Wrong Side Raju

Ten minutes into Mikhil Musale’s Wrong Side Raju, everyone in the auditorium who knew rudimentary Gujarati (including this South Indian reviewer, born and raised in Gujarat), forgot that they were watching a Gujarati movie. This is a good thing as well as a bad thing. Good, because the look, feel, vibe and overall production quality of this movie is at par with most mainstream ‘bollywood’ movies. Bad, because this movie is so reminiscent of a small budget ‘bollywood’ thriller that I won’t be able to cut this movie the slack I usually reserve for regional films. For me, Wrong Side Raju is almost a Hindi movie dubbed in Gujarati. And when I look at it like that, the movie leaves me satisfied, but not delighted.wrong_side_raju_poster

The film is ‘inspired’ by an actual hit-and-run case that transpired in Ahmedabad couple of years back, involving an influential doctor’s son. The Raju of the title is played by Pratik Gandhi who channels his inner Dhanush quite well and hits the right notes almost till the end (more on the end later). Raju is a driver by day for advocate Amitabh Shah (Asif Basra, an inspired and spot-on casting choice by Mr. Chhabra), and a teetotaler bootlegger by night. He gets smitten by the French ‘friend’ of his boss’ son Tanmay and gets embroiled in a cover-up when a midnight accident happens. The rest of the plot details will require a ticket.

The first half is breezy, albeit a little slow. The songs by Sachin-Jigar are top notch (specially the ode to Amdavad in the beginning). The love story between Raju and his ‘Saily Medam’ is too convenient, inconsistent and contrived. I can only hope that young Gujaratis don’t start finding parallels every time a foreign tourist warms up to them. Post interval, the plot gains a lot of momentum. So much that it becomes difficult for the writers to bring it safely to a stop. So they crash it into a wall instead. The audience around me went gaga over the twist in the end, but I personally found it ‘meh’ at best. It was a deus ex machina. Nothing that the characters say or do throughout the movie will prepare you for what the characters say that they did in the end. I really wish that the film had a more bitter-sweet, little won-little lost Phantom-esque end.

Wrong Side Raju marks Phantom Films’ foray into Gujarati cinema; and the Phantom stamp (especially that of Anurag Kashyap) is visible in most of the scenes involving the police. The main investigating officer, played by the brilliant Jayesh More, is ruthless and funny in equal measures. There is the usual banter between officers and hawaldars reminiscent of Ugly. The police are still enamoured by the powers of the mobile phone including its ability to take ‘pothyu’ (selfies in Phantom Gujarati). But on the plus side, the Phantom marks are also visible in the taut and almost accurate police procedural and judicial sequences. I really enjoyed watching an on-screen lawyer manoeuvre against bail by having the charge sheet filed in record time.

But while the special touches of Phantom are a welcome change, I must warn the new-age Gujarati film-makers to be a little careful while dealing with an all-wish-fulfilling devil. Gujarati films in the last 4-5 years have no doubt rebounded with a vengeance, but are on the verge of trading their souls and becoming Hindi films dubbed in Gujarati. There is a fine line between making a slice-of-life urban film and typecasting that life. There is more to an urban Gujarati than just yearning for alcohol, dealing with bootleggers, dreaming of ‘bijness’ or ‘amerika’ and doing the garba. At least I would like to believe so.

All in all, Wrong Side Raju is a decent thriller that has many moments that are well done and an end that is medium rare at best. Watch it once, because there are less chances of a just-released Gujarati film coming to a television channel near you.

Airlift – Of Human Endeavours and Misplaced Patriotism

Some stories are remembered for the message they convey; some are remembered for the messages they are perceived to convey. Raja Krishna Menon’s Airlift, an otherwise fine film with great performances, will go down in history as an Indian patriotic film – which is rather unfair to both; the film as well as the concept of patriotism. airlift

Airlift is the story of how India mounted the largest human evacuation in recorded history when it airlifted around 170,000 Indians from Kuwait in 1990. The only problem is, the actual airlift and India’s contribution to the effort constitute hardly 10 minutes of the film’s runtime. The rest of the 110-odd minutes are dedicated to how a small group of Indian businessmen helped sustain and mobilize thousands of Indians in a war-ravaged country. This reminds me of Gadar – Ek Prem Katha, a jingoistic extravaganza that is still regarded as a patriotic film because Sunny Deol shouted “Hindustan zindabad tha, zindabad hai aur zindabad rahega” and pumped off a bunch of Pakistani soldiers when all that he was actually doing, was just saving his wife and son.

This band of businessmen is headed by Ranjit Katiyal (an imaginary character brought to life by Akshay Kumar in what is probably his best performance to date). He is a ruthless Kuwaiti businessman of Indian origin, who loathes everything Indian for the first 10 minutes of the movie and then has a change of heart when he realizes that so many people are looking up to him as a messiah now that the Saddam has hit the fan. In this effort, he is a supported (initially reluctantly and thereafter vehemently) by his wife, Amrita (played by Nimrat Kaur, who is understatedly fabulous). There is a also a whole host of supporting characters played by fine actors like Kumud Mishra, wildcards like Purab Kohli and theatre artists like Prakash Belawadi (whose character George is so damn irritating that I ended up loathing him more than the funny and puny Iraqi major). Rather unfortunate that Mr. George has more role in the movie than India does.

The story is gripping and very efficiently told. The tension peaks at the right moments. The dialogues are very effective and the frames are very nicely set by Priya Seth. I guess there is a lot of talk going around that Airlift is India’s version of Argo. Well, I haven’t seen Argo but it surely reminded me of Schindler’s List. Like that Spielberg classic, Airlift is also a story of how a few with will can find a way for many to survive – which is wonderful, engaging and definitely worth a watch. But let’s not call it a patriotic film just because it released on a Republic Day weekend. So did Kya Kool Hain Hum 3!

Rating: 8/10 (just pray that you don’t get any surplus KKHH3 crowd in your auditorium.)

Chhello Divas

For someone who has lived in Gujarat all his life, I have not watched too many Gujarati films. This is probably because for a very long time Gujarati films lived in a parallel universe where the heroines dressed in gravity-defying ‘chania cholis’ and heroes clad in ‘kedios’ started every song with a “heeeyyyyy”. I’m sure that many Gujaratis found some guilty pleasure in watching these, but I could never identify with them. Then a few years back, a new breed of Gujarati film makers stumbled upon a new voice – that of an urban Gujarati youth. The quality of films made since then has been quite refreshing and, if box office records are to be believed, they’ve been successful as well.

One of the complaints that I’ve had with new-age Gujarati films has been that they try too hard to be a Hindi film with regional dialogues. Some of them like Bey Yaar have even ‘borrowed’ plot lines from ‘Khosla ka Ghosla’ quite generously. I am happy to report that ‘Chhello Divas’ (Last Day), directed by Krishnadev Yagnik, is not one such film.

chhellodivas_team

Chhello Divas has been consistently (and emphatically) promoted for what it is – an urban Gujarati film about 8 college students who are about to embark into the ‘real world’. The characterisation, the plot devices and the dialogues; everything is quintessentially urban and Gujarati.

Although the synopsis states that this is a story of 8 friends, the actual film revolves more around the characters of Nick (Yash Soni), Vicky (Malhar Thakkar), Pooja (Janki Bodiwala), Loy (Vadodara boy Mitra Gadhvi) and Nisha (Kinjal Rajpriya). The storytelling is Saathiya-esque (or should I say, Alaipayuthey-esque): a series of flashbacks strung together by a grim present set in a hospital waiting room. The forward-backward mode didn’t quite work for me. The film would have been pretty much the same had it been a linear storyline. The flashbacks are also more of standalone comedy tracks that don’t necessarily merge into one another all the time. Some of these tracks fall flat on their face, some start off as funny but get stretched a tad too long. But a sizeable majority of the sequences are genuinely funny and laugh-inducing. This alone is worth the admission (which is cheaper because being a Gujarati film, Chhello Divas is tax-free).

Yash Soni is quite decent as the leading man and gets some of the expressions bang on. Malhar Thakkar as Vicky is a loose cannon. Sometimes he fires a joke correctly but he misses so often that it makes the on-target ones seem like flukes. Mitra Gadhvi is quite nice as Loy and emotes a lot more with his body language than the rest of the cast, Janki as Pooja makes a cute debut but almost gets her thunder stolen by Kinjal who makes a cracker of an appearance mid-way through the film. A special word of mention should go to the character of canteen boy Naresh played by Mayur Chauhan who gets a gem of a sequence towards the end and makes the most of it.

The production values are quite nice thanks to the confidence reposed by the film’s producers on a first-time director and cast. But the editing could have been a little tighter. On some occasions, I felt that the director and the editor got a little too enamoured by the characters and forgot to cut the scenes where they should have. But hey! As long as I am laughing consistently throughout the movie and come out of the auditorium with a smile, these are small quibbles that I can easily live with.

All in all, Chhello Divas is definitely a good one-time watch that will remind you of some instances from your own college days, especially if you did it in Gujarat. I believe that Gujarati films are finally finding their foothold and the least that we can do as an audience, is give them a fair chance.

Verdict: 7/10

Voluntary Disclosure: One of the producers of the film, Sharad Patel from ESSPEE Group, is a dear friend and I watched the movie on a complementary ticket. All efforts have still been made to maintain objectivity.

Heroine: A collage of clichés

When Madhur Bhandarkar started work on Fashion, he had an idea. An idea to take what was up until then, supposedly, only acknowledged in hushed conversations of the super elite and the back of Filmfare gossip pages and create an in-your-face, let’s get it out of the closet, almost-commentary of the Indian fashion industry. What the audience got was not unexpected, but since it came from someone on the “inside”, it felt good to watch. It’s the kind of kick an outsider gets when he’s shown the darker face of where he can never be. And that is why Fashion worked.

After watching Heroine, it looks like Bhandarkar had no idea, no vision, no story and that he probably decided to wing it. Most of the director’s efforts seem to have gone in ensuring the movie stays in the headlines for a good year before its release. Had he put in similar efforts to the story, he might have been able to do us all some justice. Instead, riding heavily on recycled clichés, what Bhandarkar has managed to give us with Heroine is an utter rot.

Heroine is the story of Mahi Arora (Kareena Kapoor), a Bollywood actress who goes about doing what every other Bollywood actress does, according to ToI. She first has an affair with a married superstar, Aryan Khanna (an exasperated Arjun Rampal) – cliché #1, when that doesn’t work out she hooks up with cricketer, Angad (he-CANNOT-act Randeep Hooda) – cliché #2, when her career starts to go south, she decides to do an alternate cinema directed by an eccentric Bengali director Tapan Da  (Ranvir Shorey, one of these days, the world will take notice of what this guy is truly capable of), which he promptly shelves when the “commercial movie people” decide to go against his “artistic visions – cliché #3, 4, 5, 6, 7.

Between all of this there are a couple of friends who play Mahi’s personal devil and angel, a few parties where people air-kiss over crates of wine, Mahi’s competitors who are willing to use their friends’ sexual preference to get advertisement contracts, a no-nonsense cut-throat PR lady (Divya Dutt) who’s not averse to pulling any strings required to keep her client in the news, a sex tape, a shrink, a drinking problem, a snide remark by Mahi about how she can always decide to buy an IPL team with a businessman (hmm.. let’s guess who that is aimed at..) and on and on and on. And oh, all of this happens over copious amounts of cigarette smoke (if you really want to make this movie entertaining for yourself, try counting the number of cigarettes smoked in the movie..).

A word for Kareena Kapoor though – she looks pretty and manages to do a decent job of playing the damaged Mahi and actually succeeds in making the audience feel a little sad for her. This is saying a lot considering she had so little to go by.

The verdict – Heroine is a bad movie that is almost 2 and half hours long too long.

The Amazing Spider-Man : Reboots swing into action

The season of reboots is here. And The Amazing Spider-Man kicks it off quite nicely. From the very first scene where the young Peter Parker goes searching for his father while playing hide and seek, you know immediately that this movie is not going to be like Sam Raimi’s trilogy where Tobey Maguire plays a rather un-sure version of Peter Parker. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying the earlier trilogy was bad. It’s just that TASM is much more…grown up.

The story is the one that we’ve heard for years. Peter loses his parents, gets bitten by a radioactive spider, Uncle Ben gets killed, Peter becomes Spider-Man. But what is expectedly yet refreshingly different is the execution. And that is where the director Marc Webb (notice the last name) comes to play. He takes the tried and tested story and gives it just that little extra to make sure the audience doesn’t go “oh we’ve seen it all before”. And so Peter Parker’s interest in photography (remember his role in the Daily Bugle?) is subtly hinted at right from the beginning, he wanders around always accompanied by his skateboard (the skills of which will later help him as Spider-Man) and he has no qualms of wearing his school backpack or answering a call from Aunt May while he’s perched on top of a high-rise building asking him to pick up eggs on his way back.

Andrew Garfield is a rebel without a comb. Ever since his outing in The Social Network, he’s been marked as someone who’s got brilliance material woven into him. The comfort with which he stammers around Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy or how his eyes well up while talking to Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) about his parents, Garfield forces you, quite effectively, to feel a connect to the character.

But that’s kind of where the actors stop being brilliant. Emma Stone is decent with her portrayal (for those of you who think Gwen Stacy wasn’t in the earlier Spidey movies, she was. Remember her?), Rhys Ifans as Dr. Curtis Conners is commendable and nothing more, Irrfan Khan has too little a screen-time but makes it work nonetheless (will he be the Green Goblin in the next movie?? Fingers crossed) and Sally Field as Aunt May is forgettable. I guess this was always meant to be Andrew Garfield’s movie than anyone else. But it wouldn’t have hurt to want to look forward to what some other character might do in the next movie.

There are some amazing moments in TASM that must be pointed out. First up, if you are watching the movie in anything less than 3D, you are not doing it justice. Unlike many other movies that are ‘converted’, this one’s is shot totally in 3D. And the result is high on visual awesomeness. Secondly, this has to be my favorite Stan Lee cameo ever. The symbolism of how he’s created characters that can fight and live it out in the background on their own and not affect the metaphorical music of his life is not missed.

To sum it up, the purists would be very happy with what Webb has presented to the audience. There are enough minor details that the fanboys can get excited about and explain in detail to the muggles.

 

Rating: 7/10

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