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Chef Movie Review: Saif’s Careers Best In Heartwarming Culinary Drama!

Subhash K . Jha

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Chef ,Chef movie, Bollywood, Bollywood news, Saif Ali Khan

Chef Movie Review: There is a lot of teasing between the father and son ,played with endearing casualness by Saif Ali Khan and Svar Kamble.Aptly , Chef teases our appetite for cinema. It’s a culinary delight—warm tender, inviting and appetizing– served  up in a dainty dish with a dash of debonair but played-down posturing, like  a masterchef who is shy to show off his skills but can’t help it. He’s so adept at what he  does.

Movie: Chef

 Starring: Saif Ali Khan, Padmapriya Janakiraman, Svar Kamble

Directed by: Raja Krishna Menon

Rating: **** ½(four and a half stars)

Chef conveys the kind of sagacious  skill born not out of arrogance but wisdom sometimes misplaced.Like the protagonist Roshan Kalra’s traditionalist father who believes the kitchen is for women.

Speaking  of which—arrogance more than wisdom—Saif Ali Khan’s Roshan Kalra(from Chandni Chowk Delhi married to and divorced  from the lovely Malayali danseuse Radha Menon)  is  portrayed as an  epitome of  prideful arrogance waiting to fall.

The fall comes sooner than we expect. Director Menon wastes no time in taking on his protagonist’s burnished ego and cutting it down to size, piece  by  piece.

Come to think  of it,Roshan’s downsizing needs no push. Saif Ali Khan’s inbuilt nawabi pride and  an urbane  humour that often hurts others in ways that are more permanent than permissible,seize the character to make it so imminentlyrelatable ,I felt someone had stolen parts of my life.Saif’s Roshan says things to earn points as a clever conversationalist. Much like the prestigious Michelin star rating for food which determines quality to the point of rendering the pleasure of food  into an exercize  in technical grading .

And here’s where director Menon and his co-writers Ritesh Shah and Suresh Nair score resoundingly over the original Jon Favreau film. Food, as a cultural binder, is a far more vital metaphor  in  India  than in America. Instinctively,Menon  understands the deep and indelible  connection between food and family in our culture.

Much in the same way that music binds human relationships, food is great unifier .

The narrative teases the cooking and food into the human relationships without making culinary conceits a fetish in  the plot. Food is vital  but not in-your-face in Menon’s Chef. This  director understands the difference between appetites and feelings. He tightens the screw on his protagonist’s arrogance whenever Roshan Kalra’s failings become the food for his feelings.

This guy,played so intelligently and  persuasively  by Saif, doesn’t know  where to stop. Sometimes the banter between Saif’s Roshan and those close to him, turns ugly.  But that’s life. The relationships that govern  our existence are not always based on sweetness and positivity. The dark side is always there, lurking in the corners of life…lurking lightly and gently at  the backdrop of Raja Krishna Menon’s fourth feature film(he actually came into his own with his third,Airlift).

It is to Menon’s credit that he keeps the proceeds  airy and  light on the top  but allows us a peep into the darkness beneath just when we begin to savour the blitheness. The father-son relationship is paramount to the  plot. It works with blessed vigour . Saif and the boy Svar Kamble  look and feel for their parts.They are born to play a family.

Menon is not impatient to tell Roshan Kalra’s story. The narrative’s pace in unhurried  but never dull. There is a lingering grace to the mise en scene. And I refer  not  just to the father-son scenes. Saif’s longish sequence with his girlfriend(Sobhita Dhulipala) in New York after she takes over his chef’s job in  a restaurant where he altercates with a client, is written with so  many subtextual interjections and prickly hurt-points polished down to injury-proofness, it’s like walking a terrain mined with explosives .

I only wish the music and songs were better. If food is seen  as  the strongest cultural metaphor  in  Chef, music which has been described by a wise man as the food of love , gets a raw deal here. Also  the climactic denouement(airport run, traffic snarl, breathless reunion) could have been avoided in a film that pretty much dodges all the signposts of smart-mart filmmaking to  forge its own languorous grocery-store  language of estrangement and reconciliation.

A major of  the film’s lingering charm emanates  from the casting.Menon has cast so authentically it almost feels as  though the actors were destined to play these parts.Whether it’s Saif’s Punjabi chef or his screen wife,  the very elegant Padmapriya’s  as his Malayali  wife, or Chandan Roy Sanyal as Saif’s faithful Bangladeshi pal, or Dinesh Prabhakar as the sodden cantankerous but ultimately  goodhearted driver chosen to man Roshan’s mobile bus-restaurant…they all exude the  scent of supremely believability without making a song-and-dance  of  it(wish they could ,though,  if only the music didn’t let them down).

