Manto Movie Review

Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Rasika Dugal
Director: Nandita Das

Manto died in Lahore, Pakistan, in 1955, seven years after the Indian independence. For 35 years, he lived in what he called the love of his life, Bambai (now Mumbai), and spent the rest of it wanting it. His was a life of admiration, stinging tongue, rejection and an indomitable desire to establish himself as the most realistic prose writer of his time. During the obscenity trial over his short story Thanda Gosht (Cold Meat), Manto (Nawazudin Siddiqui in his best ever performance) lost a friend in Faiz Ahmad Faiz, one of the prominent voices of the progressive writers’ association. Though Faiz argued vehemently in Manto’s favour, he refused to believe that Thanda Gosht met literary parameters. This incident probably destroyed Manto’s faith in new India. Known for his razor sharp quotes, Manto thereafter mellowed down. At one point, he even tells his wife Safia (Rasika Dugal) that he was sorry for what he was doing to her. Despite this, he could never really change. Read: Manmarziyaan Movie Review
Read: Yamla Pagla Deewana Phirr Se Movie Review

In the film, director Nandita Das has tried to trace Manto’s inspirations in life — brothels, stories of sexual desires, melancholic set-ups. Manto wasn’t happy writing for films, but did so for money. Through his work, he constantly aimed to find flawed characters looking for salvation.

The India-Pakistan partition serves as the film’s backdrop. The then volatile society looking to ease out the anger found a face in Saadat Haasan Manto. He was like the cork of a soda bottle thrust shut after pouring some salt in it. During a scene in the film, the organiser of a literary event says with a deep sigh, “If only we could get these many people in every meeting.”

This is the source of Manto’s strength and also his arrogance or pride, whatever you may want to call it. In his head, he is holding a mirror to the society and people in power. In the film, it is so ironic that when he decides to fight his own case during the obscenity trial, the judge announces his verdict with a sarcastic remark, “I don’t know why they waited this long to pronounce a sentence. Your final argument was enough to get you jailed.”

Read: Happy Phirr Bhaag Jayegi Movie Review
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Any attempts at sugar coating reality drives Manto mad. His jokes are on us. Fuelling his raw take on his surroundings, Safia once asks him to write a story on a woman sitting near them in a park. He instead turns up with a story of a woman who shaves and whose boyfriend helps her in it. This may look like an absurd take but it is enough to get you invested in his unique imagery.

Adapting a similar tone, Nandita Das uses small sequences to acquaint us with society’s paradoxes. For instance, Manto is once out in a Lahore market when a youngster screams about Gandhi’s assassination. The vegetable seller asks the young boy — who seems oblivious to the idea of one Hindustan that existed before partition — about the culprit. The boy responds, “Some Hindu has killed him,” and runs away. The old man scolds him from behind and murmurs, “They don’t even have the decency to break a bad news.” There couldn’t be a better way to discuss generation gap and how values change in just a few months.

Such is the world that Manto represents, where nobody objects to what others are doing. Nandita Das gives her Manto enough reasons to believe that the world he had left behind was better than the one he was living in. He doesn’t need to put his ‘Hindu topi-Musalman topi’ to use. At least, this is what he thinks.

As Manto’s stories continue to live on, they also add to the artistic merit of this film, providing Nandita Das solid channels to go in and out of his life. There are two stories — one that Manto lives and the other that his readers live. He may be the hero of the first but is a mere guilt-ridden prose writer in the second. In fact, Safia says it out loud once, “Your writing will starve us to death.”

Despite his torment and ambition, Manto could never become the ideal writer for the family to look up to.

There is a scene in the film where he starts hallucinating in the middle of a police raid. He is hearing a song by his friend Shyam Chaddha (Tahir Raj Bhasin) in complete isolation from what is happening around him, and trying to understand the lyrics. The reality of life jolts him back, but he is under obligation to amplify this reality’s power in his writings. This is how he intends to live and die.

It’s a film that will make you think, hurt you and will bring you back to your ideals. Nawazuddin Siddiqui has stripped himself of all the apprehensions and has dived into Manto’s world with unmatched energy, wit and personality. Far from Wasseypur, he has transformed into a writer who has lost everything in the No Man’s Land between India and Pakistan.

Be a part of his poignant, heart-breaking journey.

Rating: 4/5

Interact with Rohit Vats at Twitter/@nawabjha

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The House With a Clock in Its Walls Movie Review

The House With A Clock In Its Walls
Cast: Jack Black, Cate Blanchett
Director: Eli Roth

The House With a Clock in Its Walls is Eli Roth’s Halloween treat for the US audience. The film has just the right amount of spookiness and fun to grab the attention of the kids. However, how many young adult viewers will be impressed by it is seriously questionable. And, if you are a parent, who has no other option but to accompany the kid(s) to watch this film (you have my sincerest sympathies), be sure to take a blanket along and catch up on some sleep because this film is neither scary nor funny for adults. That doesn’t mean it is devoid of charm. But there are only a few good moments in this otherwise clunky fantasy-cum-horror film that heavily borrows creative tropes from other fantasy and horror movies. The House With a Clock in Its Walls — set in the 1950s — is the story of a young boy named Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro) who goes to live with his uncle, Jonathan (Jack Black), after the death of his parents. With his aviator goggles and a perfectly tied bow-tie, he is clearly a misfit in his school and is desperate to hold on to the only friend he has made. He desperately misses his mother, and therefore, tries to bond with his uncle to dispel his loneliness.

As Lewis continues to live with his uncle Jonathan, he learns many new secrets about him. Jonathan, Lewis learns, is a ‘good’ warlock and their elegant next-door-neighbour — who insists on wearing purple — Florence Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett) is a benevolent witch. Lewis too begins to learn magic and dreams of becoming a warlock someday.

The spooky house they live in has its secrets too. To begin with, it has a will of its own. The furniture and artifacts in the house also have distinctive characteristics and persona. They can all move and communicate, albeit in strange ways. Now, if only Beauty And The Beast were never made, this would have been such a novel idea indeed. Anyhow, the moving, writing and future-predicting photos on the walls, a winged-lion topiary, weird house pets are some of the original additions of the filmmaker, Eli Roth.

Read: Manto Movie Review
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The biggest secret that the house harbours is a giant clock that has been hidden somewhere in it by its previous owner, Isaac Izard (Kyle MacLachlan), a wicked warlock, who died doing a blood spell. Jonathan and Florence suspect that Isaac’s hidden clock can cause a great harm to the humankind, and therefore, they spend most of their days hunting for that clock in the eerie house. Lewis joins them too, graves crack open, there is a full-blown fight sequence with jack-o’-lanterns and army of dolls but in the end, good triumphs over evil as the wannabe boy warlock has the adventure of his life.

