Thursday, November 15, 2012

Jab Tak Hai Jaan: Review

Meet Samar. Like most penniless Indians in London, he sells fish, waits tables and sings Punjabi folk songs to survive. Meet Meera. She’s a rich girl, prone to making deals with Jesus in empty churches. They meet, and because they’re Shah Rukh Khan and Katrina Kaif, they fall in love; never mind that she’s engaged, or that he comes on like Clark Gable (“If I kiss you, will you slap me? I don’t think so”). Then, just when she’s about to leave her fiancĂ© for a penniless singing waiter, he’s hit by a car. As he fights for his life, Meera makes one of her divine bargains, something along the lines of “Save him, and I promise I’ll never see him again.” (Don’t ask.) At any rate, the god of flawed screenplays intervenes, and next thing you know, Samar is a Hurt Locker-style bomb disposal expert in Ladakh. (Please don’t ask.)

Difficult as it may be to imagine, Jab Tak Hai Jaan, directed by the late Yash Chopra and written by Aditya Chopra and Devika Bhagat, becomes even more implausible in its second half. Suffice to say there’s another accident, a diagnosis of retrograde amnesia and a complex game of pretend suggested by a doctor whose license may need examining. Is this the same Aditya Chopra who wrote Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge? It must be, because there’s a scene in a European church, another in a green field with yellow flowers, and a character who gets to say “Jaa, jee le…” But these Yash Raj staples are all the more depressing because they no longer seem genuinely felt. It may sound cynical, but a Hindi film with a climactic speech in English surely has at least one eye on the NRI market.

As Akira, a journalist who finds out about Samar’s love story by accident and tags along with his unit for a TV documentary, Anushka Sharma pumps some young blood into a picture that’s badly in need of a transfusion. But despite a few attempts to make the film seem hip (sex jokes, a dance sequence straight out of Step Up), by the end, Khan is reduced to making self-deprecating statements about being an old-fashioned lover. Truth is, it’s not just the 47-year-old Khan (who, it must be said, remains 100 per cent committed throughout) who’s aging. The whole roses-and-eternal-love formula may be past its expiry date.

We’d rather not point out more flaws in Yash Chopra’s swansong. Instead, let’s celebrate what has been a singularly important career. When we reached Delite theatre, a huge crowd had gathered in time for the first show. Banners were up, and the famous Jea Band performed hits from Chopra’s films. It was a good old-fashioned first-day first-show – a small but fitting send-off for a man who’s helped shape Bollywood’s trajectory over so many decades.

This review appeared in Time Out Delhi.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Chakravyuh: Review

Welcome to the cinema of the painfully obvious. Prakash Jha’s Chakravyuh is a dramatisation (one might say melodramatisation) of assorted tussles between Naxal forces and the State. Names and locations may have been changed, but it would be surprising if audiences are unable to figure out that Mahanta’s a stand-in for Vedanta, Nandighat for Nandigram. Some may even realise that the character Om Puri is playing is based on real-life activist Kobad Ghandy, or that Jha is doffing his hat to the left-leaning Jana Natya Manch by calling a group of singers Jana Natya Mandali.

All these details are supposed to make Chakravyuh look like it’s an accurate portrayal of real events. Yet this is a film whose grip on reality is consistently tenuous. Kabir (Abhay Deol) is a police academy dropout with a short fuse – just the kind of person you’d trust to infiltrate a gang of Naxals and act as an informant. He’s given the task anyway, by Nandighat’s chief of police Adil Khan (Arjun Rampal), an old friend. It stands to reason that the Naxals will trust him, never frisk him for a cell phone, and provide him with ample opportunities to sneak off and chat with his pal. It also makes perfect sense that Kabir will eventually have a change of heart and decide to become an actual Naxal fighter.

This is the kind of film where people find it necessary to yell “Police aa rahi hai, bhaago” when there’s a helicopter in the background and a man standing on the edge with a gun. The kind of film where a dozen armed policemen are ordered to stand back and let their commander take on a deadly militant in hand-to-hand combat. To make matters worse, the script, by Jha, Anjum Rajabali and Sagar Pandya, is riddled with clichĂ©s. Rampal brings this into sharp relief by intoning all his lines as he usually does – slowly and seriously. Deol, an actor whose comfort zone is moral ambiguity, seems confused by the conscientious character he’s playing. Only Manoj Bajpayee, as the leader of the Naxal outfit, and Anjali Patil, his second-in command, escape with their dignity unscraped.

Prakash Jha is a rare Bollywood filmmaker who’s consistently drawn to unfashionable, socially-conscious subjects. This film, however well-meaning, must count as one of his lesser efforts. As the audience snickered its way through an increasingly ludicrous last hour, it seemed clear that somewhere between intent and execution, Jha had gotten caught in a chakravyuh of his own.