And yes , cinematographer Priya Seth gives us  one more reason to  celebrate  life. Kerala  has never looked  more inviting. After watching Kerala play the lead in Chef(with due respect to Saif) I’ve decided to head there.Preferably  with my child.

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How To Train Your Dragon Is Best Avoided

Subhash K . Jha

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How To  Train  Your Dragon: The  Hidden World(animation)

Directed  by Dean  DeBlois

Rating: * ½ (one and a half stars)

Do yourself a favour this festive weekend.Use  your time for  more  constructive endeavours.  May be  that molar surgery which  you’ve been avoiding?  Or a  visit to  a really boring uncle which puts you to sleep even before you  reach his home.

How To Train  Your Dragon : The Hidden World  pans out the  story from the earlier    two  films, both of which were pretty ho-hum in conception and  treatment. But at  least they qualified as faintly fascinating  fluff.

 This one  is  not even halfway  there.It is  an embarrassingly low-calibre  eco-friendly  flick with  splashy  artwork and  silly animation pitching in for true inspiration. The third film in the series  is so blatantly an attempt  to  stretch a successful idea that it seems  an embarrassment for  all concerned.

  Our young hero  Hiccup(vibrantly voiced by Jay Baruchel) is still enamoured of  dragons and he still protects and preserves them the way normal people would care  for their family.

I really don’t follow this unhealthy passion  for  dragons  . Unless canines and cats have become passe over the years. The  fire-spewing dragons are designed  in shades  of  blotchy fantasia. Big bulky unwieldy creatures oscillating  merrily between fun and  fearsome, mostly  the former. I mean, who gets  scared  of computer-generated animation?

There is a  villain ,Grimmel the Grisly voiced with eclectic menace by F Murray Abrahams. He wants to  capture  all the dragons for his own selfish concerns.He’s welcome  to them.

But hang on. There are  more good souls in this  film  than  bad. The villains get easily outnumbered and outwitted. There  is romance too. Between two dragons a   black and white one. Think  there is a message  of racial  harmony in  that fiery liaison. But two  dragons  flying to  the  tune  of  dreamy  piped music is  not  my cup of tea.Or my pot of shuddh glee.

The  good news is that this is the  last part  of a trilogy.We bid a happy  farewell to this self-important  balderdash.

This strenuously designed animation film makes you wonder whom  it  is aimed at. Kids don’t watch such sassy mush. Grownups? Hell,  they’d rather see Captain Marvel. As for us, there are other far more  relevant dragons to slay this weekend.  let’s take  a vow to  watchKesari .

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Kesari Movie Review: It Is The Best War Film India Has Produced

Subhash K . Jha

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Kesari

Starring: Akshay Kumar

Directed by Anurag Singh

Rating: *****(5 stars)

21 soldiers holding  off thousands of invaders…sSunds very  filmy, no? But here is the thing.Life’s lessons learnt  from history  prove that  truth can  indeed  be stranger than fiction. And why just stranger? Truth is far  more stimulating and  enriching too . Kesari  proves it. Digging out a little  known uncelebrated  chunk of unbelievable bravery  , it makes us proud not just as Indians but also as  a country that produces  cinema  of  the highest calibre.

So  take  bow  , Anurag Singh for directing a  film which will be remembered  by many generations of  Indian  moviegoers as a turning point in  the  war genre  of cinema.

 Unlike  the imposters  that stalk the silver screen with their phoney nationalism and  exasperating jingoism Kesari puts its  money where  its mouth is. The  actors playing  the 21  incredibly  courageous  Sardarjis who  took on the  Afghani invasion,  speak  of  the pride for their country with no effort to  create an  impression. These  soldiers  mean business. When pitched against  the  worst odds, they know they are destined to die.And yet they fight to their last breath. Why? Becase  there  is a country  to be protected

Kesari doesn’t valorize  death. But it certainly throws  the idea of  patriotic pride at us  at  a pitch we’ve never seen  or heard before. And I don’t just mean Raju Singh’s  background music which unnecessarily compounds  the  intrinsically dramatic  action scenes. That’s not the only  irrelevant  augmentation that this  flawlessly-written film suffers, Parineeti Chopra as  Havildar Ishar Singh’s phantom-wife serves  no purpose except to add a touch ofmuliebrity to this  pointedly masculine   film.

Kesari is  an astonishing achievement. Like Sanjay Leela  Bhansali’s  Padmaavat the second-half  of the nervewracking drama  is devoted entirely to the battle between the 21 Sikh soldiers against  thousands  of  Islamic  invaders who are  shot  like crawling insects in aerial shots that turn the turgidity of  war into a sharply  aesthetic  celebration of  war sentiments.