It is an unusual film for Eli Roth to direct, given his reputation for making R-rated, gory, sexually explicit films such as Cabin Fever and Hostel. But, he surprise us with sparks of ingenuity every now and then, although as a whole, the film is thoroughly predictable. He sanitizes The House With a Clock in Its Walls for a PG rating, with the sentimental uncle-nephew bonding of Lewis and Jonathan, and the loving-bickering relationship of Jonathan and Florence.

The House With a Clock in Its Walls has several funny bits too, which thanks to Jack Black (Jonathan) are easily engaging. However, the most appealing thing about this movie is that when compared to big budget, larger-than-life fantasies like the Harry Potter or The Lord of The Rings series, it feels cosy and intimate because it is much smaller in scope and design. The story, originally written for a YA audience by American novelist, John Bellairs, and adapted for screens by Eric Kripke, almost feels like the cutesy, spooky tale grandmothers tell their grandkids as opposed to the sprawling fantasies of Rowling or Tolkien. It’s a great film to watch at kids slumber parties, especially for Haloween but as a family entertainer, or for a YA audience too, it’s too childish.

While there is no harm in being a kids film, what makes The House With a Clock in Its Walls problematic is that it poses to be a children’s story with hidden philosophical messages that works for an older audience too — like Alice Through The Looking glass or Satyajit Ray’s Gupi Gayen Bagha Bayen series. However, the film is neither smart enough nor has the heart to be one of those movies. The life lessons it doles out sounds great as t-shirt captions for a hipster dude — #stayweird, #blackswams — but, fails to touch hearts of the audience.

However, timed perfectly at one hour and forty-five minutes, thankfully the movie doesn’t drag on. Cate Blanchette is impeccable as the kind, sophisticated Zimmerman and Jack Black is an adorable goofball as Jonathan. Owen Vaccaro too matches up to Blanchette and Black’s energy. The VFX team has also done a great job in creating a beautiful, slightly spooky but mostly magical world within the gothic house.

However, The House With a Clock in Its Walls is no classic in the making and can be quite bland for adults. But, it has a potential of being a real crowd pleaser if the crowd is made up of toddlers and pre-teens.

Rating: 2.5/5

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Batti Gul Meter Chalu Movie Review

Batti Gul Meter Chalu
Cast: Shahid Kapoor, Shraddha Kapoor, Divyenndu Sharma, Yami Gautam and Atul Srivastava
Director: Shree Narayan Singh

There are a few things that really stand out in Shree Narayan Singh’s Batti Gul Meter Chalu, and chief among them is its female protagonist Lalita Nautiyal (Shraddha Kapoor). This may get some riled-up responses, especially from those who would want to watch the film for Shahid Kapoor, but it’s her portrayal that speaks the most in the film. Lalita is someone who likes to live her life on her own terms. She is a hard-willed, energetic young woman who aspires to become a fashion designer. She thinks she is no less talented than Bollywood’s ace couturiers Manish Malhotra and Rohit Bal.

She finds happiness in small things. For instance, she prefers a cup of tea and home-made food over dining at a posh eatery. Lalita aka Nauti’s life revolves around her two friends Sundar Narayan Tripathi (Divyenndu Sharma) and Sushil Kumar Pant aka SK (Shahid Kapoor). Tripathi is a little introvert and is scared of taking risks in life because he doesn’t want to lose.

Read: Manto Movie Review
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Exact his opposite is Shahid’s SK, a lawyer, who has always believed that generosity won’t take you to places and earning money by using dirty tricks isn’t wrong. Little does he know that all this will come to bite him back one day when his friend Tripathi would commit suicide after being under-pressure to pay a hefty amount of Rs 54 lakh as his electricity bill.

Batti Gul Meter Chalu mirrors some harsh realities. Even after 70 years of Independence, power is not available or partially available. The idea of basing the film in Uttarakhand only adds to the authenticity of the issue.

Apart from a few sexist jibes, the film works quite well. Consider this: Advocate Gulnaar (Yami Gautam) wants to talk about facts and figures in the court and SK replies, “I have all the facts with me and when you are here how I can talk about figure?” You know what I mean!

The writers have focused well on the secondary characters. Atul Srivastava and Sudhir Pandey have been given good character arcs. Shahid brings just the right amount of flippancy to Batti Gul Meter Chaalu. Shraddha and Divyenndu shine as well. Wish we could see more of Farida Jalal and Supriya Pilgaonkar.

Halfway in the film, you may start mumbling ‘it’s an old wine in new bottle,’ but it has definitely got its own elements. Though you know how exactly it will end, there are enough good performances and entertainment to keep us hooked.

There is, however, a notable difference between how Kumaonis actually speak their dialect and the way the entire cast of Batti Gul Meter Chalu speak in the film. All Kumaoni that we could hear in the film is “Bal” and “Laata” (stupid). The only actor who gets the accent right is Brijendra Kala. But I’m ready to ignore this, thanks to the charming simplicity of the characters.

There are problems, of course. The film doesn’t shy away from getting over-dramatic, especially in the second half. However, it refrains from being preachy, a welcome move.

The court scenes, which were supposed to be the highlight of the film, take away the sheen of an otherwise watchable film.

Rating: 2.5/5

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The Predator Movie Review

The Predator
Cast: Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes
Director: Shane Black

Unlike its predecessors, the 1987 release Predator which was a laser-focused, sci-fi action extravaganza or the 2010 released entertaining and underrated Predators not exactly a classic, this Director and Co-writer Shane Black’s film, The Predator is a mediocre, gory sci-fi film, which has its moments of good and bad, but overall comes across as a muddled video game. The narrative begins with an alien spaceship crash landing in the jungle, right in the middle of a narcotic bust, headed by US military sniper, McKenna (Holbrook). McKenna survives the alien attack and while the predator seems to have disappeared, the sniper manages to lay his hands on some state-of-the-art alien technology which he promptly mails to his P.O. Box back home, as evidence, in case he is silenced.

The Predator itself is captured and transported to a secret laboratory by Traeger (Sterling K. Brown), a dubious government agent who ropes in Casey Brackett (Olivia Munn) a biologist to understand why the Predator landed on Earth.

Meanwhile, the dispatched consignment lands in the hands of McKenna’s son Rory (Jacob Tremblay), who unknowingly activates the device, which in turn, revives the captured Predator and attracts the attention of another super-sized alien who seems to be the Predator’s opponent.

On the other hand, after the military covers up the drug-bust operation and discredits McKenna, he is sent away to prison with other “loony” soldiers suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders.

En route to the jail, the group witness the Predator attack and soon realise that the Predator is going after McKenna’s son.

So how McKenna and his teammates including Brackett race to reach his son before either the Predators or Traeger can lay their hands on him, forms the crux of the tale.