This review appeared in Time Out Delhi. 

Rush: Review

Even if you’ve never read John Grisham’s The Firm or seen the 1993 Tom Cruise-starrer based on it, you’ll spot the twists in Rush long before they arrive. Within the first ten minutes of the film, it’s established that Samar Grover (Emraan Hashmi) is a TV crime reporter, out of a job and with bills to pay. Enter Roger Khanna (Aditya Pancholi), head of an implausible TV channel called Crime 24, who offers Samar a senior position, a new BMW and the illicit attentions of slinky Wharton graduate Lisa Kapoor (Neha Dhupia). Samar joins the channel and ratings soar. But there’s something murky about the way this 24-hour crime channel is always first on the scene..

Rush was directed by Shamin Desai, who died last year (his wife Priyanka completed the film). It’s mildly entertaining in parts, and Gary Shaw’s cinematography is impressive, but the plot’s too predictable and the media-baiting too paranoid for it to develop into anything significant. As the morally malleable Samar, Hashmi is smooth without being arresting. He fares better than Pancholi, who seems to be playing a parody of a playboy villain. Dhupia and Sagarika Ghatge are the token vamp and girlfriend (there’s an unintentionally hilarious stay-away-from-my-man scene). There are a few scattered laughs – the channel’s head of security is called Cujo – and the second half has split screens and a screeching Skrillex-like background score to try and get some adrenalin flowing. But even when it does, it’s never a real rush.

This review appeared in Time Out Delhi.

Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana: Review

Even if Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana was a total washout, it would still have rendered an important public service by highlighting how closely a clean-shaven Kunal Kapoor resembles Anil Kumble. As it happened, Sameer Sharma’s directorial debut was diverting enough to banish thoughts of Jumbo, even if we did find ourselves scanning the horizon from time to time for a Nayan Mongia lookalike.

Omi Khurana (Kapoor), a layabout in London, owes a Punjabi gangster by the name of Shanty a large sum of money. (“Pounds”, the bald, revolver-flashing gentleman insists, “not paise.”) Threatened with an involuntary kidney donation, Omi offers to get it sent down from his home in Punjab. Shanty insists that Omi bring back the money himself – not the most intelligent move, even for a cartoon gangster. But Sharma, who wrote Swades and assisted Aditya Chopra on Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, obviously knows that the emotional impact of a good return trumps logic.

So Omi, now minus beard, reappears in the small town of Lalton. We soon find out why he was so reluctant to return, even with a gangster pointing a gun at him. It transpires that Omi, who was raised by his aunt and uncle after his parents died, had chloroformed his grandfather, stolen money and run away from the house years ago. Luckily, his folks are big on forgiveness. There’s only one problem – the family’s restaurant business, which he’d hoped would fund his debt to Shanty, has closed down. The solution, as the movie starts hinting early on, might lie in his now-infirm granddad’s secret recipe for “Chicken Khurana”.

Lalton is not too different a landscape from the one Gurvinder Singh mapped out with unnerving seriousness in Anhey Ghorey Da Daan last year. While Luv Shuv is markedly different from that film – it’s an entertainer, with artistic flourishes kept to the minimum – it does respect, in its own way, the reality of its small-town Punjab setting. Portable radios double up as boomboxes. When there’s a chase sequence, it’s a jeep followed by a scooter followed by an auto. And when Omi wants to meet his childhood friend Harman (Huma Qureshi), he does so in secret, so that people don’t start pointing out that she’s engaged to his younger brother (their impending union, clearly untenable for a bunch of reasons, is the film’s one unnecessary subplot).

Since Luv Shuv is set in the Punjab, not Punjab-via-Delhi, it’s possible that some of the accents will be dismissed as insufficiently authentic. That aside, the cast is winsome and cleverly assembled. Rajesh Sharma is great as the crass uncle, Vinod Nagpal from Hum Log is the grandfather, and Dolly Ahluwalia has a nice cameo as a religious leader who likes to get high. Kapoor downplays Omi’s charm and focuses on his shiftiness, while Qureshi continues, post Gangs of Wasseypur, to work wonders with minimal change of expression. Capping an experimental year for Bollywood music, Amit Trivedi unfurls a mish-mash of guitar riffs, bass-heavy EDM and Punjabi folk. The film’s resolution of its characters’ dilemmas is a bit disingenuous, but Sharma has a knack – again, befitting someone who worked on DDLJ – for the sweetly engineered plot twist.

This review appeared in Time Out Delhi.