This is  not a film for the pacifists.  Kesari tells us, when  you got to fight  you’ve got to  give it your best shot even when  you know the  outcome.  No amount of praise  is  sufficient for the cast. Every one of  the actors playing the  21 Sikh soldiers  seems  to own his part in the way the  girls in Shah Rukh Khan’s hockey team owned  their parts in Chak De.

As  for Akshay Kumar, is  there any doubt that he is today’s finest star-actor  in   Hindi cinema? The restrained passion (evident in his  transformed  body language  and  his propensity to  state  the  truth without demur)  that he brings to  Ishar Singh’s part is sure to  get him the National award this year.I am sure  if Ishar  were be alive he would have  wanted to convey nationalistic valour with the same  muted ruggedness as Akshay  Kumar.

Of course these men who fought the battle  of Saragarhi were spectacularly brave. But the men behind this  film also display exemplary courage and confidence. Kesari is nearly  flawless in its rendition of  a battle of unequals where one man’s obstinacy becomes  a nation’s abiding pride and honour.

Don’t miss this film even  if  you watch only two films a  year.

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Mard Ko Dard Nahin Hota Movie Review: It Is Wackier Than Anything You Will See

Subhash K . Jha

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Mard Ko Dard Nahin Hota

Starring Abhimanyu Dassani,Radhika Madan, Gulshan Devaiah

Directed by Vasan Bala

Rating: *** ½(3 and a half stars)

When Manmohan Desai used those prophetic words about a man not feeling any pain, little did he know how they would be used decades later in a film that is crazy and outrageous, funny and exasperating. Mard Ko Dard Nahin Hota pays a homage to filmy maschismo while at the same time ridiculing the conventions of masculine aggression by nudging prodding and awakening the funnybone as other bones snap crack and shatter.

You see, our hero Surya(debutant Abimanyu Dassani) can’t feel any pain.Neither, apparently can the director Vasan Bala who constructs an edifice of spoofy self-mockery that is unlike anything we’ve seen in our films.Bala wants to deconstruct all the myths that we’ve grown up watching regarding screen heroism.

Which is not to say , everything in Mard Ko Dard… is exciting and bracing. Some of it is that. Some other sections heave sag and groan under the weight of its own appointed mission to dismantle the iconoclasm of onscreen machismo.

Uniqueness blended with an unorthodox treatment of the theme of cinematic valour provides a heady brew of blustering action and one-liners thrown so jauntily that you may think the characters are acting cockier than they should. And they are! But what the heck! A film that dares to cross the line of conventional entertainment has earned itself the right to self-indulgence.

This is a film that bristles with a broadly defiant satire at once embracing and heckling the traditional formulistic Hindi cinema. It is also a tribute to the great Bruce Lee in ways that are hard to explain. But then nothing in this film can be calibrated and normalized. Mard Ko Dard Nahin Hota moves at its volition unheedful of whether we the audience are along for the ride all the way.Sometimes the film losses the plot, quite literally.

In portions specially towards the end when a bone-crunching tournament happens on what looks like the frontyard of a middle income highrise which has seen better days. The work seems to buckle under the pressure of being constantly sassy.It ends up bowing and scraping to the very conventions that it seems to scoff.

The performances go a long way in keeping the proceedings constantly off-key without losing track of the original theme. Debutant Abhimanyu Dassani pours his soul into making the painless action hero Surya believable and likeable. Semi-debutante Radhika Madan gives Dassani tit for tat.She has the coolest action sequence in the film where she fights off a car filled with sexual predators to the ironical sound of Kishore Kumar’s song Nakhrewali(from the film New Delhi).She also has a wonderful screen-mother in Loveleen Mishra who urges her daughter to fly the coop rather than a marry an overbearing do-gooder.

But the really interesting performances come from Mahesh Manjrekar as Surya’s precocious grandfather and Gulshan Devaiah who is a riot as twin brothers, one plainly evil the other supremely righteous,both utterly filmy. I think Devaiah got what the director has attempted to do in this film even better than the director himself.

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Milan Talkies, Tigmanshu’s Tenderest Tale

Subhash K . Jha

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Milan Talkies

Starring: Ali Faizal, Shraddha Srinath, Ashutosh Rana,Tigmanshu Dhulia, Sanjai Mishra

Directed by Tigmanshu Dhulia

Rating: ****(4 stars)

“I’ve heard,” says  the inexperienced  lover-boy, “that in the beginning  of a romance there  is a lot of sex.And then  it wears  down to just once in a while  on Karwa Chauth or  whatever.”

Hearing Ali Fazal drawl these words of artless candour in the projection room of a single-theatre in  Allahabad,  is  a pleasure  beyond   measure.

Milan  Talkies a  spiffily written  expertly enacted smalltown hormonal  romance with the juices  trickling down its frames. It conveys just the  right ingredients of   smothered passion and  unabashed swagger  to make the  proceedings pungent and real.

