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.

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Phantom

As a 30-year old Indian born and brought up on a steady dose of Bollywood, I believe that I am a patient, low-maintenance and forgiving movie-goer. I have endured and enjoyed a wide variety of mediocre films – the ones that showed a lot of promise but were let down by absurd casting decisions (Ajay Devgn’s Drishyam), ones that had the right cast and story-line but somehow just gave up in the last hour (Ishaqzaade and Badlapur), films that just wanted to make a quick buck by positioning themselves as a new-age entertainer but were inherently as regressive as they get (Any Karan Johar or Imran Khan movie you can think of), even films that were downright stupid (Aiyya). So you see, I’ve been through a lot and if a gun is ever pointed to my head, I’d even find one or two redeeming factors about these movies. But films like Phantom would rather make me urge my captor to pull the trigger and get it over with. Phantom is a classic example of the worst kind of cinema (according to me, of course), the lazy kind; the kind where no one gives a damn about what they are doing.

Let’s just cut to the chase. Phantom starts out like Rambo (there is even a reference of the movie/character by one of the characters in the second half) and ends up trying to be Steven Spielberg’s Munich. And it fails marvelously at both. Now, I don’t hold Spielberg on a pedestal and say that his movies should not or cannot be remade. Akshay Kumar’s Baby and Arjun Rampal’s D-day had pretty similar ‘eye-for-an-eye’ story arc, but were still pretty entertaining movies because (i) some thought had gone into the characterization of the ones seeking revenge and the atrocities being avenged for, and (ii) they had a couple of key sequences that were gripping and/or entertaining. Kabir Khan’s Phantom bothers to do neither.

The film has a forward-backward timeline that comes across as an editing gimmick. The whole ‘story’ could have been told in a linear manner without any loss in meaning or experience. The top guy at R.A.W is swayed into mounting a one-man revenge squad to avenge 26/11 (7 years later, no less) by a rookie played by Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub (a fine actor saddled with a terrible, unintentionally comical role).

The one-man revenge squad is, of course, our Saif Ali ‘Rambo’ Khan. He is an ex-army man who has a history that the audience never cares about (and neither is it made to). There are a couple of scenes that randomly give him the targets (why are they even using a projector to show pictures that are already there in every news portal possible?), some passports are handed over, a mobile phone is given (with specific instructions not to call back) and a wad of cash is thrown in. No other form of training or reconnaissance is needed (He’s an ex-army man, he’d be well-versed with all the intricacies of espionage, right?).

Our man, then goes about doing his thing across countries ranging from UK, US, Syria and finally, Malerkotla… err.. Pakistan. He knows exactly what to do, because he has read the script (let’s assume that there was one), he has no clue how to emote (because Rambo Khan can’t and no script can teach him that). In these missions, he is helped by Katrina ‘unnecessarily super-hot’ Kaif, an ex-RAW agent now working with an international defence contractor and one whose middle-class insurance agent father living in Colaba used to take her to Taj for tea and pastries (you see, insurance agents earn a lot.. even the middle-class ones).. Every assassination is conveniently plotted and childishly executed.. The audience is spoon-fed every bit of information after it has been thoroughly dumbed down (God forbid if someone in the audience didn’t understand an important plot twist). The result: a movie where the audience understands exactly what is going on, it can in fact predict what is going to happen and yet doesn’t give a damn about any of it. Bravo!

Let me take this opportunity to just call a bluff. This movie wasn’t delayed because there were post-production issues (there is so much wrong here at the production level that no amount of post-production can solve it). It was intentionally delayed because Kabir Khan finally bothered to look at the finished cut and thought “Oops! Can’t release this before or along with Bajrangi Bhaijaan. Let’s just serve this later like sada hua chinese manchurian served after 5-6 rounds of whiskey so that no one knows what they’re being fed.” Well, Mr. Khan, I, unfortunately, was sober and I know bloody well what you served me. And that is all that I have to say about that.

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