Wednesday, July 31, 2019

The continuing story of Kamini Kaushal

Last weekend, Indian Twitter users put everything aside to furiously debate a film which many hadn’t even seen. Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s Kabir Singh struck its detractors as cruel and cavalier in the titular character’s treatment of his partner. Its supporters, meanwhile, argued that cruel and cavalier characters exist in life, so why not in cinema? Raanjhanaa (2013) was brought up, and Raging Bull (1980), and gender indices in Telugu-speaking regions.

In all the excitement, it isn’t surprising that little attention was paid to the actor playing Kabir Singh’s grandmother. I missed her name in the opening credits and spent the rest of the film wondering if I ought to recognize this actor who was a lot more convincing as a Punjabi dadi than Shahid Kapoor and Kiara Advani were as Punjabi lovers. The end credits supplied a surprising answer: Kamini Kaushal. Neecha Nagar Kamini Kaushal? The 1940s star?

Kaushal is 92 years old. She has been in films since 1946. That’s 73 years as an actor—astonishing when you consider Ashok Kumar’s career spanned 61 years and Dev Anand’s 65. Her first film as an adult (she acted in a production called The Tragedy when she was 8 or 9) was a landmark: Chetan Anand’s 1946 social realist drama, Neecha Nagar, in which she played the idealistic sister of the even more idealistic Gandhian protagonist. It screened at the first Cannes Film Festival and won the top prize (then called the Grand Prix), the only Indian film to have done so till date.

In the 1940s and early 1950s, Kaushal was a considerable star: billed only after Nargis in Aag (1948), Raj Kapoor’s directorial debut; starring with Dev Anand in Ziddi (1948) and with Dilip Kumar in Shabnam (1949) and Arzoo (1950). She was important enough, the story goes, for Subodh Mukherjee, head of Filmistan studio, to reject a little-known singer named Lata Mangeshkar on the grounds that her “squeaky" voice wouldn’t suit Kaushal (Mangeshkar ended up singing for her in Ziddi). She is a rare female actor who continued working after marriage, taking breaks to raise her children. Her turn in Bimal Roy’s Biraj Bahu (1954) won her acclaim, but with Nargis, Nutan, Meena Kumari and Madhubala getting the plum roles, her star began to wane. By 1965, she was playing mother to Manoj Kumar, only 10 years younger, in Shaheed.

Kaushal is probably the only Hindi film actor who started her career in the 1940s and is still working (comedian Jagdeep might come closest, starting as a child artist in 1950—he’s wonderful as Elaichi, Guru Dutt’s sidekick, in 1954’s Aar-Paar—and continuing till 2012). It’s also likely that Kaushal is the only actor with both a pre-independence movie credit and one in 2019. She was born in Lahore in 1927, as were her Neecha Nagar director and co-star, Chetan and Uma Anand (Rafi Peer, who plays the film’s antagonist, was from Rawalpindi, and stayed in Pakistan after Partition). It’s astonishing to think of the breadth of a career that takes in silent cinema, independence, Partition, the first colour film, Ismat Chughtai and Shamshad Begum and Deepika Padukone, bans imposed and lifted and imposed again on Pakistani artists.

If you are looking to learn more about Kaushal’s life and work, there’s little to go on. There are a few print and TV interviews—mostly exercises in trivia, with the exception of the TV series Guftagoo—and no critical writing. Some films from her heyday of the late 1940s and early 1950s are on YouTube, but in terrible prints (Neecha Nagar, which is written about every year when Cannes comes around, still doesn’t exist as a proper DVD or streaming print).

Thankfully, Kaushal’s film-related memories have been recorded for posterity in at least one place. She was the first person interviewed for the Film Heritage Foundation’s (FHF’s) oral histories initiative, done in collaboration with The Academy Motion Picture, Arts and Sciences. Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, FHF’s founder-director, conducted the interview—part of an ongoing series that includes Amitabh Bachchan, Mani Ratnam and several others. It will eventually be available for anyone looking to access it for research, or simply to understand what it’s like to be directed by Bimal Roy and, more than half a century later, by Rohit Shetty.

This piece appeared in Mint Lounge.