Read: Yamla Pagla Deewana Phir Se Movie Review
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It is simply tough to get over the chaotic and gory nature of the film, especially when it extends to the action. There are scenes in the Predator that appear brilliant with gore, action beats, but those moments are juxtaposed with confusing, locales and turn-of events.

While the plot is exciting and challenging, the glaring plot holes along with the Predator’s vague and unclear motive are what probably leave the audience desirous of a meaningful fulfilment.

Overall, while the film is astutely mounted with right doses of brilliance from every department, the film fails to get you invested in its characters or its storyline.

Rating: 2/5

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Yamla Pagla Deewana Phir Se Movie Review

Yamla Pagla Deewana Phir Se
Dharmendra, Sunny Deol, Bobby Deol, Kriti Kharbanda
Director: Navaniat Singh

Yamla Pagla Deewana Phir Se is like one of those party jokes which you anticipate will entertain you, but instead leave a bad taste in your mouth when someone actually blurts it out. The Deols are back with one more attempt at slapstick comedy with the focus firmly fixed on ‘daaru’, ‘Punjabi’ and ‘dhai kilo ka haath’ jokes. The first film of the series in 2011 worked because there was an indigenous charm to it. The whole Canada-Punjab-Benares set up offered enough to the audience. The Deols cast their charm and, overall, it managed to make us laugh. There was a spontaneity to it. A lot has changed in seven years. The Deols have done a couple of more films together to dilute the interest of watching them perform together, and their mojo is also lost. Though Sunny and Bobby Deol gave us a glimpse of how crazy it could be with them together in 2017’s Poster Boys, this time they seem trapped more in the burden of making a silly yet comic film, than actually making it.

It had to be a place in Punjab, so Amritsar fetches the director Navaniat Singh’s attention. Puran Singh (Sunny Deol) is a local favourite, beloved for his knowledge of Ayurveda, while his brother Kaala (Bobby Deol) is hell bent on maligning the family’s reputation. Of course, this is meant in a funny way, at least this is what the director intended in the beginning.

They come to loggerheads with a big pharmaceutical giant Marfatia (Mohan Kapoor) who wants to buy a secret medicinal formula from Puran. After a couple of scuffles in which nearly a 100 people lose to Sunny Deol’s screaming, the case reaches the court where advocate Parmar (Dharmendra) pleads on behalf of the brothers.

There is some promise in the beginning. Dharmendra talks to invisible women, Sunny blasts pillars with his punches and Bobby grooves to the surprisingly melodious tune of Nazarbattu (sung by Sachet Tandon). In short, the ‘90s nostalgia is back, but it becomes troublesome when you keep soaking in reflected glory of the past for the next 40 minutes. Where is the new film, you wonder!

A predictable storyline is least of the problems with Yamla Pagla Deewana Phir Se. The actors are trapped in their own images while the viewers have probably moved on. The jokes start to fall flat and scenes get stretched for no apparent reason. The proceedings become so lackluster that by the time the climax arrives, you have had at least five re-runs of it in your head. You’ll also miss the freshness and impeccable performances of secondary characters; the way they added value to the proceedings in the first film was praise-worthy.

The second film also suffered due to an absurd central theme and an omnipresent monkey. You wouldn’t believe how out of place it was till you watch the second film of the franchise. Yamla Pagla Deewana Phir Se isn’t as bizarre as Yamla Pagla Deewana 2, but it’s nowhere close to the fun quotient of Yamla Pagla Deewana either.

You’ll need a couple of popcorn boxes to munch on, but more than that, you’ll need Himalayan patience to sit through this 147-minute of convoluted mess.

Rating: 1/5

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Dhadak Movie Review

Cast: Ishaan Khatter, Janhvi Kapoor, Ashutosh Rana, Kharaj Mukherjee, Shridhar Watsar, Ankit Bisht

Director: Shashank Khaitan

A young fellow, having worked his way through a shared snack with his female companion, drinks from a mug of water in a plastic drum at the roadside food vendor. She crinkles her nose when he offers her the mug for a sip, prompting him to buy her bottled water instead. It’s a seemingly innocuous moment from Nagraj Manjule’s Sairat, but oh, so telling – the couple, their backs against each other, both drinking water. Yes water, that great leveler; required by both the rich and the poor, by those belonging to every caste and class, and yet the very clue in this moment that points to the yawning divide between this pair. That scene – like many others – has been left out of Dhadak, the Hindi remake of Manjule’s excellent Marathi film from 2016 about the intensely gripping and ultimately tragic romance between a lower-caste boy and an upper-caste girl in rural Maharashtra. Caste is a thorny, complex issue with a history of deep-rooted prejudices, injustice, and far-reaching consequences. When honestly explored, we get extraordinary stories like Sairat, Masaan, and Manjule’s own previous film Fandry. But the caste angle, evidently too hot to handle in a mainstream Bollywood film, is largely swept under the rug in Dhadak.

The story, which is robbed of texture and nuance when relocated from Bittergaon village in central Maharashtra to a tourism-brochure version of Udaipur, is centered on the romance between Madhukar aka Madhu (Ishaan Khatter) and Parthavi (Janhvi Kapoor). She is the daughter of a rich, influential father who owns a hotel and has political ambitions. He is the son of middle-class parents who run a modest restaurant. Her family will have none of it. The young couple must flee.
Director Shashank Khaitan is faithful to the beats of the original film but makes some questionable decisions. The hero’s friends, so crucial to the plot in Sairat, are reduced to stock caricatures here, particularly a vertically challenged fellow exploited strictly for laughs. With the caste narrative reduced to a mere footnote, the villain too – Parthavi’s father (Ashutosh Rana) – is at best your standard disapproving parent, a role the actor already played in the director’s previous film Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania.

In the original film the action shifts to Hyderabad and the couple (Parshya and Archie) are put through the wringer as they go about building a life together. Madhu and Parthavi in Dhadak land up in Kolkata, but their struggle, relatively sanitized, can be best described as the Dharma Productions version of a hard life.

There’s also the matter of the film’s climax, a different one from the original. It’s chilling and devastating, not unlike Sairat. But again, given that the caste narrative is never integral to the story, it doesn’t feel suitably earned. Ultimately you could interpret it as the final move in a revenge plot.

But wait, it’s not as if Dhadak is entirely a waste of time. There’s something especially refreshing about watching young, raw newcomers discover their craft… witnessing the unpredictability of a performance, a new approach to a familiar emotion. Ishaan and Janhvi have a winning, charming chemistry, and they’re both extremely watchable even if they have contrasting styles.

