Monday, September 17, 2018

REVIEW 637: MITRON


Release date:
September 14, 2018
Director:
Nitin Kakkar 
Cast:


Language:
Jackky Bhagnani, Kritika Kamra, Neeraj Sood, Pratik Gandhi, Shivam Parekh, Mohan Kapoor, Prateik Babbar 
Hindi and Gujarati 



The first thing I did after watching Mitron was to check the credits for Jacky Bhagnani’s producer father’s name. I could not find it, which makes me wonder what the hell and Hades director Nitin Kakkar – the man who gave us that sparkling gem called Filmistaan – was thinking when he chose to cast Bhagnani Junior as his hero here. Each time a youngster this personality-less enters filmdom, you hope and pray he quietly retires on reading the message the audience is sending him, so that no critic is forced to spell it out in black and white and all the hurtful colours of the rainbow.

It feels harsh to say these things without mincing words and I don’t want to intentionally cause pain, but when an actor’s zero charisma ruins what feels like a screenplay with promise, perhaps all of us need to lash out at an industry that makes talented outsiders struggle for a single tiny role while giving chances again and again to star kids even after viewers have repeatedly rejected them, an industry so blinded by its privilege that when someone calls them out on their nepotism, they mock and marginalise her as revenge.

I do not know what Kakkar’s compulsions were, or whether he genuinely believes that Bhagnani’s sweet, paavam-boy look suits this role. What I do know is that I loved, loved, loved Filmistaan, which made me laugh till I cried, died and was resurrected, and that the combination of Kakkar with Sharib Hashmi in Mitron made me sit up and take notice (Hashmi played one of the leads in Filmistaan, and is the writer who has adapted the story of the Telugu film Pelli Choopulu for this one). As it turns out, Mitron’s screenplay has quite a bit going for it, and the casting of the leading man is the spoke in the wheel.

Jai (Bhagnani) is a lazy, indisciplined Gujarati youngster without a purpose. He lolls about, yet to find a mission in life and getting on his father’s nerves as sons have got on fathers’ nerves for centuries. He enjoys culinary experiments and would ideally like to be a chef, but goes down conventional paths under pressure from his tradition-bound, exasperated parent. This includes agreeing to an arranged marriage, which leads to an accidental “ladki dekhna” meeting with Avni (Kritika Kamra), whose son-obsessed father has failed to notice what a bright, enterprising daughter he has.

Jai and Avni bond over their frustrations with their respective parents, though her purposefulness is a stark contrast to his fatalistic, lackadaisical attitude. Meanwhile, he finds a potential bride. She, on the other hand, refuses to give up her professional ambitions even as the quest for her groom continues.

The point about autocratic, judgemental parents imposing professional dreams on their hapless children was explored with profound insights and emotional depth in Imtiaz Ali’s lovely, underrated Tamasha in 2015. It seems like an incongruous comparison considering that that film had the remarkably charismatic Ranbir Kapoor playing the male protagonist. Still, it is worth mentioning because Tamasha displayed an acute understanding of Kapoor’s character’s situation, but completely forgot its heroine (played by Deepika Padukone, no less) halfway through the film. On the other hand, Sharib Hashmi’s screenplay is thoroughly committed to its interesting female lead played by an interesting female actor.

It is not often that Hindi cinema bothers with women’s career dreams. TV’s Kritika Kamra makes her big screen debut as the entrepreneurial Avni, a woman performer with spunk playing a character with spunk. Unfortunately for Kamra, she is done in by Bhagnani who is too insipid to make Jai’s  lack of drive worth watching, and ends up pulling down the entire film and robbing it of all zest. If Bollywood has any common sense, it will take note of her arrival and give her another opportunity to display her acting chops in this new medium.

Mitron is strewn with hints of what it might have been if it had been better cast. Hindi cinema tends to be very culturally insular, its worldview largely being restricted to the people and preoccupations of the Hindi belt and Mumbai where it happens to be based. It is therefore interesting to see that Mitron is set in India’s Gujarati community, which it portrays complete with their pluses and quirks, yet remains devoid of caricatures or stereotypes.