Kabir Singh: Review

The bar for grand masochistic gestures by self-pitying men in Indian films is set pretty high. All credit, then, to Kabir Singh for finding creative new ways for its eponymous hero to express his terrible sadness after his girlfriend marries someone else. In one scene, Kabir (Shahid Kapoor), bare-chested and drunk, in the midst of getting yelled at by his friend, grabs an electric razor and starts shaving his undercarriage. He isn’t looking down, though, and his macho posturing is soon interrupted by a red stain spreading across his pyjamas. They say you shouldn’t try gardening under the influence.

They also say you shouldn’t perform surgeries under the influence. Kabir does this too, and though there are eventual consequences, I’m not sure writer-director Sandeep Reddy Vanga (remaking his Telugu film Arjun Reddy) entirely disapproves. I’ll come to that – more about our charming protagonist first. In the film's opening minutes, he hooks up with a soon-to-be-married woman. No problem, two consenting adults, etc., but then she says she isn’t comfortable and asks him to stop. Kabir grabs a knife and tells her to continue undressing. Her horror lasts a few seconds before a song on the radio breaks in comically, but it’s a jarring – and revealing – note to start on.

The same need to control, to impose his will on a situation, is there from the moment Kabir lays eyes on first-year med student Preeti (Kiara Advani) and decides he likes her. His first move is to warn her male batch-mates that she’s off-limits for them. He then barges into her classroom, asks what the lesson is, says he’ll teach her (he’s in his final year, and a university topper), and takes her away. This happens several times. On another occasion, he orders her to sit at the front of the class, then gets a “healthy" girl to sit with her, decreeing that the two of them will now be roommates (thin gossipy girls will apparently distract her from her studies). She injures her leg; he moves her into his hostel room.

When control is wrested from Kabir, all hell breaks loose. A student from a rival college with a grudge against him molests Preeti during Holi celebrations. Kabir finds out and beats the boy’s face bloody in a crowded classroom. There’s the strangest exchange after, with Kabir kneeling beside him, lighting his cigarette and making him promise that he won’t lay a hand on her again, since he won’t be around to protect her when he passes out. This is how important control is to Kabir: he’ll entrust the safety of the woman he loves to her oppressor and his enemy as long as it appears like he’s handled the situation as a man should.

Preeti’s timidity and seeming disinclination to think for herself only makes Kabir appear more dominant. It’s almost a full hour before she utters a full sentence, and it’s “What do you see in me?" Preeti may as well be a Stepford Girlfriend, so passive is Advani’s performance in those early scenes. When her father forbids their marriage – there’s a fleeting mention of different castes – she comes alive for one hot minute and it’s so unbearable to Kabir that he slaps her (there’s a lot of slapping in this film).

Kabir’s rages aren’t about anything (like Jimmy Porter in Look Back in Anger), nor are they funny (like Dev D’s in the Anurag Kashyap film) or revealing. He’s always angry with someone: friends, girlfriends, family, co-workers. When he chases a domestic worker down several flights of stairs for breaking a glass, the scene is played for comedy, not as evidence as a cruel, disturbed mind. And yet, no matter how badly he behaves, Kabir is a hero in the film’s eyes – beloved of his nursing staff, endlessly attractive to women, supported by his loyal friend. It’s a crucial difference between this film and Dev.D, which had an equally destructive protagonist but saw him for the pathetic weakling he was.

There’s a bang-smash quality to Vanga’s direction which at times lifts scenes above the crude material. When Kabir’s elder brother tries to talk him out of his funk and the two end up scrapping, the situation's a cliché, yet effective. Had Preeti shown some fight too, this might have been a different film, less in thrall of the angry doc. Instead, it takes nearly three hours for Kabir to admit that he has a problem, whereupon he’s immediately rewarded. “Go to the depth of anything and you get zero," we’re warned early on. In this case, it’s absolutely true.

This review appeared in Mint.

Men in Black: International: Review

Call me old-fashioned, but when I sit down for a movie that costs more than 100 million dollars and has little apparent artistic ambition, the least I’m hoping for is that my heart rate be jogged and my senses agitated. I’d take abject failure over bland competence, and Men in Black: International – 110 million dollars’ worth of amiable – is squarely in the second category.

A young girl named Molly watches from the window as MIB agents neuralyze her parents after an alien visits their home. Instead of scarring her for life, it gives her a purpose: she wants to be the one in a black suit, making others forget what they saw. Years later, Molly (Tessa Thompson) brazens her way into MIB headquarters, where she impresses head agent O (Emma Thompson) enough to get a try-out. Christened Agent M, she’s sent to MIB’s London office, where she ends up assisting Agent H (Chris Hemsworth), who – like any good loose cannon – tells her he works alone and doesn’t need a partner. Soon, they’re in possession of an alien weapon and being hunted by a pair of paranormal twins and the MIB itself.