 In fact  the writing(Dhulia and  Kamal Pandey) is  much cleverer and wittier than  what it seems.

 There  is  exchange at a crucial  point  in the  narration where  a  character asks  the hero’s friends—a butcher  by profession—“Tu  itna PAK-PAK kyon kar raha hai?”
All through the  playing-time  of this tightly-wound but  loosely-structured  love story I  was sure  of  one thing.That this  is Tigmanshu’s most accomplished work since Paan SinghTomar—smartly written, wisely  punctuated  and  sharply cut,  it  does everything  right  even the  characters  go  horribly wrong  in their judgment.Watch the magnificent  AshutoshRana   bellow against  destiny when he  curses  the day he married off his  daughter to an impotent  goonda.It’s  a  moment  of  reckoning in a  film that revels in revelations, none  surprising but all  delightful.

 There  is  no doubt on  our minds  that the  small-town lovers  would  be finally  united intrueblue filmy fashion in this  film filled with filmy  characters, none more filmy that  wannabe filmmaker hero’s father played with sassy self-mockery by director TigmanshuDhulia. The  director plays  the hero’s father as  a man lost in the  movies  of  the 1970s  not  quite connected with the real world outside and hence  frozen in a  childlike state  of  existence.

 It’s a fascinating study of how Hindi cinema  impacts and influences  smalltown lives, done with dollops  of  brusque  humour  and  tongue-in-cheek drama.Till midpoint  Dhulia builds the budding romance between  Ali Fazal and debutante Shraddha Srinath(both  charming ,together and apart  though neither is as  exceptional as  the supporting  cast )  like scenes borrowed  from the collective  consciousness of a film-obsessed  society.

But beneath the  vigorous filminess there is the  underbelly of  societal maladies represented in the clash between  the heroine’s conservative  father and loutish  husband. The two  roles are brilliantly manoeuvred  by  Ashutosh Rana and Sikandar  Kher into  areas of  darkness  and then steered expertly  back into the orbit of  light.

 But do not confuse  the  light for lightness. For, even as the  romance grows in the second-half into a  Devdas-remixed,  that  core of buoyant rumination courses through the  film’s veins imbuing the central  romance with energy and grace.

Milan Talkies is  a delightful watch,much of its  joy derived from  packing  in  tropes and clichés  from Hindi  films  and re-packaging them with  renewed  vivacity. No assessment  of this  tender tale told in  loops of  hectic reconnaissance  can be complete without a mention of Sanjai Mishra’s  role as  Usman the film projectionist at  the eponymous  Milan Talkies where  a very crucial part  of the  romantic reunion unfolds.

Mishra  plays  a  kind of reluctant sutradhaar  who  becomes  a pivotal character  in a romance  played  out with spectacular ebullience  in Allahabad where goons masquerade as  moral  police , castrating Romeos to  protect  the Juliets,  and  provincial  filmmakers  dream  of   making it  big  in  Bollywood.

Just like  Tigmanshu Dhulia himself the  boy from Allahabad who made it  big in Bollywood .  Milan Talkies tells us  it is okay to dream of  creating your own Mughal-e-Azam  in  real and real life.  Because you never know  who is  watching.

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Mere Pyare Prime Minister Movie Review: It Is All Heart!

Subhash K . Jha

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Mere Pyare Prime Minister

Mere Pyare Prime Minister

Starring  Anjali Patil,  Om Kanojia, Nitish  Wadhwa

Directed  by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra

Rating: ****(4 stars)

It is of some significance  that the song to which the  mother and son in this enchanting heartwarmer dance in the splendor of their chawl existence , is an Aamir Khan  number.

Aamir was after all the  star of Mehra’s  Rang De BasantiMere Pyare Prem Minister has an  even bigger star. Little Om  Kanojia is  a treasured find, a joy to  behold.When son Kannu  is sulking, Mom Sargam  puts on  Aati kya khandala  from Aamir’s Ghulam on  the  phone and mom Anjali Patil dances  leaving every care behind

 Rakeysh Om Prakash Mehra’s  study of slumming  salvation is  steeped in sincerity and warmth .I felt I was watching  a  braver  more  rounded  ripped  and  gentle version Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay. This is  the  film Mira could have made while Danny Boyle was location-hunting in Dharavi  for  Slumdog Millionaire.

Rakeysh Mehra’s script which he co-wrote with  Manoj Mairta and Hussain Dalaal.  looks at  little Kannu and his friends’  wretchedly deprived existence with almost no  pity and  tremendous empathy. The  film is  shot like  a dream by  cinematographer  Pawel Dyllus. The contrasts between the  slums and  the  skyscrapers  which define Mumbai city here  qualify a sense of aching  nostalgia  for  a time when inequality was  not so  steep,and hence not so  dangerous and threatening. 