Another passing insight into Hashmi’s worldview, which is clearly more expansive than his industry colleagues’ vision, comes from a brief reference Jai makes to Mani Ratnam’s Mouna Ragam. Indian cinemas other than Hindi are replete with references to films across Indian languages including Hindi and it is not unusual for them to mix languages in the dialogue writing. Hindi films on the other hand tend to be very parochial, only occasionally turning their gaze outward for a few laughs or exotica. Mitron, in that sense, is different even if not massively so.

Mitron’s attitude to women too is uncommon in the Hindi film industry but not in the manner of films such as Akira made by directors who are clearly clueless about feminism but have of late discovered its commercial potential. The episode with Jai’s nasty, opportunistic girlfriend, for instance, does not have that venomous tone of misogyny now so familiar from films like Pyaar Ka Punchnama 1 and 2 and Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety – unlike in those horrid, hateful films, here she is one girl, not a comment on womankind at large.

Sure, Mitron’s ending is a bow to social norms, but it can be excused if you recall a conversation in which Jai tells Avni’s father that parents need to stop pushing kids to hurry through life, and should instead leave them to make their choices at their own pace. This, in essence, is the point of the film.

All this fades into insignificance though in the face of the overall lack of energy in Mitron that comes from a vacuum opposite the sparks emanating from Kamra’s Avni, as a result of which the simplicity of the story and the storytelling style end up coming across as predictability instead. Frankly, I found myself wondering what this film might have been if Jai had been played by Vicky Kaushal who has been dealt a poor hand by Anurag Kashyap’s Manmarziyaan – also in theatres this week – and yet has managed to eke something out of nothing in that film.

I derived some satisfaction from assuming that Hashmi shares my frustrations, after watching a scene in which a call centre boss in Mitron yells at Jai and calls him a “sifaarshi tuttoo”. An inside joke? Perhaps. Ouch, did you say? Well, if you winced while reading that, know that writing it was no cakewalk – hearing the truth no doubt hurts, sometimes speaking the truth hurts too.

Rating (out of five stars): *

CBFC Rating (India):
UA 
Running time:
119 minutes 

A version of this review has been published on Firstpost:




REVIEW 636: ORU KUTTANADAN BLOG


Release date:
September 14, 2018
Director:
Sethu
Cast:



Language:
Mammootty, Anu Sithara, Mammootty, Raai Laxmi, Mammootty, Shamna Kasim, Mammootty, Sunny Wayne, Mammootty, Nedumudi Venu, Mammootty, Thezni Khan
Malayalam


Without the burden of a superstar presence, Oru Kuttanadan Blog had the potential to be an observant snapshot of rural Kerala. This is evident from the fact that even with Mammootty in the cast, it is less obsessed with him than most films featuring this iconic star have been for too long now, and it still manages to offer some amusing and some disconcerting insights into the community in which it operates. That it is better than the rest does not make it a fine film though, it just makes it... well... better than the rest. Period.

Oru Kuttanadan Blog is set in a village called Krishnapuram in Kerala’s Kuttanad district where, when we first enter the scene, a frenzy is being whipped up around the return from Dubai of a legendary local called Hari, addressed by all his fawning, parasitic fans among the youth as Hariettan (elder brother Hari).

Obviously, Hariettan is played by Mammootty. It soon becomes evident why these youngsters are so taken by him. He is always up for an adventure, he does not have a parent-like fuddy-duddy attitude to them, he is their drinking companion and the financer of their drinks, he has the wisdom to sort out their girl problems, he is an all-round nice guy who goes out of his way to help his people, and most important, he unblinkingly doles out money to those he is fond of and some people who are not so nice to him too.

Like most Malayalam films these days featuring the two Ms – Mammootty and Mohanlal – the leading man is a superhero even if he cannot fly. Especially in the case of Mammootty-starrers, his secret weapon is his SuperCharm which often translates into SuperHotness. This charm works on young men who hang on to his every word, ape his wardrobe and style, and are left gaping as equally charmed young women fall for him by the dozen. The scenario is usually peppered with pretty women belonging to Mammukka’s children’s generation who are either sexually attracted to him or at the very least are viewed as wife material for him by the surrounding families.