Ishaan, who was especially impressive in his debut film Beyond The Clouds, once again radiates warmth and innocence, and reflects both the grappling and the growing maturity of a boy on the cusp of adulthood. Janhvi, meanwhile, has less to work with, because Parthavi is never as well-defined as Archie in Sairat. But Janhvi, who’s making her debut here, has a fragility that makes her instantly endearing, and a soulful quality that makes it hard to take your eyes off her on screen.

The director utilizes them well, giving them scope to perform drama, the odd bits of comedy, and really puts their dancing skills to test in the madly infectious Zingaat number, which composers Ajay-Atul and lyricist Amitabh Bhattacharya successfully refashion in Hindi.

Dhadak is ultimately a homogenous Karan Johar production that offers comfort in the familiar…for those seeking it. For the rest of us, it’s just baffling why the folks involved would choose to remake a film about the horrors of caste supremacy, but erase practically every mention of caste from the film.

I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five. The kids make it worth your time.

Rating: 2.5 / 5

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Sanju Movie Review

Sanjay Dutt – the son of superstars Nargis and Sunil Dutt – has often been referred to as the controversy’s favourite child. Take a look at his past and you’d notice that the actor – who has been a part of the Indian showbiz industry for over 40 years – has lived a life that has been spiced with multiple affairs, breakups, marriages, divorces, deadly drug phase, underworld connection, court appearances and incarcerations. His is a life that is perfect for a Bollywood movie script. And it’s interesting to see that filmmaker Rajkumar Hirani decided to direct the film Sanju on Bollywood’s most controversial yet adored star.

Hirani – who had resurrected Dutt’s career with Munnabhai – is also his close friends. Will he do justice to Sanjay Dutt biopic Sanju as it is a genre he hasn’t tried so far? Or will he end up glorifying the actor in what many think is a propaganda film? Divya Pal is watching the film to live tweet the experience and get you all answers.

Go for Ranbir’s honest portrayal and for a more humane insight about Sanjay Dutt’s turbulent life

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Hope Aur Hum Movie Review

Director: Sudip Bandhyopadhay
Cast: Naseeruddin Shah, Sonali Kulkarni, Naveen Kasturia, Aamir Bashir, Kabir Sajid
In ad filmmaker Sudip Bandhyopadhay’s Hope Aur Hum, three parallel narratives flow side by side. Seeped in nostalgia, the film has many moments- some striking, some memorable and some fleeting- in a story told through three generations of the Srivastava family.

At the centre of this story is an old man Nagesh Srivastava (Naseeruddin Shah), who is attached with his old school photocopy machine. He has named it Mr. Soennecken after Friedrich Soennecken, the famous German office products supplier. And at a time when everyone is technology obsessed, Nagesh finds solace and refers to the work of Mr. Soennecken as art. He is still stuck in the era when he first brought the machine home and all his neighbours had lined up outside to get just one glimpse of it. His son Neeraj (Aamir Bashir), who is under constant pressure to get that due promotion at work, understands his father’s attachment but to his wife Aditi (Sonali Kulkarni), the room where the machine is kept can be used to provide their kids a more comfortable living and separate rooms. She keeps practicality over both emotions and nostalgia.

The two grandkids – a teenage Tanu (Vidhi Vaghani) and a cricket lover and enthusiastic commentator Anu (Kabir Sajid)- are perhaps the only members of the family who understand what Mr. Soennecken means to their grandfather. They feel for him and feel with him. Nagesh’s younger son Nitin (Naveen Kasturia) arrives from Dubai for a surprise visit and brings home a play station for Anu, mobile for Tanu, watch for Aditi and the latest model of a photocopy machine. He loses his phone upon arrival but “destiny” has something else in store for him. Meanwhile, Anu visits his maternal grandmother’s home with his father.

Three important events- Nagesh’s dying Mr. Soennecken and arrival of a new model, Nitin’s phone getting lost and Anu’s visit to his maternal grandmother- change the course of the story and brings forth several facts of human emotions.

Nagesh comes from a time when even machines, gadgets and appliances, had a place of their own in people’s life. When his grandson retorts saying the machine is old and needs to retire now, Nagesh tells him, “ye machine bekaar nahi hai, yaadgaar hai.” Whether it was someone’s first car, first watch, first television or even the first photocopy machine – it meant more than just an electronic device. To them, letting it go means to let go a part of oneself. But, in his mind, Nagesh knows that whether it’s a human or a machine – it has to work because there’s always someone younger or advanced waiting to take its position. Shah is in his top form and delivers a wistful performance throughout. He speaks lines that have depth and delivers them with an impact that not many can boast of.

Nitin, from the second generation, has his life revolving around his phone which he loses upon his arrival in India. But who knew a lost phone can help find him love! His story relies more on chance encounters and destiny, but you wish to see more of it and more of Kasturia too. He is a talent to reckon with but doesn’t get enough screen time and enough shades to portray.

The third narrative, also the most prominent one, is that of the youngest generation – Anu. To let go of irrational fear and free oneself from the guilt of what would have happened or what could have happened is as tough for him as it is for his grandfather to let go off that old machine. Despite being a child actor, Sajid hooks you. His innocent yet enthusiastic commentary makes you smile and his fear and guilt make you worry.

While actors do their part well, the film in its entirety doesn’t seem well enough. The obvious connections between humans and machines is a strong base but that doesn’t come out the way it should have. The film tries to be a poem but the lines are not strong enough and the plot doesn’t convert to prose in totality. The metaphors relating to life and transition are in plenty but only some leave an impact. It also feels that the film is not worthy of the ending we are served with, but of something better.

Hope Aur Hum is a well-intentioned film. It has its heart in the right place and manages to seep you in its own nostalgia and think of things beyond the film. But there’s something that doesn’t quite make it through. The message of this family drama stays with you but the film, unfortunately, might not.

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Avengers: Infinity War Movie Review

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Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

I suppose any film with roughly 30 speaking parts, and intended as the grand culmination of story arcs explored across 18 movies over the last 10 years is bound to feel a bit overstuffed. Avengers: Infinity War, directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, clocks in at a butt-numbing 2 hours and 29 minutes. I won’t lie, it does feel long. But it’s also very enjoyable for the bulk of it. Remember how the end credits sequence in the first Iron Man movie, all the way back in 2008, hinted at the idea of an Avengers Initiative? Who’d have thought at the time that this is what it was leading up to! Because, as you probably know already, unless you’ve been living under a rock, Infinity War teams up practically everyone that’s ever appeared in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: the Founding Avengers – Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Hulk, Black Widow; the Guardians of the Galaxy – all of them; later entrants Scarlett Witch, Vision, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, Black Panther, and other characters from each of their respective worlds. Throw a stone and you’ll hit a superhero. You’re also likely aware that only one thing could bring all these good guys together – a bad guy, namely Thanos, who’s been a looming threat referenced in previous Marvel films, and who is finally centrestage this time around. Played by Josh Brolin in a terrific motion-capture performance that doesn’t miss a nuance, Thanos is a 12-feet-tall, purple-skinned mega villain with an oversized chin, who’s bent on acquiring all six of the Infinity Stones, and wiping out half of the galaxy’s population to save the other half – don’t ask! Every superhero in the MCU, summoned from their respective stomping grounds, must do what they can to stop him.

That’s as far as I can tell you in terms of plot. Much of the joy in Infinity War comes from watching the awkward interactions and the unlikely friendships developed within this massive ensemble of do-gooders, many of whom don’t know each other, or even of each other’s existence. At one point Bruce Banner asks, very puzzled, “There’s an Ant-Man and a Spider-Man?” The script mines humour from personality clashes, conflicts, mild irritations, and one-upmanship. Let’s just say the combustible pairing of two sarcastic ego-maniacs Tony Stark and Doctor Strange delivers plenty laughs. Banner is having a hard time unleashing his inner Hulk, Peter Parker won’t shut up with all the pop-culture references, and Thor is thrown in with the wisecracking Guardians, led by the irrepressible Peter Quill.

But because there are so many of them in the mix, it’s practically impossible for every significant character to get a huge amount of screen-time here. Inevitably some get more to do than others. I was especially bummed to see one of my favourites, Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, criminally underutilised. Even a promising fight scene between four badass female characters is prematurely and abruptly cut off. Frankly the only fella who gets a chunk of cinematic real estate is Thanos. In addition to destroying everything in his path in pursuit of those coveted Infinity Stones, his complicated relationship with adopted daughters Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) yields some surprisingly affecting moments.

It’s true also of other narrative strands. Infinity War has some well-earned and genuinely emotional moments involving characters you’ve had many years to be invested in. The action too never feels like a blur. Superhero films tend to climax in loud, messy CGI battles (both the previous Avengers films are guilty of this) that go on and on until the razor-sharp cutting makes your eyes glaze over and you can’t tell who’s doing what to whom. The action sequences in Infinity War – and there are plenty – never feel generic, perhaps because there are so many distinct superheroes and superpowers at play. The final stretch, in fact, is especially bold and somber, with the filmmakers raising the stakes in a way that these films seldom do.

There’s been a lot of chatter online about who lives and who dies at the end of this movie. Don’t expect any clues or any answers from me, but I will tell you that it’s hard to take everything that you see seriously, given that you know there’s a second movie out next year that’s meant to wrap up this arc. Still, you have to hand it to the Russos for the extent they’re willing to go to in order to deliver shock, suspense, and a mostly thrilling experience.

I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for Avengers: Infinity War. It is overstuffed and overlong, but there’s so much going on you’ll barely notice. Best enjoyed with a big tub of popcorn.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

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Noor Movie Review: The Film Is Well Intended but Too Frivolous

Despite being part of several blockbusters in the past, Sonakshi Sinha has only been able to showcase her talent in select few films. The audience most often has seen her playing the arm-candy of the hero which gave her little scope to prove her worth.

The actress is all set to change her image with Sunhil Sippy’s Noor. Based on Pakistani journalist Saba Imtiaz’s book Karachi! You’re Killing Me, the film narrates the tale of a Mumbai based journalist Noor Roy Choudhary and her misadventures as a scribe. Her career is not going great, she aspires to do serious journalism and her love life is non existent. One fine day Noor stumbles upon a case that could change her life and career for the better.

The film also features Purab Kohli, Shibani Dhandekar and stand-up comic Kanan Gill. The book on which the film is based, was a bestseller. It would be interesting to see if the makers are able to recreate the same magic on the big screen as well. Will Sonakshi be able to carry the film on her shoulders? Will she be able to prove her talent? Shomini Sen of was inside the theatre to find out.

9:42 AM: We are all set to watch #Noor and her misadventures. Stay tuned for the tweet review

9:45 AM: Featuring @sonakshisinha in the lead, #Noor narrates the story of a Mumbai based journalist.

10:15 AM: Have not seen a news room this calm and peaceful. Which office is this? #Noor

10:41 AM: The film’s narrative is a tad slow. Takes time to establish the main plot. #Noor

10:51 AM: Moments between Noor and her Editor, her wanting to break a story- would be relatable to all journalists. #Noor

10:58 AM: #Noor begins on a breezy note and then suddenly turns grim. First half of the film is engaging despite its slow pace.

11:20 AM: #Noor huffs in exasperation more than doing the actual work of an investigative journalist.

11:32 AM: From Noor’s story it becomes a story of Mumbai. The transition is a bit sketchy. #Noor

11:44 AM: ‘Kuch to Trolls kahenge, Trolls ka kaam hi hai kehna’ 😉 #Noor

11:54 AM: Problem with #Noor is that it’s superfluous. It takes up a serious issue but only talks about it on the surface.

11:56 AM: It never goes deep into any of subplots. Or shows the greater impact of Noor’s research and work. #Noor

11:59 AM: Sonakshi Sinha as #Noor is endearing. Her on-screen camaraderie with Shibani Dhandekar and Kanan Gill looks genuine and fun

12:00 PM: Wish there was more of Purab Kohli and Kanan Gill in the film, though. #Noor

12:01 PM: #Noor begins as breezy, fun story and eventually becomes a story of self discovery. It tries to tell too many thiNgs at the same time

12:03 PM: Also, really where do you have such calm, serene news room? Which office is this? #askingforafriend #Noor

12:04 PM: Thanks for being with us throughout the tweet review of #Noor. More movie updates to follow soon

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Nanu Ki Jaanu Movie Review: Abhay Deol-Patralekha Starrer Is A Major Eye-Roll Fest

Cast: Abhay Deol, Patralekha Paul, Manu Roshi Chaddha
Director: Faraz Haider There are films that make you laugh at their silliness and then are some which make you cringe at the half-hearted efforts put in by a team with potential. Unfortunately, Nanu Ki Jaanu qualifies in both these categories. Touted as a horror-comedy, the film does make you laugh, but only at your decision to spend time and money on this farce posing as a film.

Given that it features talents like Abhay Deol and Patralekha Paul, you feel bad for the actors for signing a film like this and hope that at least the money offered to them was justified as the film has all the elements to sink their respective careers.

The story is of Nanu, leader of a gang of goons, who takes possession of apartments in Noida under the pretext of renting them. On the way to one such assignment, Nanu sees a woman lying at the edge of the road, bleeding to death. Despite his best efforts, Nanu is unable to save Siddhi (Patralekha). Leaving her body with her grieving father (Rajesh Sharma), Nanu returns to work, suddenly a changed man. Soon after, strange things start happening in his house and a ghost is detected. Who is this ghost and what are its intentions for Nanu is the story of the film (if that’s what you call it).

The execution of the film is so shabby that there comes a point when you start to wonder if the team realised what they’ve signed up for and lost interest mid-way. There are glaring loopholes in the narrative which are more uneven than the roads in Noida. The director (Faraz Haider) did try to make the most of Abhay not by taping on his skills but by presenting him in nearly every frame. Patralekha has a bare minimum role in the film, and we feel happy for her as the lesser the association with a film like this, the better. The only person who somewhat tries to save this sinking ship is Manu Rishi Chaddha. The writer of Oye Lucky… plays Nanu’s partner in the film and his role does offer the counted five laughs in this ‘horror-comedy’.

Interestingly, Nanu Ki Jaanu is a remake of critically acclaimed Tamil film Pisaasu and we wonder if the makers of the original will lose trust in their own story after watching the film.

The film’s death comes with its climax where the makers shove a forceful traffic rule message in what appears to be a sad, remorseful scene. However, it ends up being a major eye-roll fest, if only your eyeballs haven’t rolled enough before that point.

Overall the film is uneven, half-baked disappointment, which completely wrecks the talent of Abhay, Patralekha and even Chadha. They all deserve better than this. We all deserve better than this.

Rating: 1.5/5

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Blackmail Movie Review

Director: Abhinay Deo
Cast: Irrfan Khan, Kirti Kulhari, Arunoday Singh, Divya Dutta, Pradhuman Singh, Anuja Sathe, Gajraj Rao

Abhinay Deo’s Delhi Belly had an unusually intriguing flavor, but Blackmail is no Delhi Belly, it’s at best a half-cooked meal over-crowded with too many unnecessary ingredients. Reports suggest that Deo’s dark tragicomedy was initially titled Raita and going by how the film turns out, the makers should have stuck to that name.

Irrfan plays Dev, a Sales employee working in a toilet paper company My Handy, who sticks around in the office after wee hours. He steals photographs of his colleagues’ wives from their desk and secretly rushes to the bathroom to pleasure himself. Right in the beginning, we see him texting his wife “Leaving now” following a trail of same texts only with a changing date on his phone. It’s an indication of where their dry and possibly dusty marriage is heading. On the insistence of his colleague Anand (Pradhuman Singh), he decides to surprise his wife Reena (Kirit Kulhari) with a bouquet of flowers. Just that he couldn’t find them anywhere but at a crematorium. He returns home only to find her seeking solace in the arms of another man Ranjit Arora (Arunoday Singh).

Perplexed at the situation, he plays several threatening, bloodied scenarios in his mind but being the man that he is, he decides to formulate a plan of revenge. Soon enough we find Ranjit to be a married man living off of his wife Dolly’s (Divya Dutta) money. Or rather, her ill-mouthed father’s money.

Untitled design (57)

Dev begins to blackmail the boyfriend- one act turns into a trail, and one blackmailer gives birth to many more. His company is being headed by a foreign returned toilet paper-obsessed man Boss DK (Omi Vaidya) who rages war only against two things- jet sprayers and a man who continuously steals his wife’s photographs from his cabin. In his office is another sexist man Anand (Pradhuman Singh), who has a knack for making “non-veg” jokes and predicting a girl’s virginity only by taking one look at her. Joining them is Prabha (Anuja Sathe), a beautiful soft-spoken girl, who knows how to twist situations to her advantage. But as they say, too many cooks spoil the broth.

Irrfan, however, makes you bear the twisty-turny narrative with his mighty performance. He underplays and improvises as per his character demands and pulls off a devil-masked as an innocent impressively. While Kirti doesn’t have much to do in the film, Arunoday and Divya Dutta, bring the required over-the-top energy to their meatier roles. The likes of Pradhuman Singh, Anuja Sathe, Gajraj Rao also do justice to their parts.

The film has an overdose of revenge and greed sagas along with “dark” characters. And while one might credit the makers for shining a spotlight on every human’s inner villain and all things black, it all seems in vain as the film feels overindulgent at the running time of 139 minutes. The dark edges are finely crafted and the conversational humor emerges sporadically but a lot of it falls short in weaving an interesting film as a whole.

Some scenes, however, make you laugh at others’ despair and that’s when the mark of Deo becomes apparent and writer Parveez Shaikh’s work comes alive. The plot fails to unfold in a coherent fashion and leaves scope for a lot of distraction and watch-gazing moments and the second half feels stretched. Given the course the film takes, a little less running time would have come as a sigh of relief.

One of the film’s major strengths is its cinematography. Jay Oza’s visionary work in the film is commendable and adds layers to certain scenes- whether the hole-peeping scenes or a terrace corner scene. The performances, especially that of Irrfan, make the film bearable. A few dark scenes which have an underlying indication of a human’s greed and the functioning of a human mind also fare well. Urmila Matondkar’s “item-number” Bewafa Beauty is unnecessary and doesn’t add any lavage to the film.

At one point in the film, Anand asks Dev “Plan kya hai?”, to which Dev responds, “Abhi ban raha” and sums up the film for us.

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October Movie Review: Varun Dhawan Proves His Worth In Shoojit Sircar’s Poetic Lovestory

Cast: Varun Dhawan, Banita Sandhu
Director: Shoojit Sircar 2017 was characterized as the breakthrough year in Hindi cinema when experimental and low-budget films with content made it big and instead of a Khan or Kapoor, Rajkummar Rao became the actor of the year. However, one youngster who kept the hopes of masala potboilers alive was Varun Dhawan. Touted as the most commercially successful actor of the younger lot, the actor is known for his boyish charms and an acting style inspired by the likes of Salman Khan and Govinda. So when Shoojit Sircar decided to cast him in his ‘not so glamourous’ October, eyebrows were raised, but Varun’s portrayal of a naïve and innocent Dan puts all doubts to rest.

Sircar’s latest offering is heartwarming, soothing to the eyes and as poetic as it could get while remaining close to real life. The story is that of a Hotel Management student Dan who isn’t very fond of the roles given to him in a 5-star hotel, where he’s working as a trainee. Then, there’s his course mate Shiuli, who Dan doesn’t like much because she shines at every task that he fails. How a fateful accident brings them closer and changes him as a person, is the story of October.

Once again it’s the story and the flow of the narrative that wins your heart. There are long pauses and silences with shots of corridors, or ground, with no activity, and in this stillness, you find the rhythm of the story. The film relies heavily on this silent rhythm, giving you enough time to think and contemplate the pain, suffering and understanding of each and every character present on-screen. Sircar once again proves his mastery in making the simplest of incidents and situations seem remarkable and his eye for details, be it a setup or a counter-reaction, is commendable.

In an interview, he had said that he never thought of Varun during the development of the character of Dan and after watching the film you would know what made him make this unusual choice. The innocence and boyish charm of Varun have been put to good use in the film. October is clearly Varun’s biggest risk so far, and he justifies his move beautifully. The way he gets attached to Shiuli and evolves throughout the film is satisfying to look at. You as an audience feel proud of all his decisions. Varun’s conviction makes you feel for Dan, even though he isn’t ‘that perfect character’.

The film isn’t perfect. It has its flaws but so does life. Another thing that catches your breath in the movie is the cinematography. The way Aveek Mukhopadhyay makes you experience Delhi, Manali and even the basement of a hotel is brilliant.

Calling October a simple slice of life drama wouldn’t do it justice. It’s a poem with its own pace, rhythm and a beautiful story of human bonding that’ll make you believe in selfless romance. Varun sets the bar high for himself as he proves his worth as an actor and not just a mass entertainer. Bandita Sandhu as Shiuli fits the role and the entire supporting cast just keeps the story fresh and intact.

October is one story that will remain in your heart even after you leave the theater. Oh, and if you are wondering why the film has the name of a month as a title, Juhi Chaturvedi and Shoojit Sircar provide a beautiful answer to that too.

A poetic journey that’ll warm your heart and might even want you to fall in love with the name Shiuli.

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Baaghi 2 Movie Review

Cast: Tiger Shroff, Disha Patani, Manoj Bajpayee, Randeep Hooda, Deepak Dobriyal, Prateik Babbar, Darshan Kumar, Vipin Sharma

Director: Ahmed Khan

A distraught young woman reaches out to her ex-boyfriend for help in tracing her kidnapped daughter, but her husband, and everyone that knows them, insists the couple had no child at all. So is she imagining things, or is there more to it? That intriguing premise, of Baaghi 2, is buried under an avalanche of mediocrity – needless romantic backstory, too many songs, corny humor, an entirely pointless item number, cringey performances, frequent lapses of logic, and a disappointing reveal. Even Tiger Shroff’s built-like-a-tank physique can’t rescue this movie from its own gargantuan stupidity. Tiger stars as Ranveer Pratap Singh aka Ronnie, committed army officer and lean, mean, killing machine, who’s been weeding out the bad elements in Kashmir when he gets a call from Neha (Disha Patani), urging him to come to Goa immediately. In attempting to uncover the mystery of her daughter’s existence and possible disappearance, Ronnie finds himself in contact with all manner of colorful Goa characters including a used-car dealer with a ‘side’ business (Deepak Dobriyal), a hippy, chillum-smoking cop who loves taking selfies (Randeep Hooda), a sympathetic DIG (Manoj Bajpai), and of course Neha’s husband (Darshan Kumar), and her drug-addict brother-in-law (Prateik Babbar).

It’s hard to feel anything other than sheer frustration watching Baaghi 2, given how the filmmakers have squandered the potential of the central idea. This remake of the 2016 Telugu hit Kshanam is weighed down by a flawed script, and frankly by ‘mis-direction’ on the part of director Ahmed Khan. What could easily have been a tight suspense story is stretched into an overlong, one-size-fits-all 90s potboiler with equal helpings of romance, comedy, action, and melodrama. Turns out, it’s a recipe for a mess. And don’t even get me started on Jacqueline Fernandez’s ‘updated version’ of Ek do teen! It’s one of those zero-impact things that made me want to crawl under my seat out of embarrassment for her.

But of course much of the film rests on the shoulders of its able-bodied leading man, and Tiger Shroff doesn’t disappoint… not in the action portions, he doesn’t. We get scenes in which he pummels bad guys to a pulp, dangles from a rope while spraying bullets, and at one point, leaps off a cliff into a helicopter hovering mid-air. There’s a real thrill to some of these moments, but the action scenes seem to go on and on until you’re all worn out. His acting, however, is still raw, especially in the emotional and dramatic bits, although he brings an earnestness that is mildly endearing.

Of the remaining cast, Disha Patani is easy on the eyes but little else, and the generally charming Prateik Babbar is in full ham-and-cheese mode. Even Manoj Bajpai is largely wasted. Only Randeep Hooda has fun with his role as the Jack Sparrow-resembling policeman that goes by the moniker LSD.

But any and all promise is ultimately short-lived, as the script comes undone in the end with a twist that is underdeveloped and underwhelming to say the least. It’s so lazy, in fact, that it’s not even true to the film’s own logic.

I’m going with two out of five for Baaghi 2. It’s got its moments, but that’s all there is.

Rating: 2 / 5

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Hichki Movie Review

Director: Sidharth P Malhotra
Cast: Rani Mukerji, Sachin Pilgaonkar, Supriya Pilgaonkar
Sidharth P Malhotra’s Hichki is a film wherein the emotional quotient overrides the inspirational one. Rani makes a “comeback” after a mothering hiatus of four years with a tale that’s heart-warming and dramatic. She plays, Naina Mathur who suffers from Tourette’s Syndrome, a neuropsychiatric condition, characterized by motor tics and at least one verbal tic. That’s not to say
she’s hampered or stifled but is instead as bold, brave and buoyant as anyone could be. Hichki recounts the tale of Naina, an aspiring teacher who had faced rejections both in her childhood and in her young professional days because of her Tourette’ss. Early on in the film, an interviewer even suggests her to think of another professional calling as they “had never seen a teacher with a speech defect.” But unfazed by it all, she continues to strive for a teaching job and soon enough, lands one at the same school in which she had studied as a student. The principal hands her section 9F, a class only created to meet the conditions of the compulsory Right To Education, comprising a total of 14 underprovided children. Naina now has to deliver her best and prove the trustees and teachers doubting her that TS doesn’t reduce her potential nor it subtract from
her intellect. Among the ones doubting her is Mr Wadia, a snooty arrogant teacher, ably played by Neeraj Kabi. His only idea, or aim perhaps, is to never let the 14 of 9F class students mix-up with the other sections and serve constant reminders of them being “municipality garbage.”


The students rap, smoke and dance during classes and are well enough to have 7 teachers thrown out of the school. Initially, they are upright bullies who have no regards for their teachers come what may. They plan pranks and do everything in their power to make her leave. Naina’s problems lie not only in proving her worth to the authorities but in also being accepted by these students, who have so far been kept at bay from the other upscale students of the school.

She instantly connects to the students as she herself has faced a host of prejudices all her life but while her syndrome is psychiatric, her students’ Tourette is socio-economical and more so, psychological. She now bears the responsibility to carve an accountable group of students from the notoriety she’s been handed over and to channelize their energies in the right direction. Naina steers clear implying her unconventional teaching methods and a positive approach as life keeps on throwing one hurdle after another.

Rani Mukerji as Naina is a ray of hope in a world that is often too dim. She plays her differently-abled character sensitively and makes it clear in the beginning that she isn’t looking for sympathy but only seeking equal opportunities. That Rani is a fine actor we know, and while the film rests heavily on her shoulders and she delivers her best, Hichki somehow fails to weave magic to its full potential. If the first few minutes of the film deals with setting the light-hearted subject of TS, the next few slip away as the narrative becomes overtly dramatic in the face of Naina standing up for her students and taking on the school’s ideology.

The student-teacher bonding instances, however, make for some of the most heart-warming moments in the film. Notably, the transformation of Naina’s rebel student Aatish, played skillfully by Harsh Mayar, just by her kindness and actions. Other student characters too appear to be full of meat but bear the brunt of not enough characterization in the film just like Naina’s family moments – which too demand attention, but don’t get enough screen time.

Apart from Rani’s soul-lifting performance, the film is impressive on two accounts- one that it urges viewers to look past Naina’s defects and turns to portray her as a normal woman who has other school-related issues to get through, and second, it deals with the subjects in its hands sensitively.

Despite the above mentioned noteworthy things, Hichki remains an incomplete attempt at narrating a tale. The film has been adapted from the Hollywood classic Front Of The Class, which itself was based on the book Front Of The Class: How Tourette Made Me The Teacher I Never Had by Brad Cohen. But like the Bollywood’s regular dramatic genre, this one too loses out to being overtly emotional towards the end. And more so, it continues to feel less detailed and unimportant questions like why are there only two teachers, why do we only see 9th standard throughout- begin to pop up.

So while Rani strikes the right chord and gets the intricacies of her hiccups right, the film doesn’t elevate much from its hiccups and remains only partly engaging.

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Tomb Raider Movie Review

Director: Roar Uthaug
Cast: Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Walton Goggins There’s a scene in the new Tomb Raider film starring Alicia Vikander as Lara Croft, in which she pins down an attacker, locks him in a stranglehold, and chokes him till his body goes limp in death. Presumably, it’s the first time she’s killed anyone, and it’s her emotional state immediately after overcoming her enemy – disturbed, confused, possibly even regretful – that makes it clear why Vikander’s portrayal of the character feels so different from Angelina Jolie’s more than 15 years ago.

Jolie, who twice slipped into the iconic tank top, first in 2001’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and then in Cradle of Life two years later, is regarded as the perfect live-action personification of the beloved video game character. An ass-kicking superwoman who knows her way around a pair of guns, and who can be as tough as any of the guys, often without breaking a sweat. Vikander’s version of Croft gets wounded, feels pain, and puts some effort into making those incredible leaps. In other words, she’s human and vulnerable.

It’s an approach that serves the film well, raising the stakes just a wee bit when the shit hits the fan after Croft sets off to find her father, who went missing seven years ago after leaving her to find an ancient mythical tomb on a faraway island off the coast of Japan.

Fans of the video game might have a little more patience with the doozy of a plot that involves solving complicated Japanese puzzles or cracking riddles to get past obstacles in the way of the protagonist’s mission. Having traveled from London to Hong Kong, where she hires a boat owned by a drunken sailor (Daniel Wu) to take her to the island of Yamatai, she learns that the Crofts aren’t the only ones searching for the tomb. That’s the cue for a string of action set pieces.

But who are we fooling? That’s exactly what we’re here for, and Norwegian-born director Roar Urthaug stages brutal, realistic sequences that Vikander pulls off nicely, striking just the right balance between wide-eyed first-time adventurer and slick, confidence-oozing wonder woman. This movie marks the making of Lara Croft as we know her, and Vikander makes her coming of age entirely convincing.

The cast is rounded off by solid actors like Dominic West in the role of Richard Croft, our heroine’s father; and Kristin Scott-Thomas as the caretaker of his businesses, who will likely have a larger role in this film’s sequel if there is one.

The key to becoming invested in the film – despite its overall familiarity and lack of any genuine surprise or originality – is Vikander’s natural performance, and her commitment to the physical requirements of the role. She’s the reason Tomb Raider isn’t a complete waste of time. I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five.

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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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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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Kalavaadiya Pozhuthugal Movie Review

Director: Thangar Bachan

Cast: Prabhudeva, Prakash Raj, Bhumika Chawla, Inbanila

Rating: 3/5

Once the late Ismail Merchant, instrumental in creating some of the finest period films, told me that a movie must tell a good story and say it well to create a buzz. And Thangar Bachan’s (who shot to fame in 2002 with his Nandita Das starrer, Azhagi) latest outing, Kalavaadiya Pozhuthugal (Stolen Moments) endears because of its fascinating story. Unfortunately having been in the cans for about 10 years or reportedly so, the film may seem somewhat dated. But then this is only a minor hiccup in a narrative styled with subtlety and a sense of purpose.

Admittedly, Bachan’s plot about unrequited love and triangular attraction may not be very novel, but the way in which the director handles these time-worn themes is impressive. Barring a couple of scenes – where Prabhudeva’s Porchezhiyan gets into a dance number (the actor is a fabulous dancer) and takes the stage for an awfully preachy sermon – he acts with wonderful dignity, not letting his emotions sink into a weepy affair.

A student of masters degree and ditched by a rich girl, Jayanthi (Bhumika Chawla), Porchezhiyan vanishes from her life for many years before a chance meeting with her opens up old wounds and painful memories of a romance all gone wrong. Set to marry Jayanthi, Porchezhiyan is slapped with a false criminal case and jailed for a decade – the period when her father coerces her into marrying a rich, but kind businessman, Soundararajan (Prakash Raj). When his car crashes on a highway, Porcheziyan, working as a driver, rescues him, takes him to the hospital and pays the admission fee out of his day’s earning. However, when he reaches the hospital a couple of days later and sees Jayanthi there, he slips out. But Soundararajan will not rest till he meets the guy who saved his life, and with the help of the phone number that Porchezhiyan had left at the hospital, traces him. What follows is a series of heartaches that both he, by then married with a daughter, and Jayanthi must endure.

This may not be a great storyline, but Bachan has this enormous capacity to handle man-woman relationship with utmost sensitivity, and he does get good performances out of his actors. If the helmer has been able to keep Prabhudeva’s tap-dancing itch under control, Bachan also draws riveting piece of acting from Chawla. What moved me most was Prakash Raj. So used to seeing him as a screen villain – sometimes clownishly so – Prakash Raj delivers excellent stuff as a man who dotes on his wife, but also conveys that he has the maturity to handle Jayanthi’s once-upon-a-time love affair.

Somehow, I feel that it is movies like Kalavaadiya Pozhuthugal that will remain etched in memory long after the lights have come on and the curtains have fallen.

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

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