 In  a  sequence such as  the one where Kanhu and his friends  sit staring at the  skyscrapers  on the  other  end  wondering how many  toilets there must be in  every building, while there are  none in the  entire chawl,   Mehra nimbly   circumvents  the sinister  insinuations  of social  inequality.

 Not that the  film paints too rosy  a picture of  slum squalor.  What  Mehra’s  narrative  has done  is to transcend  the  wretchedness in pursuit of  that  glimmer  of hope which defines  life  at the  bottom-most level  of  the  social hierarchy where the super-rich  are neither myth nor meme. The  tender  yet strong narrative is supported by  some solid  music and unsentimental peeps into the  innermost recesses  of the  human heart.

 Kanhu’s  determined struggle  to  travel to  Delhi from Mumbai to meet the Prime Minister is mapped  with such tender care and  benign humour , I  thought Mr Modi himself  would  appear as  topping on the crusty cake filled  with oodles  of ache. It would be unfair to reveal how Kannu’s  attempts  to meet the PM  end.  It would  also be unfair to reveal  how the tender love story between Kannu’s freespirited  mother and  a kindly poetic dreamy-eyed bookstall owner(Nitish  Wadhwa) ends. For  the end  is not a  goal that the people  of this film look at.Every day is treated like a survival adventure.

This  is world where heroism is  not about jumping  down  those skyscrapers  that  Kannu  stares at without an iota of envy . It’s about a little son of  meager means  and  his resolve  to  build  a toilet  in the slums  for his  mother so that she never needs to fear predatory assaults  in  the  middle of the  night.

Chayan se  hugne bhi nahin dete,” a  woman sobs in anguish. Well,  hug as much you like. A  big hug to all the wonderful   child  actors in  this film who make the  art of  on-camera expression look so  effortless .They can give some of our biggest  superstars lessons  on how to convey  hometruths without overstatement. As  for Anjali Patil as  Kannu’s mother , does she  ever disappoint?  Just watching her dance during  a  Holi sequence   in  blissful  abandon  to the sound  of Navrang’s Ja re hat natkhat  was  a  paisa-vasool experience  for me.

I couldn’t ask for more.

This is a film with many rewards for the  viewers , the biggest of them being the growing realization that the have-nots  are not  going to  go away   as much as some of  us would like them  to.  Garibi hatao  is all very well. But what  about the  Garib?  Rakeysh Mehra  looks beyond both.And he sees hope.And he wants us to see  it too.

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Badla Movie Review: It Is A Nifty Nugget Of A Noire!

Subhash K . Jha

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Badla

Starring:  Amitabh Bachchan, Tapsee Pannu, Amrita Singh

Directed by: Sujoy Ghosh

Rating: ****(4 stars)

 The  phonetic distance  between   badla,  the  Hindi word for revenge  that serves as  the deliciously  filmy title  of this delicately drawn  whodunnit, and Badal, the name that  the lawyer-protagonist  is  known by is  easily  bridgable . The  craftily-plotted  whodunit  shows us why vendetta is best served cold.It unfolds in  snowcapped England, you see.

Or  , do you?

Amitabh Bachchan  plays  Badal Gupta, a hotshot lawyer  on  the  verge of retirement  who has never  lost a  case. Badal goes for  the kill when he is invited to  look into a case of a  murder  accused, a nonchalant imperturbable married  woman named  Naina Sethi whose morals  are so reprehensible they make Indrani  Mukerjea seem excusably  misguided in comparison.

Kudos  to Tapsee Pannu for  playing a  woman who won’t stop at anything to  get what she wants. It shows the expanding  moral spectrum of  celluloid  heroism to see a  female  protagonist so low in the conscience department , and it is a pleasure  to see Ms Pannu so  good in being bad.

But  why  must  she smoke  to prove her  disregard   for moral values? I thought  smoking for vamping went out of vogue with Shashikala.

But   I am straying. A  crime this film about unforgivable  crimes, never commits. To the point and on  the  ball,  Badla is  a concise  gripping cat-and-mouse concoction where  lawyer  Bachchan and the accused  Pannu play  off against one another with feline stealth, one never  willing to acquiesce  to  the other’s  persuasive  arguments, so that in no time  a swirl  of  accusations  come hurling at  us without the plot giving  away  anything. The dialogues tell us  everything the characters want  us to hear  without giving away the truth.

Sujoy Ghosh, it seems, has adapted a  Spanish film The Invisible Guest. I suspect the  suspect-motive-crime-denouement graph in the original  must have been  very different.Badla contextualizes  the murder to  fit into the ambit of adultery. Pannu’s  entrepreneur-heroine  has a loving  family of  devoted   husband  and adorable little  daughter.  Why would she break the domestic  idyll to have an affair with an  anglo-Indian Arjun(Tony Luke) who must wear cross around his neck even while bearing  it(the  cross, I mean) and  who  speaks  with a thick Bandra-Catholic  accent that  tends to take away  from  the  gravity  of  the crisis on hand.

