 163 minutes, Bhansali’s ambitious film starts to drag and is an imaginary piece with not enough meat to keep the viewer invested, except for the meat Khilji is surviving on of course. And notably, it’s only Khilji’s character that is detailed enough to grasp you with its uni “black” shade dulling the goodness of both Padmavati and Rawal Singh. The film also serves constant reminders of Rajput bravery and pride and during its course, gets a little arduous. But is that an after-math of staged protests or an authentic part of the actual narrative- guess we’ll never know. And while all other pointers are ruled by the two disclaimers in the beginning, one might still feel a certain fictional hangover that continues to rule Bhansali’s works which doesn’t quite make up for a lack of a consistent story. Plus, one would also feel a lack of good music, a department Bhansali has expertise in, in this one with only Ghoomar and Ek Dil Ek Jaan being the notable ones.

But none of it makes Padmaavat a bad watch- it’s actually everything a Bhansali fan would expect and honestly, it does warrant an enriching cinematic experience despite falling short on certain things here and there.

Rating: 3/5

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Vodka Diaries Movie Review

Director: Kushal Srivastava
Cast: Kay Kay Menon, Mandira Bedi, Raima Sen, Sharib Hashmi
A hotel-cum-bar named Vodka Diaries in Manali is the centre of attraction in Kushal Shrivastava’s directorial debut, owing to 5 suspicious murders that take place in one night. ACP Ashwini Dixit (Kay Kay Menon) sets out to solve the murder mystery, rather mysteries, and the whodunit film soon turns into a psychological thriller.

Accompanying Ashwini is his assistant Ankit (Sharib Hashmi), who it seems was taken in just to throw random cringe-worthy jokes. Like after finding a corpse tucked away in snow, he says, “isko toh mai freeze bhi nahi bol sakta” or at another point in the film he says, “laash man standing” without batting an eyelid.

Apart from an unfunny assistant, there’s also the ACP’s wife Shikha (Mandira Bedi), who is a key part of his life. She is unbelievably impressed with her own poetry skills and tries to talk poems at every chance she gets. The makers have tried to develop their relationship and show it as “cute” but alas; you don’t get to know them enough to actually care for them. Not the protagonists, not the dead people. Not anyone.

The search for the murderer comes to a halt when Shikha goes missing and dead bodies start coming back to life. Did they die at all? Was there any murder? Is Ashwini hallucinating? Where is Shikha? Questions begin to rise but you never really want to find an answer to them because after a point, it becomes too repetitive and tedious.

Roshni Banerjee (Raima Sen) enters as a suspect and tries to maintain some mystery as she flirts with a man who is putting in equal efforts to sound charming. The two indulge in a seductive conversation and we get to hear cheesy lines like “Girls, I kill girls.”

But as predicted, the mystery soon blows up due to Raima’s unconvincing lashes and equally flat lines. Each actor, it seems, is trying to outdo the other with unrealistic acting and forced expressions. There are certain scenes in this film which completely cross the barriers of logical foundations- like at a book launch, a fan actually shouts “I love you” throwing away a flying kiss and the writer, standing at the podium, responds with an “I love you too.”

But what’s truly sad is how and why a talent like Kay Kay Menon is wasted in a film like this. The idea might have looked great on paper and but the end product isn’t even half as good.

The makers have tried to incorporate a twist of sorts towards the end but given its lousy buildup combined with a loud background score, it’s more tedious than intriguing to survive till the end. And the only reason why someone would stay till the end is to actually try and solve the mystery as to why Menon signed this film.

The end only makes you feel as there’s not enough Vodka that’ll help you survive this film, which it seems, is also the result of a bad Vodka hangover.

Rating: 1.5/5

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Kaalakaandi review

Cast: Saif Ali Khan, Shobita Dhulipala, Akshay Oberoi, Kunal Roy Kapur, Deepak Dobriyal, Vijay Raaz, Shenaz Treasurywala, Neel Bhoopalam, Amyra Dastur, TriNyari Singh
Director: Akshat Verma
There are moments of such inspired lunacy in writer-director Akshat Verma’s Kaalakaandi that you’ll find yourself laughing till your sides hurt. One of those involves a wannabe cowboy accidentally shooting himself in the crotch while imitating Feroz Khan’s moves on screen. Another involves an awkward but hilarious moment of honesty when one of the film’s protagonists, tripping on a psychotropic drug, tells a transgender person that he’s curious to know what she’s packing below the waist. “I want to see your Australia, your southern hemisphere, your Cape of Good Hope,” he says.

A similar sort of outrageous humor powered Delhi Belly, which Verma scripted. But Kaalakaandi is especially thin on plot and purpose.

Unfolding over a course of a single night in Mumbai, the film follows three separate narrative threads. In one, Saif Ali Khan’s character is informed by his doctor that he’s dying, and only has a few months to live. Having stayed off alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs all his life, he decides to throw caution to the wind and drops acid in the midst of running errands for his younger brother’s wedding.

