Margarita, with a straw

Before you read my views on the film, I feel that you should know where they are coming from. I have always been slightly uncomfortable in the presence of people with disabilities or special abilities. And this frankly has got nothing to do with them and everything to do with me. I know in my mind that the last thing these people need is pity or sympathy but my heart is somehow pre-programmed to feel bad. So, in this constant tussle between my rational mind and an emotional heart, my behaviour becomes very awkward. I don’t know which words to use while talking; is ‘differently-abled’ still an acceptable term or have the pseudo-empathizing intellectuals come up with a new term? I don’t know if my look will be misconstrued as gawking? Will a gaze that lasts a second more or less make them more or less conscious of themselves? Does this make me a bad person? I genuinely don’t know. Does this make me less of a good person? Perhaps. And so with these behavioural disabilities of my own, I entered the screening hall to watch Margarita, with a straw.

I won’t lie. There were some aspects of the movie which were difficult for me to watch. There were quite a few scenes in the film where I genuinely (and quite apologetically) felt bad for Laila Kapoor, a young woman with cerebral palsy (portrayed wonderfully by Kalki Koechlin). My heart (and in one particular scene, also my eyes) brimmed up for Aai, Laila’s strong and supportive mother (brought to life by Revathi, like.a.boss). I came out of the hall, disturbed. I didn’t even feel like discussing the film with my wife; my patient co-passenger in all my cinematic excursions – good and bad. I just came home and slept.

When I woke up today morning and thought about the film, I didn’t remember the story of a girl with cerebral palsy. I remembered a scene where a girl feels disgusted with herself because she has to depend on people for seemingly simple everyday activities; I remembered a scene where a girl strangles and buries her emotions inside her because they are not reciprocated by the guy she is attracted to; I remembered a scene where a helpless mother looks on quietly as her daughter talks about dreams which she believes, will never come true; I remembered a scene where a person tells the girl that she is genuinely beautiful and she laughs it off incredulously because she believes otherwise; I remembered a scene where a girl is coming of age and is truly confused about where her passions lie; I remembered a poignant scene where a mother removes the façade she wears all day and comes face to face with a sad reality in her life, how she breaks down and how her cheeks redden up within moments. I didn’t remember the motor neuron disability. I didn’t remember the visual impairment. I didn’t remember the cancer. I just remembered the people and their stories. Stories that are universal to us.

This, I feel, is the true beauty of this film. Here is a film that finally portrays people with disabilities without painting them with broad strokes of pity. It portrays them the way they see themselves – as humans. Humans capable of falling in love, capable of having a libido, and capable of not feeling sorry for themselves. And just for that, Margarita, with a straw is worth a watch. Director Shonali Bose, I thank you for this film. I may not be able to watch this film again (in the same way that I’m not able to watch Ek Duuje Ke Liye and Sadma), but I’ll always carry it in my heart.


Badlapur – A Revenge Dish Gone Sour

I will start my review of Badlapur with something fantastic I read in Birdman – “A thing is a thing, not what is said about that thing.” A lot has been said about Badlapur, most of the reviewers have pretty much gone gaga over it. I, unlike my friend Prakash Gowda, am susceptible to reading reviews before writing them and more often than not, these reviews do influence what I feel about the movie. Badlapur was a notable exception though. I kept on reading reviews before and after watching the film, hoping against hope that someone out there may have felt about it the way I felt about it. Nothing happened. So here is my hat in the ring.

(Spoilers Ahead)

Badlapur Poster

I found Badlapur quite underwhelming. Here are some reasons why:

  • The Fallen Hero or The Curious Case of Misplaced Sympathy: I hate to feel cheated; emotionally and otherwise. By the time Badlapur ended, I felt as if had invested too much of my sympathy to someone who didn’t quite deserve it. I am really no expert on these things but I sincerely believe that revenge films work when you root for someone and more importantly, when you root against the other person. If this means giving the ‘villain’ ten heads and make him look despicable, then so be it. If this means that you give a corny dialogue like “Kaho, Hindustan Murdabad” just to whip up some jingoistic fervour, then so be it. If it means having a dacoit on horseback kill a ten-year old pointblank, then so be it. Halfway through Badlapur, I realised that maybe I was rooting for the wrong side. But it was too late for me to jump ships so I eventually went down with it. I hated it.
  • A Celebration of Misogyny: Badlapur treats its female characters really badly. I mean REALLY badly. A prostitute is raped; a social worker’s divorced status is conveniently used for a one-day stand alibi; a wife who loves and believes in her husband’s innocence is made to grovel and prove her own chastity to that husband; a mother’s unflinching love for her no-good son that lasts over 15 years is never repaid; and the only woman who is loved and given some amount of respect is dead and only alive in memories. I am no feminist; in fact I don’t even know what feminism stands for anymore. But the disdain with which Badlapur treats its women is truly sickening. What makes it worse is the fact that most of these dastardly acts are committed by the so-called hero of the film and not the ‘villain’. I understand that this is the sad truth about Badla (revenge) ‘system’ in India, but I wish the film had not perpetrated this idea that the best way to get back at a man is to target the women closest to him.

As if these two factors were not enough to make a film truly forgettable, there are a couple more. Badlapur is stuck in some sort of a time warp. Nothing except the character’s hairstyle and facial scruff changes over a period of 15 year. Absolutely nothing. It’s as if a kid just kicked a can and became Amitabh Bachchan! The plot has enough holes and conveniences for characters to just disappear. What happens to Raghu’s parents and in-laws? Why is it that they just completely give up on him after calling him half-heartedly to Delhi once? Quite a few things just happen for the heck of it. Would the story have been any different had Raghu gotten off at Khopoli or Ambarnath instead of Badlapur?

At this juncture, you might feel that I am just ranting and nitpicking. This is only because I had expectations from Director Sriram Raghavan. I wouldn’t feel the same about Madhur Bhandarkar who revels in the misery of his heroines. But Mr. Raghavan is better, or at least he is supposed to be. So when he pulls of a Bhandarkar, it hurts more. I am dismayed because despite all the character and plot flaws, the performance of Badlapur’s lead pair is flawless! While Varun Dhawan gives a brouhaha performance that has equal measure of sincerity and cuteness, Nawazuddin proves once and for all that he is the boss! I mean, had you not seen the first 10 minutes of the film, you’d actually feel that he is innocent. In fact all actors give really sincere performances. And when you see this kind of effort go down the drain (or perceive it to be) then that also hurts.

Whether it is fair or unfair; whether we or Mr. Raghavan like it or not; one thing is certain. Eventually all his films will be compared to Johnny Gaddaar. Badlapur has all the elements and quirks of that fantastic film – the long & continuous takes, the homage to old Hindi films, meticulous and diabolical crimes, brilliant performances et al. But Badlapur is no Johnny Gaddaar. Which is quite a tragedy because it could have been one. Revenge is a dish best served cold; but it needs to have all the ingredients in place to begin with.

Rating: 3/10 (one each for Varun and Nawazuddin and one for all the other performances put together)


Somewhere in the second half of Highway, I desperately hoped that nothing should go wrong between Veera and Mahabir; despite the ominous intuitions. The point is not whether anything wrong happened or not, the point is that I hoped for the lead characters of a Hindi film after a long time; I cared for them after ages. And it was a refreshingly nice feeling. This is where Highway succeeds as a film; it is immersive… and it’s mighty impressive.

Highway, written and directed by Imtiaz Ali, is the story of Veera Tripathi (the wonderful Alia Bhatt), a soon-to-be -married uber rich Delhi girl and Mahabir Bhaati (Randeep Hooda, showing brilliance in restraint), a small-time Haryanvi contract criminal having a quintessentially ‘coconut’ personae. On the night before her wedding, Veera goes on an unwinding drive with her fiancé and winds up getting entangled in a gas station robbery-gone-wrong and becoming hostage in the hands of the kind of people she wouldn’t have even noticed in her usual plush life. The journey that ensues doesn’t just traverse the expanse of 6 states in India, it also delves into the depths and the pasts of the two protagonists who seem to have more in common than what is evident at first glance. The film immerses itself inside the two lead characters with such determination that there are hardly any parallel tracks to deliver respite or opportunities for a loo break. There is sparing footage given to the family’s hunt for Veera in spite of that fact that her father, M.K. Tripathi is spoken of in hushed voices and feared for his political clout. The camera, after a point, becomes the fourth passenger in the truck with Mahabir, his main partner-in-crime Aadoo (a highly effective Durgesh Kumar) and Veera.

It is very easy to trivialize the story of Highway using jargonistic concepts like Stockholm Syndrome, fear conditioning and childhood fixations, but it is quite emotionally moving to actually see it unfold on screen. Here is a movie where you know ‘what‘ is about to happen, but it is the ‘how‘ it happens that will make your ticket money worthwhile.

Highway belongs to writer-director Imtiaz Ali, cinematographer Anil Mehta and musical maestro A.R. Rahman as much as it belongs to Alia Bhatt and Randeep Hooda. Anil Mehta’s resplendent frames romanticize the rural areas of 6 states without ever naming them. A.R. Rahman’s music is a journey in itself, specially the haunting melody of Sooha Saaha. Imtiaz Ali’s characters have the required depth and back-stories to make them three-dimensional and worth caring for. The characters are not perfect, but then neither are we. It is rather unfair to expect characters in films to behave in a certain fashion and judge them on any discrepancies when real people do completely random things every day.

There are very few films out there that manage to elicit unanimously same reactions from the audience. Highway is not that film. It is a deeply personal journey which must be taken by every individual. Some might fret at the movie’s seemingly languid pace, some might turn their eyes and minds the other way at the film’s major turning points, and then there will be some who’ll become Veera and Mahabir’s co-passengers and smile and weep with them and for them. Highway is a journey – to each, his own.

Shuddh Desi Romance: Too ‘Rendom’

Shuddh Desi Romance, directed by Maneesh Sharma (Band, Baaja, Baraat and that other film), starts off with a quirky little song that goes ‘Chanchal mann, ati rendom’. In the next 2.5 hours, I realised that the song was actually a valid prediction, and not necessarily in a good way. Because although the film is seeped in randomness, it is the kind of randomness in which you manage to find a pattern and that kind of spoils the show. Shuddh Desi Romance

SDR is about four primary characters. Raghu Ram (Sushant Singh Rajput, quite good), Gayatri (Parineeti Chopra, getting brilliant with every film), Tara (Vaani Kapoor, not bad for a debut) and Goyal ji (Rishi Kapoor, fabulous as usual). Like the Brownian particles, these are four randomly floating characters. Other than Gayatri, no other character seems to have any back-story or even kith and kin. They all begin to move randomly and start colliding with each other in the serene and splendid Jaipur (captured beautifully by Manu Anand). Raghu is set to marry Tara in an ‘arranged’ set up, falls in ‘love’ with Gayatri (his ‘gentry’ sister-in-rent on a contract with Goyal ji, the wedding planner/broker) within a couple of hours of meeting her, runs away from the mandap and sets in motion a chain of inexplicable and, you-guessed-it-right, random events that flows through previously uncharted territories of Hindi films.

Speaking of flow, SDR is thoroughly brilliant in its flow of dialogues. All the characters talk as real people do. Which is refreshing in this day and age when characters seem to have an urge to turn their back at each other and wax out the roted dialogues. Jaideep Sahni (Rocket Singh, Khosla ka Ghosla etc.) sets the right mood with his dialogues and is quite surely the star of the show. In fact, the dialogues and the cinematography are so good that they make the niggling faults of the script seem like massive earthquakes.

Sushant Singh Rajput plays a role that seems to have been written for Emraan Hashmi and rejected by Ranveer Singh. In fact, at quite a few places, he sounds distinctly like the Bittu character from Band, Baaja, Baraat. He does a fairly decent job which is great considering that he has been given absolutely no background to explain his intentions. I believe that the director also sensed this problem of unexplained intentions and hence inserted separators where the characters break the imaginary fourth wall and talk directly to the audience in order to explain what is going on in their heads. These really don’t work on all occasions. Parineeti Chopra looks beautiful and handles the comic as well as serious outbursts like a pro. She is definitely one actress to watch out for. It is also very endearing to see a Hindi film actress who seems to be proficient in her Hindi. Vaani Kapoor makes a very competent debut and there are flashes where she proves that she is more than just a PYT. Rishi Kapoor, although he looks too regal for a small time Rajasthani marriage broker, does a fabulous job and gives a lot of credibility to the film on the whole.

SDR is at the end of the day, a Yash Raj production and that is very evident in all the technical departments. Music by Sachin-Jigar is quite good and is complemented well by the lyrics of Jaideep Sahni (Chaddar khaddar ki, armaan hain resham ke… nice touch!). The quality of production is top-notch including those of the mandatory Yash Raj OTT wedding sequences.

Shuddh Desi Romance could have been 2013’s Band, Baaja, Baraat or Oye Lucky, Lucky Oye had its randomness been more intriguing and interesting rather than bewildering. In its present form, it is an entertaining one-time watch and that is somewhat disappointing. I enjoy romantic films where I identify with the characters and root for them, where I smile and cry along with them. Towards the end of SDR (which is tediously long, by the way), I stopped caring about who ends up with whom. This is quite a pity.

Verdict: 6/10

P.S.: The name ‘Shuddh Desi Romance’ is quite a misnomer and can lead to an embarrassing experience if you decide to take your parents along with you. The now-famous 27 kissing scenes are very much there and the idea of ready-to-serve live-in relationships might not go down well with those having conservative stomachs.


The apple never falls too far from the tree. But sometimes it rolls away. Ghanchakkar, written and directed by Raj Kumar Gupta (Aamir, No One Killed Jessica) proves just that. This part-comedy, part-thriller, fully-confused movie starts with a nice premise, stutteringly builds its plot (taking its own sweet time) and then crumbles under its own weight. 

The story is about Sanjay Atre (Emran Hashmi, quite good), a lazy, indifferent and hen-pecked husband to Neetu ‘Bhabhi’ (Vidya Balan, loud & over-rated). He lives a pretty normal life of day-long TV and and boring food, except for the fact that he is an expert cat burglar on a hiatus. The script doesn’t bother with much backstory (thankfully) and introduces Pandit (Rajesh Sharma, Brilliant) and Idrees (Namit Das, adequately competent) who want to rope in Sanju for a bank heist. The heist (a subconscious homage to Point Break‘s ex-President masks) is beautifully set up and executed. Probably (and unfortunately) the only sequence that elicits any laughs in this movie. After the heist, they decide to lay low for some time and keep the money with Sanju for safekeeping. After 3 months, to their dismay, they come to know that Sanju doesn’t remember where he has stowed the loot! What follows next is Pandit and Idrees’s search for money and Sanju’s search for answers to some rather uncomfortable questions.

After a breezy and fabulous first half, the film gets bogged down by too many repeated scenes and multiple dead-ends. If Neetu doesn’t care about her food, she shouldn’t ask for opinions. If she asks for opinions every day then you’d expect her to get better at it! The film finally (phew!) comes to an end after the introduction of an additional character (a deus ex machina construct). This is quite surprising because the story is otherwise right up Raj Kumar Gupta’s alley (remember the helpless protagonist of Aamir and his travails in the beautifully picturised Mumbai?).

Coming to the cast, Emran Hashmi does a pretty commendable job of a confused and helpless man (a role so wonderfully mastered by the under-rated Rishi Kapoor). Rajesh Sharma is great as Pandit, a seemingly polite goon with flashes of terror. Namit Das is competent and brings a circuit-breaker for an otherwise loud OTT role. The loudly dressed and loudly loud Vidya Balan seems to be on a vengeance spree to avenge all the instances where the south Indian character has been caricatured by a north Indian actor in Hindi films. Her forced Punjabi accent and dialogue delivery only goes on to show why casting should fit the demographics of the character and not the other way round. In the weeks to come, this theorem will be proved true once again by Deepika Padukone’s take on a Tamil girl in Chennai Express (Chhhennai Expruss, seriously???)

The technical and music department is pretty ok. I don’t expect anyone from the technical team to put this movie on top of their portfolio. The techno background score by Amit Trivedi is too thrillerish and too comic at various instances whereas the film is neither at any point of time.

To sum it up, Ghanchakkar is a story about a guy who slowly starts to forget the details. The end makes me feel that the guy is Raj Kumar Gupta and not Emran Hashmi.

Verdict: 3/10, Save it for the idiot box (Thanks to UTV Productions, that shouldn’t be too far away)

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