Arjun’s peculiar  diction  is  the  least  of  the  problems in the narrative. Ghosh  fills up the frames with an implosive tension. Most  of   the time  there are  just Mr Bachchan and  his accused(far from a victim) talking, exchanging barbed words and slanted glances that  give nothing away. Both the actors are adept at  using words  to express more than just what they want to say.There is a third crucial character  , played  by  the powerful   Amrita Singh  who makes  even  an offer for a  cup of tea seem  like a stern rebuke.It’s a pity that there isn’t much  of  Ms Singh with Mr Bachchan together . What  I wouldn’t give to see  that Mard-slinging!

 Cinematographer Avik Mukhopadhyay  captures the scenic splendor  of the  English countryside without allowing  the characters  to look subservient to their environment.Handsomely shot  and as sharply cut as a Saville Row suit, Badla is a unique blend of  suspense and  chamber-piece.The verbal exchanges between  Mr  Bachchan and  Ms Pannu play a  curious  mind-game  with  the perception  of  guilt and  retribution.

At  the end Sujoy Ghosh captures two  vital faces staring out  of a  window. They remind us  of how important characterization is  to a  tightly-wound plot, and how easily a suspense drama can come undone  in the wrong hands.

Not this one.

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Paradise Regained: Hamid Tells Us Why Kashmir Is Still Paradise

Subhash K . Jha

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Hamid

Starring Talha Alshad  Reshi, Vikas  Kumar, Rasika  Duggal

Director  Aijaz Khan

Rating; **** ½(4 and a half stars)

 Political turmoil  and  separatist violence have  now  become  synonymous with Kashmir. It wasn’t always that way. Once  known as heaven on earth, the paradisical  importance of the violent Valley  is  celebrated  in  muted shades of  innocence and  redemption in this gentle saga of love trust and belief during times  of  acute strife.

This is a film that Majid Majidi could have made. The blend of  blood and innocence is the hallmark  of  the Iranian auteur’s filmmaking style. Director Aijaz Khan has adapted  Majidi’s  style wholesale and  then given it his own striking yet  unostentatious   twist. This is  a Kashmir  shrouded  in  militancy and yet salvaged by redemptive  twists  of fate which perhaps would stump even God.

Standing tall in this slender parable  of  strife and  humanism is  little  Hamid, played with a instinctive  gravity and  artless wisdom by Talha Alshad Reshi.  Casting him  is half the battle  won. As  little Hamid converses  on his  missing father’s  cellphone with ‘God’(who turns out to be a troubled CRPF jawan with a  Bihari accent) the plot  puts forward  a sturdy yet subtle  argument for dialogue,albeit on an  artless “poetic” level which for all  practical purposes serves  no purpose in  the real world  of stone pelters and human bombs.

And  yet  in spite  of  the film blissfully  burying its head in  the  clouds, there is a burning yearning for peace underlining the treacherous tranquility  of  the film’s  surface. In fact the  director doesn’t seem  to be very comfortable with the  bursts of  violence that  punctuate  little Hamid’s  dialogues with  ‘God’.The  film’s  only  unconvincing moments are  those that show the characters losing  their equilibrium.

 Hamid’s  desperate  desire for the return of his  missing father, his unlikely phone-friendship with the  soldier  Abhay (what  if Ritesh Batra’s  Lunchbox  was  about a longdistancefriendship between a father-less child and a man seen to be  in some way responsible for  the little  boy’s  tragedy?) and his eventual realization that the father he so  anxiously  awaits will  never return , are mapped in a labyrinth  displaying  the  pathway  of   pain and  suffering into the human heart.

Adapting this poetic political parable to  the large  screen,  director  Aijaz Khan forfeits none of Kashmir’s scenic  outdoor beauty, nor at the same  time,  does the  film’s frames  look like touristic  brochure.  As the story of  little  Hamid unfolds in a tapestry of pain andselfrealization we are taken on a  subtle tender  yet revealing voyage  into the valley of  violence.

While the little boy Talha Alshad Reshi with his  big questioning  eyes is  a natural-born  scene stealer , Rasika Duggal as an impoverished  single parent  struggling to come to terms  with the immensity  of  her loss, is the portrait  of supreme conviction and credibility.

 Curiously  the film daintily steers away from getting inti  the murkier aspects  of  the mother’s singlehood  in  a  state ridden with  predatory aggression. For  better or for worse, this gem  of  a  film wants  to  steer  its  boat  away from the  violence that stares  little  Hamid and his  mother in the face.  Rounding  out    this resonant raga  of hope , the narrative concludes  with  little Hamid receiving some expensive paint to colour the boat the boy builds by embracing his father’s craft of carpentry.

Red  is  the  colour of blood  and bloodshed. But in this  film it is also the  colour  of  hope and positivity. It’s time to paint the Green Valley  into postcard-perfect shades again. Hamidbrings hope . It’s  an irresistible  piece on peace, and one that every Indian must see. The film opens across  India  on March 15. 

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Goopi Gaawaiya Baagha Bajaiya Movie Review: It Will Make You Smile

Subhash K . Jha

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Goopi Gawaiya  Baagha Bajaiya

Animation film directed  by Shilpa Ranade

Rating: ***(3 stars)

A  bright bouncy  cheerful effervescent  tribute  to  Satyajit Ray’s  1969  children’s classic  Goopy Gyne BaghaByne is  a step forward  for  animation films, a genre still in its infancy in  Indian cinema groping around  in  the dark trying to find a competitive  ground with the likes  of  FrozenMoana, Lego and Inside  Out in  Hollywood.

Animation is  big business in  the West. In Indian cinema  it hasn’t even started  to make an impact. Given  the bleak and bland  scenario  and   the fact that  it must compete with  feature films  like Luka Chuppi and Sonechiriyathis week Goopi Gawaiya Bagha Bajaiya(GGBB) does well for itself, at least as  far as telling an engaging story  in a credible colourful animation  format goes.

For those who came in late(and  please don’t do that, this is  just a brief  film barely more than an hour long) this is the  story  of two  bumbling goofy but endearing musicians and their escapades  in  an imaginary kingdom of fools.

The  plot (based on  Upendra Roy Kishore’s classic story ) is zany to the utmost.

The  animation characters  are reasonably  well  handled. But the real backbone  of  the film is  the music  by  3 Brothers  &   Violin. It adds  a layer  of prankish lustre  to the going-on. This weekend take  your young ones  for a joyful  ride into the  kingdom  of  magic. This  could be their introduction the world  of Satyajit Ray.

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Sonechiriya Is Much Much More Than A Brilliant Dacoit Drama

Subhash K . Jha

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Starring Sushant Singh Rajput, Manoj Bajpai, Bhumi Pednekar, Ashutosh Rana, Ranveer Shorey

Directed  by Abhishek  Chaubey

Rating: *****(5 stars)

Some  of our  actors are  so  inured  in brilliance we’ve ceased  to  notice their power .Ranveer Shorey  is one of them. He just blends into the  bleeding colours  of  brilliancy  in  this  exceptional film set in the dark desperate world of  dacoits  in the confounding  ravines  of  the Chambal valley.

By singling out  Shorey’s brilliance I don’t mean to  undermine  the  other performers, most of whom are so skillfully  effective, they  seem to have been born in the  hungering shadows of  their ever-renewable excellence.

But then the point here is not the brilliance.  It is how  the  rites of accomplished filmmakingare applied to a solid  narration that are  on  your mark and all set  to go even  before we are  fully able to grasp  the  wide spectrum  of characters on the  run. Dammit, they are all  fugitives , even the vicious  vendetta-seeking cop played with a iron ironic  meanness  byAshutosh Rana who  is  so bloodthirsty his venom fills the  Chambal  valley with echoes  of exasperating nemesis.

 But Rana  doesn’t play the  most vicious character  in  Sonechiriya. A  young boy with a big gun who plays  Bhumi Pednekar’s  violent  son  is  perhaps  the most  bloodthirsty  son under the sun.He  wants his mother dead, at any cost even when his  father played by the talented Jatin Sarna  (who is  not  really his father) wants to forgive his wife for being  who she is.

A rebel.

 Phoolan Devi who appears  towards  the  end   of  this long unpunctuated treatise on  torment trauma subjugation and  atonement, would  laugh dryly at  the  thought  of  a woman rebel. Are women allowed  the  luxury  of  rebelling against  patriarchal  tyranny without losing  everything? Phoolan and   our film’s heroine  Indumati  Tomar,played   magnificently by Bhumi Pednekar,  hit  it  off  at a  time when their  life is  at the brink of extinction.

The screen Phoolan has  the  best lines I’ve heard  on  patriarchy in cinema.  “The caste system  is  for  the men to fight and gain supremacy. We women all belong  to one caste.”
 Phoolan makes  Indumati  an  offer to join her gang. Does Indumati take up that  job offer after the  movie ends? Is there  any  other  option for  the oppressed  than outlawry? Sonechiriya  is  the  most anguished plea against injustice and oppression since  Bimal  Roy’s  Sujata.  The deep silences in  Abhishek Chaubey’s clenched narrative  reminded me  of  Roy’s film about a  Harijan  girl(Nutan) looking for an identity.

 We don’t have Harijans  anymore  as targets  of   exploitation. We have Dalits, and  gosh,so  many variations  of oppressed communities  in  this  film, I  began to wonder  if there  is any section of  the  society that is  not  traumatized and brutalized!  Chaubey  uses eerie silences in the stunning  Chambal landscape  to punctuate  a sense  of excruciating  oppression.  

I wish Vishal Bhardwaj’s background score was better able to capture  the vile viscosity  of  the  environment , thick with  suggestions  and manifestation  of violence. In this world of apocalyptic  despair  , Sushant Singh Rajput’s  Lakhna  decides to rid his guilty  conscience  of its  inexorable burden  by helping a woman to protect  and  heal  a brutally  raped  girl-child .

I wish the  relationship between  Lakhna and  the  ravaged  girl  was given more space to grow. But then where  is  the  room  for relationships to breathe when  men are constantly  on  the  run, and  not just from the law? I  wished  for Lakhna and  Indumati’s  bonding over the child to end in some semblance of  joy.

But wishes cannot be horses. Not in a dacoit drama  without a single  horse in sight. In fact there is a joke  in the  film about how  Hindi films  show  dacoits galloping away  when in  fact there are no horses in the Chambal Valley.

 There are  no heroes either.  Only victims  posing manfully with guns that  kill not just  human beings. But also  hope.

I came away  with two heroes in Sonechiriya. The  little brutalized girl  from whom the  film gets its title, whose  devastated eyes still secrete a smile after all she has gone through.Some hope!

And cinematographer Anuj Rakesh Dhawan whose lenses  render bleakness  into myriad shades  of  life lived on  the edge.Raw  gritty and compelling ,Sonechiriya conveys  a  clandestine  narrative  style  that never impinges on the  violent disarray  of  the characters’ brutal  unpredictable lives.

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The Final Call Movie Review: It Gives A Spin To The Web

Subhash K . Jha

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The final Call

Starring: Arjun Rampal, Sakshi Tanwar,  Neeraj Kabi, Anupriya Goenka

Directed  by Vijay Lalvani

Rating: ***(3 stars)

 Arjun Rampal has an inscrutable face.  It  is the face  of  man who doesn’t reveal much. In The  Final Call he plays  Karan Sachdeva,  a pilot  with many secrets all  ruinous and  devastating. As all of  them come undone  layer by layer in  the cockpit  of  an airborne flighto Australia,  we know the  passengers  on board are doomed.

And yet, here  lies  the formula to a whacking  screen saga.You know. Yet you  hold your breath. The writing in  this 4-part  series is clearly of that caliber. We  know. Yet we sit riveted. Right at  the  start we meet an astrologer-scholar Krishnamurthy,played with wonderfully  whittled  wisdom by Neeraj Kabi who takes   that ill-fated flight because  hiskundali says  that’s where his  end  is  destined. Krishnamurthy’s family rightly advises  him to just stay away from the destined .

But Krishnamurthy—how I love his transcendental  wisdom—has other ideas.Kabi gives a fatalistic spin to the  proceedings, wrapping his character’s  prophecies in a surge  of immediacy. His  interaction on  board the doomed flight with a jaded  tycoon(Javed Jaffrey, who plays it cool, as only he  can) has  us  reading between the  lines  ,looking for  valuable clues to something beyond what  is  happening in the plot.

The  truth about The Final Call is that  it does things which we normally don’t see happening on the  big screen. It opens up the characters’ inner world to reveal the dark interiors. The  view is frightening and funny, as only  a story told in  leisure can be.

I came away deeply  riveted  by this impressive  adaptation  of  Priya Kumar’s bestseller IWill Go With You: The  Flight  Of  A  Lifetime. The  characters, whether it was  the Australian girl rushing back home  to surprise her cheating  boyfriend, or her co-passenger in the next seat, a cocky 18-year old trying to hit on her….everyone left a lingering impression.There are  no cardboard  characters  on board this  flight. Rest assured. And  don’t forget to fasten  your seatbelt.

 But my favourite  in  the  series besides  Arjun Rampal, is Sakshi Tanwar  playing  a pregnant  terror negotiator. There  is  a sequence where  she  leaves home for  work  promising  her worried husband that  she won’t do anything dangerous, then  returns in the evening  fatigued while he watches her on  television dealing with a dreaded terrorist in  a hostage situation.Sakshi  builds  a case for women taking on patriarchal  jobs and beating the hell out of  the cynical  competition.

The  plot is relentlessly  robust  unveiling unfurling thoughts and looping  action faster than we can process their relevance. With  performances that solidly anchor the action, the first four episodes have me waiting for the  next season.

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