Thompson and Hemsworth worked well together in Thor: Ragnarok, but their chemistry here isn’t as crackling. When H delightedly tells M, after they talk their way out of a tight spot, that they were “riffing", it made me smile sadly at the gulf between Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn completing each other's sentences in Bringing Up Baby and the awkward comedy in the scene before. Part of the reason might be that the workmanlike F Gary Gray is in charge; it had taken talented comic directors like Taika Waititi and Paul Feig to draw out Hemsworth’s goofiness in Ragnarok and Ghostbusters. It’s notable that the one person who’s consistently funny in the film – Kumail Nanjiani as the voice of a chess pawn who dedicates himself to M – is someone who does it for a living and might not have needed direction as much as the two stars.

There’s one big twist in the movie, but writers Art Marcum and Matt Holloway don’t attempt to make it convincing; they just introduce it at the end and hope we’ll go along. It doesn’t really matter – only a pedant would insist on an MIB film having an airtight plot. What does grate is the film’s inability to grasp its own bland ineffectualness. Ten minutes after the screening, I was struggling to recall entire scenes, subplots. It’s as if the film had come with its own neuralyzer.

This review appeared in Mint.

Big Thief’s otherworldly sound

There has always been a place in pop music for a ghostly female vocalist. In the 1960s, it was the intimate yé-yé sound of Françoise Hardy; a decade later, Vashti Bunyan’s underappreciated Just Another Diamond Day. And in the 1990s, there was the stately hush of the Cowboy Junkies’ Margo Timmins and the aching haze of Mazzy Star frontwoman Hope Sandoval. To this august list we can now add Big Thief’s guitarist-vocalist Adrianne Lenker, whose delicately frayed singing shades in complex colours on the band’s third album, UFOF.

Right from the first track, there’s a tension built into this album that belies its gentle folkie surface. The first word sung in "Contact" is 'Jodi'—possibly a reference to Jodie Foster, who appeared in the 1997 film Contact as a scientist convinced of extraterrestrial life. The track gets eerier (“She gives me gills/ helps me forgive the pills") until it suddenly cracks, closing with agitated guitar and muted but hair-raising screams.

This title track also alludes to the otherworldly—“UFOF", it turns out, is “UFO friend". But the lyrics quickly turn from a literal reading (“She’s taking up root in the sky") to something more intimate. Hovering above dappled guitars and gentle drumming, Lenker whispers: “There will soon be proof/ That there is no alien/ Just a system of truth and lies/ The reason, the language/ And the law of attraction." It’s the closest a song has come to the feeling bottled in Terrence Malick’s film The Tree Of Life, at once mysterious, spiritual, sad and sensuous.

Buck Meek on guitar, Max Oleartchik on bass and James Krivchenia on drums provide tasteful support, but Lenker’s voice is the lead instrument, warbly and brittle on "Orange", country-twanged and steady on "Cattails". Most of the songs carry traces of her difficult childhood—her family was part of a religious cult for the first four years of her life—and none are entirely free of sadness. “No one can be my man, be my man, be my man," she repeats, as if trying to ward off a spirit, on From, which also appeared on her solo album, abysskiss. When she sings “Couldn’t tell for sure/Where the screaming sound/ Was coming from", her voice jerks up violently, then returns to a hush—but that split second contains a world of pain.

In an indie scene awash with male auteur voices, UFOF is a feminine outlier: Lenker sings all the songs, most of which are addressed to, or are about, female characters—Jodi, Caroline, Violet, Betsy. On Jenni, the titular character, she of the “vacant eye" and “skin so bare", might just be the UFO friend previously unnamed. As with the title track, the physical mixes with the otherworldly here, the nervous repetition of “Too hot to breathe" giving way to “The portal forms/ She calls me through", all of it carrying the delicate suggestion of burgeoning sexuality.

Big Thief’s sound, situated at the cross-section of country and confessional folk, hasn’t varied much over their three albums. Perhaps the only thing that separates UFOF from Masterpiece (2016) and Capacity (2017) is the wistfulness that marks even the sunniest songs on the album. Yet, even with its muted traumas, this is ultimately a hopeful record. The narrator in "Cattails" will be there on the double to help her struggling friend. The alien friend will spirit away for love. Even the death wish of "Terminal Paradise" has a silver lining: “I will blossom in your sail."

This piece appeared in Mint Lounge. 

Bharat: Review

Films can creep up on you sometimes. For 130-odd minutes, Bharat trundles along, sometimes diverting, often annoying, mostly inessential. But then, out of nowhere, it turns into a meditation on the lingering scars of Partition. This is the great enduring theme of Hindi cinema, usually cloaked in metaphor. Here, however, it’s tackled head-on, stories of loss and separation from both sides of the border. For a few minutes, actors appear genuinely moved and catharses are earned. Then, in a change of tone that feels like a betrayal, we’re back in a Salman Khan film.

From the vantage point of 2010, Ali Abbas Zafar’s film looks back at the life of Bharat and the country he was named for. We see him as an 8-year-old in Lahore, in 1947, separated at the last moment from his father and younger sister when a riot breaks out just as the train to Delhi he’s on is leaving the station. His father’s parting words – keep the family together – become his life’s goal; to provide for his mother and two younger siblings, he takes up jobs in the circus, on an oil rig in the Gulf and in the merchant navy. The film’s poster promises the “journey of a man and a nation together", but the focus mostly remains on Bharat. India only makes cameo appearances – Jawaharlal Nehru’s death, liberalization.

Bharat takes its structure from the 2014 South Korean film Ode To My Father, but its inspirations are homegrown. Early on, we see young Bharat as a conscientious boot-polisher and car-window-cleaner in Delhi. It’s a scenario crying out for a Bachchan reference, which duly arrives. Bharat, now in his twenties, is a stuntman with the Great Russian Circus. His best friend, Vilayati (Sunil Grover, very watchable), is the emcee whose opening act has him emerging from a giant egg. As “My Name is Anthony Gonsalves" plays, the camera picks out a delighted young man in the audience, whom the voiceover identifies as Amitabh Bachchan.

Zafar might have one foot in the 1970s, but Bharat is a film of this moment. There’s another Bachchan reference, when the African pirates who board an Indian ship turn out to be fans of the actor – so much so that they abandon the robbery. “There isn’t a problem which conversation, love and Hindi film songs can’t solve," the voiceover tells us – a declaration of Bollywood’s soft power, in an era when it’s forced to seek out lucrative foreign markets. There’s also the obligatory nation-love that accompanies most Hindi films today. When his pleas to the oil rig recruiters fall on deaf ears, Bharat starts to sing the national anthem. It’s almost a parody of unthinking patriotism taking the place of genuine argument, but the film is straight-faced about it, playing the whole song through. “Yeh asli deshbhakt hai (he’s a real patriot)," someone remarks after he’s done.

We see Bharat in his 20s, 40s and 70s, but Khan doesn’t age onscreen so much as trade one kind of facial hair for another. Surreal as it is to see him play a 70-year-old, he’s scarcely more believable as a 53-year-old action star. No amount of VFX cleanup or clever choreography can overcome the simple fact that the actor is trapped in an image he can’t deliver on anymore. The scene in which the pipeline they’re digging caves in shows how difficult it’s become to structure a physically demanding scene around Khan. Bharat, injured and trapped behind a wall of rubble, almost passes out, then snaps back to life. Next thing you know, he’s dragging his crew out. We don’t see the intervening scenes because the man on screen can no longer execute them convincingly—or can’t be bothered to.

The visible effort Katrina Kaif puts into playing Kumud, oil rig recruiter turned newsreader, only calls attention to Khan’s distaste for the same. Yet, Zafar has a way of drawing the actor into revealing moments. When Bharat breaks down towards the end, Khan seems, just for a moment, vulnerable and human. Then the movie star ego kicks in and we see a septuagenarian beat up four attackers on bikes. The flesh is weak, the spirit only half-willing.

This review appeared in Mint. 

Patrick Eagar: Shot for shot

Patrick Eagar might be the only photographer to inspire a bowling action. On 6 July 1974, during the third Test between India and England at Edgbaston, he took a series of images of spinner Bishan Singh Bedi. One sequence starts during Bedi’s run-up and continues after the ball has left his hand. These photographs were seen by a 16-year-old Monty Panesar—like Bedi, a Sikh boy, but raised in England. The elegance of Bedi’s action spurred a young Panesar to create a similarly smooth one.

Eagar, 75, grew up in Hampshire, England. He photographed his first Test in 1965. By the time he called it a day in 2011, he had racked up 325 Tests and over half a million photographs. He is perhaps the best-known cricket photographer ever. In an email interview, Eagar talks to Lounge about the importance of anticipation in sports photography, and why effortless players are difficult to shoot.

Did you start out wanting to become a cricket photographer?
I was always interested in photography. My father was captain and secretary of Hampshire (from 1946-57) and whenever Hampshire played at Lord’s, he would be sent a set of photographs by Sport & General, the agency that exclusively worked at Lord’s. I was fascinated by them since they were taken with long telephoto lenses and I didn’t have one. Actually, you couldn’t really buy one, the way you can today. By 1972, the situation had improved, although I ordered one from Nikon in April 1972 and it was delivered in September, far too late for my first Test season. The old cameras used lenses rescued from aerial reconnaissance cameras from the two world wars. They say the German lenses were the best.

Did you play yourself?
I was a devilish leg spinner with the smaller-sized cricket ball that we used up to the age of 13. I took 55 wickets against other schools in one season. Then, a year later, my fingers no longer fitted around the larger (5.5 ounces) ball and the batsmen got bigger. I was far too easily slogged to the boundary.

Who were the photographers who inspired you?
The classics—Henri Cartier-Bresson, Elliott Erwitt, Robert Capa, Edward Weston...

What was your first great photograph?
The 1972 English season was the first in which photographers other than the exclusive agencies Sport & General and Central Press were allowed to photograph Test matches. The demand for colour photographs was very small, so all the other photographers only shot in black and white. If the light was bright enough, I was able to use colour film, and, being the stubborn sort, I really thought this was something I could exploit for the future.

My first Test of that summer was Old Trafford and the sun hardly ever came out, which made colour photography very difficult. I did manage one colour photograph of a Dennis Lillee wicket (Alan Knott caught by Rod Marsh) which made a pleasing composition. A good photograph, though perhaps not a great one!

In 1972, we were told where we could sit, particularly at Lord’s. One day I found myself in the most unsuitable spot, high up in the Warner Stand. Greg Chappell made a century and returned to a standing ovation. I then found I was in the perfect position to photograph the Lord’s pavilion from top to bottom as he came off the field of play.

Did you have match-day rituals?Not really. In the early days, I think the amount of equipment and the lenses were heavier and trolley bags hadn’t yet been invented, so car parking at the ground was a great help. On a hot day, a supply of water was helpful. You couldn’t just wander off and buy one. If you ever failed to watch even a single ball, then that might have been the image of the day gone forever.

How much does anticipation play a role in capturing the decisive moment?
With cricket, the problem is always the same in that most of the players you are interested in are 75 yards/metres away, unlike football, rugby or golf. The only thing that varies is your angle to the action, ground level or up in the stand, behind the bowler’s arm or at square leg or anywhere for that matter. Correctly anticipating the action in any single session would result in setting up all the equipment in the best place from which to work. A fast bowler with a new ball would indicate having all the slips in view. An in-form batsman with a good square cut or cover drive would send you square of the wicket at ground level.

The permutations are endless. You can shorten the odds in your favour by using a second or third remote-controlled camera; or an army of assistant photographers. Remote-control cameras have helped me a lot over the years, the second angle on any incident often being a life saver.

What kinds of players are tough to shoot? What kinds are easier?
Obviously, any player with a classic action, batting or bowling, fits into a mould. You hardly have to think about how you are going to photograph them to show them at their best or at their most typical.

Some players time the ball so well there is no visual sign of strain or effort. Michael Holding was known as “whispering death" because his approach to the wicket was so quiet and apparently effortless, his action so apparently economical that it was amazing that he regularly topped 95 mph or more. David Gower’s cover drive was a thing of perfection, no bish-bash, just an even, perfectly timed stroke. The problem with people like that, and I would include Sachin (Tendulkar) in particular, is that the photograph doesn’t always convey the power in the shot, it doesn’t look like a boundary particularly if the ball has been hit along the ground, as it so often was with the best players.

Which are your favourites among your own photographs?I think anything that conveys a moment in a game—the more important the moment, the better the photograph. A slip fielder diving for a catch, a wicketkeeper stumping, a fielder hitting the stumps for a run-out, that sort of thing. A batsman and the winning runs. Maybe the moment that turned a match.

There’s a great story about your sequence of Bedi photos inspiring Monty Panesar.
The Bedi photographs were taken on a 16mm cine camera at a speed of 64 photos per second. I couldn’t afford the special camera that would do it on 35mm film, neither could I afford the running expenses. The photographs made a nice sequence and the quality wasn’t at all bad considering the tiny size of the negative.

Were there any moments you missed that haunt you?
You could always run out of film in the old days, each roll lasting for only 36 pictures. The trick was to reload before you got to the end, but then you wasted some film, which was an expensive matter. Also, it was possible to mis-load a film so that it never wound on at all. The best thing is to forget about the things that went wrong and look forward to the photographs you are about to take, a feeling not unlike that experienced by a bowler who bowls a full toss or a long hop. You could always hope that the next ball might be the unplayable delivery.

If you were shooting this World Cup, which players would you be concentrating on?
Obviously, you keep an eye out for the top performers on the field, but wanting to capture anyone on a given day is more difficult. You don’t really know until it happens. You have to be open-minded and take each innings as it comes. The most unexpected things happen.

I would, however, look out for the most famous players too because they are the most likely to do well. Virat Kohli is an obvious example. But what about the players in the Afghanistan team? I remember the match when Zimbabwe beat Australia in the 1983 World Cup. And after that, they could so easily have beaten India at Tunbridge Wells were it not for Kapil Dev’s innings.

This was part of Mint Lounge's World Cup special. 

Rocketman: Review

Rocketman opens with Elton John crashing a meeting for recovering addicts. Dressed in a orange jumpsuit, heart-shaped glasses, devil-horn headgear and giant wings, he announces that he’s been addicted to alcohol, drugs, sex and shopping. Before you’re done shaking your head at the triteness of the device, though, the film opens up. Elton (played by Taron Egerton) sees his younger self in a corner. He starts singing. The boy sings too. And the scene changes, just like that, to 1950s England, with everyone on the street dancing to “The Bitch Is Back".

Dexter Fletcher’s film really only has this one trick – but it uses it well enough to get by. Time and again, a scene slipping into sentiment or lethargy is saved by near-seamless transition into a musical number. “Rocket Man" starts off in a swimming pool, moves through a hospital (albeit one interpreted, Fosse-style, through dance) and ends up in a concert. “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting" does a neat time jump. “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" gives the weary opening lines not to Elton but to his long-time writing partner, Bernie Taupin.

The rest is not too different from that other British rockstar film, the one Fletcher helped finish after director Bryan Singer was fired. Difficult childhood, precocious talent, substance abuse, isolating fame – the beats are familiar, as is the puzzling assumption that the viewer should feel sorry for Dionysian rock stars if they spend most of the film feeling sorry for themselves. Still, there are significant gains over Bohemian Rhapsody. Fletcher and screenwriter Lee Hall are more successful in making the supporting characters register, aided by tart performances by Bryce Dallas Howard (as Elton’s mother) and Richard Madden (as his manager and lover), and a soulful Jamie Bell as Taupin. Elton's sexuality is treated, by big studio film standards at least, with some forthrightness. And Egerton is a more intriguing, mercurial Elton than Rami Malek’s dead-eyed imitation of Mercury.

The musical numbers are energetic, but it’s difficult not to wish that someone like Edgar Wright, or whoever does the dance setpieces for TV’s Legion., had been unleashed on this material. There’s been a surprising resurgence of the Hollywood musical, but apart from Damien Chazelle’s La La Land, recent films have been high on technique and low on imagination (the situation isn’t much different in Hindi cinema). If there are going to be modern musicals, there should also be reconsiderations of the form. When young Elton and his father, mother and grandmother sing, in turn, successive lines from “I Want Love", it’s an old trick used for no discernible reason, and the emotion is lost.

At the end of the film, there’s a scene where the younger Elton embraces the older, ravaged one – a idea that plays out as mawkishly as it ought to. I was reminded of Get On Up, a 2014 film about the American soul singer James Brown, which also crosscuts between younger and older versions of Brown, but with less self-pity. I felt I understood something fundamental about Brown after watching that film, whereas Rocketman is an enjoyable snapshot of Elton John the showman and a shallow ode to poor, loveless Reggie Dwight.

This review appeared in Mint.