In the second track, a young woman (Shobita Dhulipala), all packed and ready to fly out to Boston in a few hours, heads out to a friend’s birthday party with her boyfriend (Kunal Roy Kapur), only to be trapped at the nightclub when the police orders a drug raid.

And in the third track, a pair of small-time crooks (Deepak Dobriyal and Vijay Raaz, both terrific) returning from a job with bags of cash for their gangster boss, hatch a dangerous plan that could make them rich overnight.

Things start out promisingly enough, but only the track starring Saif Ali Khan has real meat to it. It’s also the funniest of the three, and features a winning supporting character in Sheela, a transgender prostitute (Nyari Singh), whom Saif befriends. The pair outwits an overweight constable and set off an unlikely friendship that is as genuine as it is funny. This track also features Akshay Oberoi as Saif’s younger brother, whose visit to an ex for one last booty call doesn’t go according to plan.

Some of the other supporting characters include Shenaz Treasurywala’s ditzy party girl and Neel Bhoopalam’s legendary gangster-with-one-glass-testicle. Both are good in these roles, but their characters deserved more screen time. As you may have guessed, the three disconnected narratives do meet eventually, but the link feels tenuous and forced. Despite its relatively crisp running time of under two hours, the film runs out of ideas post intermission and seems to go around in circles. There’s a big sangeet celebration that sticks out like a sore thumb, and too much existential bak bak that nearly put me to sleep.

Of the cast, Saif Ali Khan gets the best-written role, and he’s in top form, unfettered and clearly having a good time. He embraces the madcap requirements of the role, throwing himself into it completely. It’s a shame the film can’t keep up with him.

I’m going with two out of five for Kaalakaandi. The humor is hysterical but never consistent. And sadly there’s not a lot more to it.

Rating: 2 / 5

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Sketch Movie Review

function collapse(){$(‘.qr’).toggle(500, function() {if ($(‘.qr’).is(‘:visible’)) {$(“.expup”).css(“background”, “url(”);} else {$(“.expup”).css(“background”, “url(”);}});}Of late, Tamil moviemakers have taken a fancy to set their stories in North Madras, sorry Vada Chennai – a neglected and the original part of the city that the English built in yonder days. Today, it is still awfully congested and rundown, but boasts of a Sowcarpet, where the essentially rich North Indian trading community has been spinning big money. Yet, Vada Chennai continues to be treated like a poor cousin by the city administration, and so, the spurt in tinsel town’s interest in this area may well lead to a new chapter in its fortunes.

The Vikram-starrer, Sketch ( an underworld slang for a notorious plan, usually to eliminate an adversary or conduct a heist), penned and helmed by Vijay Chander, plants its camera in North Chennai’s Royapuram to trace the life of a gangster, called Jeeva (Vikram). His never-miss style of confiscating cars whose owners have defaulted their monthly repayments has earned him the title of Sketch. Never mind his off-screen “title” is Chiyan.

In all fairness, Vikram can be a good actor – that is when he wants to be or when the script or the director calls for this. But in Sketch, he is reduced to a caricature, that of a thug, who works for an automobile financier (who uses his boys for strong-arm tactics) and hangs out with three other men – all in the same business of impounding vehicles. But, when Vikram, egged on by his boss (in white and white, a perfect camouflage for his evil designs), “kidnaps” the precious red-coloured car of Royapuram Kumar (Baburaj), a goonda who uses chopsticks to eat his food (and this will be touted as novel!), all Hell breaks loose. He vows to vanquish Vikram and his three buddies, and when Vikram watches them die one after another, he is sure that it is Kumar who is behind all this. Yes, there is an interesting twist at the end, but poorly narrated with a boringly moral icing. Who needs this now?

Equally annoying is the way women are treated in Sketch. Tamannaah, plays an educated girl, Amuthavalli, who falls for Sketch. For years, she has remained uninterestingly wooden (maybe her lack of Tamil speaking ability contributing to this), and her latest outing is no different.

What seems scandalous is that Tamil writers, helmers and even actors appear callously oblivious of the fact that stalking is illegal. So are racist remarks. “I will get a white girl”, Sketch tells his friends, and it seems pathetic to watch Amuthavalli being treated like a mere object. It cannot get more ridiculous than this.

Honestly, our morally correct censors do not seem to have a problem when it comes such nonsense on the screen. Maybe, they would say, but this is only a story. But Udta Punjab was not! Padmavat too! Standards vary as sharply as day and night.

In the final analyses, Sketch is yet another hotchpotch attempt to tell a story and pass it for entertainment. There is, indeed, plenty. The first five minutes see the movie burst into a dance with Vikram jumping around, and big women swaying to his beat. If there is no melody worth its name in these numbers, the choreography is shoddy to the core.

I admit the subject of cars being impounded is a serious one (many years ago, credit cards companies got into a spot, because of the manner in which they treated defaulters), well worth the effort of a film, but the tendency to wrap it around silly sequences and unbelievable sub-plots (now pray why will an educated girl be drawn to an uncouth rascal in this time and age? ) pulls Sketch into a murky mire.

Rating: 1/5

(Gautaman Bhaskaran is an author, commentator and movie critic)

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