Male devotees of Mammootty’s character in Oru Kuttanadan Blog: check.

Female admirers and possible bhaaryas: check, double check, triple check, quadruple check.


The strict new SI played by Shamna Kasim, Hariettan’s childhood sweetheart who is back in Krishnapuram (Raai Laxmi) and his elderly mentor’s beautiful daughter (Anu Sithara) are all close to him. Even the grouchy local Panchayat member played by Thezni Khan cannot help but look at him with goggle eyes even when she conspires against him with her jealous colleagues.

We have seen it all before on numerous occasions, the difference here being that even while operating in cliched territory, Oru Kuttanadan Blog more or less steers clear of the star-struck camerawork of most Mammootty films (such as those by-now-familiar and terribly irritating tilt shots used to emphasise his strapping physique) and does not have him strutting about as if on a catwalk while a big hoo-haa is created around his sunglasses, shoes, the rest of his attire and his gait. (Possible spoilers ahead) Interestingly too, despite the as-usual-cringe-worthy age difference between him and the three women who are romantically linked to him by the village grapevine, here for a change, he actually states in black and white to one of them that she is like a sister to him in his eyes and he is consequently feeling hurt by the ugly speculation surrounding them, he becomes friends with the second and they share a good laugh over how the locals must be gossiping about them, and to the third he acknowledges that he saw her as a possible partner who could assuage his loneliness. The song Maanathe even describes her as his koottukkaari (friend). (Spoiler alert ends) For a character played by Mammootty in his stereotypical SuperCharming, SuperHot superhero avatar to admit to being vulnerable and for a female lover to be seen as a friend is in itself unusual for a genre which is steeped in the othering of women and an almost dehumanising pedestalisation of men. (For the record, yes, the Malayalam superstar vehicle is a genre unto itself.)

All three women, especially Anu Sithara, are interesting. And it is a relief to see Mammootty marginally toning down his superstar airs for this role, which is the best thing that can be said of a performance otherwise marked by a sameness that has bogged him down for years now.

So hold on to the champagne corks, because any element worth celebrating in this film is diluted by its largely formulaic nature, made worse by a crucial thread in which Sethu (who is also the film’s writer) casually misrepresents laws relating to sexual violence, wittingly or unwittingly perpetuating the misconception misogynists hold so dear that a woman can completely fabricate charges against a good man and the law will blindly believe her – and no, it does not help that this notion is presented by a director whose tone suggests that he has sympathy for the woman in question.

The oddest, most inexplicable part of this film though, is the narrative device involving Sunny Wayne (in a weird hairstyle) and his flatmate in a foreign country. The two are present from beginning to end reading a blog about Kuttanad that is dominated by tales of Hariettan and through which the story of this film is unrolled. It makes no sense, and sticks out like a sore thumb.

If the idea was to up the cool quotient of the film, then the effect is just the opposite, because blogs by their very nature tend to be personal and intimate, a point that Sethu has evidently not grasped.

The screenplay of Oru Kuttanadan Blog does call for a certain smallness and intimacy in the narrative style but that is impossible to achieve if you cannot fully, completely and entirely get over the fact that you managed to cast Mammootty in your film. Sethu occasionally strikes the right tone and in those places he does offer insights into rural life that other filmmakers tend to avoid, for instance nixing our national tendency to romanticise village folk when an important character says that the people of Krishnapuram are far more appealing from a distance than when you are living with them. This point is dwarfed by the largeness the film aims for in other places, such as via a big fat wedding set piece complete with song and dance, or that other massive (albeit well choreographed) song and dance number Elampadi Elelo.

As a result, in addition to coming across as tired, Oru Kuttanadan Blog is also inconsistent. The only player in this film who sticks to his guns from start to finish is cinematographer Pradeep Nair who effectively portrays the beauty of Kuttanad without resorting to grand, overwhelming shots of this scenic Paradise. Sethu should have taken a leaf out of his book. Since he did not, Oru Kuttanadan Blog feels like a potentially intimate snapshot of rural Kerala photobombed by the mighty Mammootty and the director’s own confusion over what he wanted it to be

Rating (out of five stars): **

CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
137 minutes 

A version of this review has been published on Firstpost: