Sunday, May 24, 2020


Release date:
May 22, 2020
Pushpendra Nath Misra
Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Ila Arun, Raghubir Yadav, Swanand Kirkire, Anurag Kashyap, Dipika Amin, Bijendra Kala, Rajendra Sethi, Ragini Khanna, Cameos: Chitrangda Singh, Sonakshi Sinha, Ranveer Singh, Amitabh Bachchan

Though Nawazuddin Siddiqui has built his reputation largely on grim, sometimes even grisly roles, we know he has the genes for comedy. We know it from Lunchbox in which he was sweet and charming and comical in an otherwise pensive scenario. We know it from other, lesser films too in which we caught flashes of his funny bone. Ghoomketu – now streaming on Zee5is his attempt at an all-out comedic performance in an unconventional Bollywood project. 

Produced by the now-defunct Phantom Films and Sony Pictures, Ghoomketu has been languishing without a release for some years. It is easy to see why – why the concept found backing and why the completed film could not find takers. Ghoomketu’s writer-director Pushpendra Nath Misra (creator of the Netflix series Taj Mahal 1989) obviously had a good idea to begin with. He also then wrote a neat beginning and end. The bit that comes in between though, the bit that makes up the length of a film, flounders. 

Ghoomketu is named after its hero, a 31-year-old aspiring writer from small-town UP who wants a career in Bollywood. The film opens with him having run away from home, leaving behind his joint family. In Mumbai, a corrupt policeman is tasked with tracking down this runaway who is trying to convince a producer to buy his terrible scripts. 

From the word go, it is evident that Ghoomketu has little talent. Such a leading man is perfect material for hilarity or for perceptive commentary on the arts or whatever a filmmaker wishes to explore through him. Bad artists can make for great cinema – after reading this review, try watching Tim Burton’s 1994 film Ed Wood starring Johnny Depp as the eponymous real-life American director reputed for making horrendous films. 

In Misra’s case, having thought up an interesting character, he seems not to know what to do, which is ironic since the film displays as little imagination as its protagonist. 

The opening half hour or so of Ghoomketu is entertaining. I found myself giggling at the intentional silliness of the scenarios and characters. Too soon though, it became clear that the film is aiming for a certain whimsy that it does not have the depth to achieve. 
The use of graphics, animation, superstar cameos and the narrative device of getting the hero to talk directly to the camera end up feeling like window dressing in the absence of substance. After a while then, Ghoomketu becomes a long wait for a flight to take off.

Siddiqui tries hard and is initially effective. Beyond a point though, the script does not have enough meat for him. 

The supporting cast is a roll call of  actors who have in the past shown superb comic timing, and at places in Ghoomketu some of them do manage to elicit laughs.

Bijendra Kala and Rajendra Sethi are a hoot. Yadav is under-utilised and his Dadda is given little to do beyond scream at people. Kirkire gets to be mopey. Kashyap, making a rare acting appearance, shows some spark in his introductory scene but the writer has not bothered much with his character thereafter. Ragini Khanna who carried the Hindi TV serial Sasural Genda Phool on her shoulders and was impressive too in the Hindi film Gurgaon is wasted here. 

The actor who gets decent material to work on and remains a sweetheart throughout is Ila Arun as Ghoomketu’s adoring Bua – it helps that her interactions with him are the film’s best-written scenes. In the passage in which the senior lady explains to her nephew how she plans to act her way through a particular situation with his father, Arun steals the show from right under Siddiqui’s nose. We need to see more of her in Hindi cinema.

Ghoomketu boasts of several star cameos. Chitrangda Singh looks stunning in her few moments on screen. Sonakshi Sinha, Ranveer Singh and Amitabh Bachchan’s tiny roles seem to have been written with more care than the main characters. Sinha and Singh do a fair job. Bachchan seems to have had fun playing his part – that is actually nice to see. 

There is a tasteless fat joke running through Ghoomketu. I know, I know, some of you will point out that real people do make insensitive comments and a reality should not be censored on screen in a bow to political correctness. Look back though at how Sharat Katariya handled a similar theme in that Bollywood gem Dum Laga Ke Haisha. The issue is not what characters in Ghoomketu say or do, but that the film itself seems to be tickled by the thought of a plus-sized woman. In its attempt at profundity, it even appears to be using a slim woman as a metaphor for a man’s dreams coming true and for a Paulo Coelho-esque moment of treasure-finding involving an important character. Uff.

The twist in the climax is not bad at all, but it is inconsistent with what we have been told until then about Ghoomketu’s writing abilities. Lost in this film’s wafer-thin screenplay is the pleasant soundtrack by Sneha Khanwalkar and Jasleen Royal. More’s the pity.

Ghoomketu is being released directly online during India’s nationwide lockdown prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic. In these dreary times, it would have meant so much if its content had been a reason to celebrate. It’s sorta okay, but that is hardly enough from a film starring this stupendous cast.  

Rating (out of 5 stars): 1.5

Running time:
102 minutes

This review has also been published on Firstpost:

Poster courtesy: Zee5

Tuesday, April 21, 2020


Release date:
April 8, 2020
Vivian Radhakrishnan
Sujin Murali, Shanavas Sharaf, Rajalakshmi V.V., Rajeev D.H.

It is tough for an independent film without familiar faces to get public attention – even less so when it is not in theatres or on a prestigious streaming platform. Yet debutant director Vivian Radhakrishnan’s Veembu, now available on Youtube, has generated a fair amount of conversation this season. One reason is that actor Joju George unveiled the poster online. Another is that director Midhun Manuel Thomas promoted it on his Facebook page when it was released earlier this month.

Since these artistes are known for devotion to their craft, it is natural for expectations to be built solely on the strength of their support for Veembu. Thomas is just fresh from the stupendous critical success of the crime thriller Anjaam Pathiraa, so his patronage, if it can be called that, is particularly significant here because Veembu too is a thriller.

Now for the bad news. If Messrs George and Thomas meant to be kind, their kindness was misplaced – because Veembu does not deserve them.

At a basic level, the film’s concept is thought-provoking and seems exciting. Veembu means to offer an insight into how the truth is manipulated in the media to suit the powerful while maligning the weak. The journey from premise with promise to full-fledged film is rocky though. Veembu is pretentious, trying really hard to be cool and gives the appearance of being convinced that it has achieved that goal.

Veembu’s protagonists Kinavu and Abukutty are friends in remote rural Kerala. Kinavu is an autorickshaw driver taking care of his old mother who has been diagnosed with dementia. One day, desperate for a large sum of money, he agrees to commit a serious crime. Circumstances go out of his control largely as a result of his own inability to stay focused.

Veembu’s primary problem is that it is more preoccupied with form and structure than content. It starts with a man of small build being tortured by what appears to be a criminal gang. The fellow appeared in a selfie with someone he claims not to know. His captors think he is lying. One of them orders him to describe the circumstances that brought him to this pass as if he is narrating the script of a film. He agrees. That’s how it comes about that we get to hear the story of Kinavu and Abukutty.

The narrative device serves little purpose, the storytelling is over-stretched and the characterisation inconsistent. A man is rough with his elderly parent half way through the film but seems utterly devoted to her before and after that. Time is wasted on extraneous developments, such as Abukutty trying to have a fling with a married woman, that contribute nothing to the character development or the denouement. And by the time that neat twist comes around, involving two intruders and a heavy object, I was struggling to keep my eyes open and care for the people on screen.

DoP Vishnu Vijayarajan does deliver some eerie frames, well complemented by ominous background music. Particularly impressive is the shooting of a man held captive through Veembu. After a while though, these feel like embellishments masking weak writing. No amount of overhead shots of men weeping in a forest as seen through falling raindrops can camouflage the fact that the men are written as outlines without the colours filled in.

In its tone and tenor, from the beginning Veembu feels like a wannabe Angamaly Diaries, but again, no amount of stylisation, lookalikes in the cast and derivative music can give you the panache and heft of Lijo Jose Pellissery’s lovely 2017 film. After watching Veembu, I learnt from Google that Vivian Radhakrishnan assisted Pellissery on Jallikattu and has earned some praise for a recent making-of-Jallikattu video. Clearly, admiration for the boss does not necessarily translate into great art.

From among an inconsistent cast, several actors in Veembu stand out as naturals. Sujin Murali as Kinavu and Shanavas Sharaf as Abukutty are both easy before the camera, and will hopefully get better films in future. Sharaf reminded me of Tito Wilson, Angamaly Diaries’ U-Clamp Rajan, both in terms of looks and conviction. Another charismatic presence is Rajeev D.H. playing a man imprisoned for no fault of his – he is attractive and though his role is largely silent, manages to convey anguish with his intensity.

According to Radhakrishnan who wrote, directed and edited Veembu, the film has been in the cans for two years mostly due to censor troubles. If you can bear the tedium of its 2 hours and 20 minutes, in the end you will discover its troubling politics. Through a raucous monologue in the climax, in the guise of criticising the media – a worthy objective, no doubt – Veembu takes potshots at those who highlighted the communal angle in the rape of a Bakarwal child in Kathua in 2018 and other liberal causes.

In a better-made film, that finale – confused or intentionally illiberal? – would have merited a critique. Veembu is so vacuous and boring, it is not even worthy of anger.

Rating (out of 5 stars): 0.5

Running time:
140 minutes 57 seconds

This review has also been published on Firstpost:

Saturday, April 11, 2020


Release date:
April 10, 2020
Ranjan Chandel
Aditya Rawal, Shalini Pandey, Vijay Varma,  Shivam Mishra, Jatin Sarna, Sana Amin Sheikh, Kokab Fareed, Priyank Tiwari

A college-going ruffian in Allahabad operates on a short fuse. He is loyal to his friends, takes on those who cross swords with them, longs to meet the city’s crime-kingpin-cum-political-influencer and falls for a pretty stranger. Nasir Jamaal’s misdemeanours lead to a more grievous act when circumstances are manipulated by an individual who is well-acquainted with the young man’s combustible nature.

Director Ranjan Chandel’s Bamfaad (Explosion/Explosive) stays with Nasir’s battle for survival when life spirals out of control, beyond anything his bravado and a fist fight can fix.

Chandel has co-written this story, screenplay and dialogues with Hanzalah Shahid. The film, which is streaming on Zee5 from today, has already drawn some attention because it is presented by Anurag Kashyap (who Chandel earlier assisted), serves as a debut platform for the son of veteran actors Swaroop Sampat and Paresh Rawal (Aditya Rawal plays Nasir) and is the first Hindi film starring Shalini Pandey who made her big-screen debut in the nationally debated Telugu hit Arjun Reddy (2017).

True to its title, Bamfaad has a fiery start. The striking introduction melds realism, humour and an earthy song. You know it has emerged from the Anurag Kashyap School of Filmmaking when, in the opening minutes in the background, singer Vishal Mishra belts out that exuberant, mischievously worded title track (music: Mishra himself, lyrics: Raj Shekhar). You know the film has been designed as a showcase for Rawal Junior when, during the course of that number, the screen is given over entirely to his lithe frame moving towards the camera as he emerges from a darkened space into the light, a device Bollywood uses only when it sees an actor as larger-than-life-hero material.

Whether Rawal will live up to that expectation is a question for crystal-ball gazers. What can be said for sure is that in Bamfaad he reveals himself to be a natural actor with solid potential. His physique is also a pleasant change from the steady stream of star sons flowing out of Bollywood in the past decade, whose bulging muscles and soulless yet perfect dancing have borne such a strong resemblance to each other that they have come across as clones assembled in the same lab. Rawal is no clone. No way.

The women in Bamfaad’s storyline are secondary players, and Pandey’s Neelam is no different. She is efficient in the role of a quietly assertive woman, but lacks a spark.

The stand-out performers in the cast are Vijay Varma playing a criminal named Jigar Fareedi, and Jatin Sarna as Nasir’s friend.

The first half of Bamfaad is pacey and interesting. Prashant Pillai’s background score is intelligently utilised and the songs are slipped smoothly into the narrative. The big twist in Nasir’s journey is deftly edited and directed, and leaves in its wake considerable suspense over what will happen next.

Sadly, the second half of Bamfaad does not live up to the promise of the pre-interval portion. After that mid-point drama, the writing wears thin. There are two nice turns, both involving policemen, but nothing so exciting as to make the film stand out from the other crime sagas that have populated the Hindi filmverse for two decades now.

Maybe things would have been different if we had never seen Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Parinda (1989), Ram Gopal Varma’s pathbreaking Satya (1998) and Company (2002), or the best of Kashyap and others that came next. Maybe too things would have been different if the past two decades had not brought with them so many memorable visits to small towns and small-town romances in Uttar Pradesh. Anyone following in those footsteps needs to conjure up something truly unusual, inventive and extraordinary to pass muster. Bamfaad works up to a point, but not further.

The writing of the characters’ motivations and their relationships requires more depth, the bows to Allahabad and its culture are sparse, and post-interval it feels as if the director mistook limited energy for a naturalistic storytelling style. 

Still, Hanzalah Shahid and Ranjan Chandel are talents to watch out for. For one, in this era of stereotype-ridden, Islamophobic Bollywood rants like Padmaavat, Kesari, Kalank and Tanhaji, it is nice to see a film in which the protagonist is a Muslim, but is not given any stereotypical markers of the religion, and members of the community are treated as regular humans: some good, some not, some evil, some not.

This is not to suggest that Bamfaad avoids a political comment on the present real-life context in which it has been released. The film does reference the danger looming over Hindu-Muslim equations in today’s India, although that is not a primary theme.

Besides, how can one not make note of artists who can conceptualise a scene in which a love-lorn youth gazing at the object of his affection tells her that pimples look good on her face? He does not say “even pimples”, he simply says “pimples”. Oh the sweet innocence of those words! Because of course on her they are an adornment, not a skin eruption – “that dress looks good on you”, “the new hairstyle looks good on you”, “pimples look good on you”.

Bamfaad is not quite the explosion it was meant to be, but it has its merits and its moments and is an engaging watch.

Rating (out of 5 stars): 2.5

Running time:
102 minutes

This review has also been published on Firstpost:

Poster courtesy: Zee5