Sunday, October 19, 2014

REVIEW 298: SONALI CABLE


Release date:
October 17, 2014
Director:
Charudatt Acharya
Cast:


Language:

Rhea Chakraborty, Ali Fazal, Smita Jaykar, Anupam Kher, Swanand Kirkire
Hindi

If David doesn’t look like David in a David-vs-Goliath film, you know you have a problem.

The film shares its title with a small-time cable Internet agency in Mumbai, the owner of which refuses to sell her shop when a large corporate entity called Shining decides it wants to monopolise the broadband business in the city. Sonali Dattaram Tandel (Rhea Chakraborty) is a feisty, fiery creature who won’t brook nonsense from anyone. Abandoned by her mother in her childhood, now as an adult she mothers her alcoholic father (Swanand Kirkire). If you want to buy out her tiny enterprise, Sonali Cable, you don’t phone her and tell her to visit you in your humungous office building with the intimidatingly massive lobby; you don’t tell her, you make a polite request. Goes without saying that there’s nothing polite about the bullies in suits from Shining.

And thence commences the enmity that almost destroys this gutsy gali ki chhokri, her friendships and especially her relationship with her boyfriend Raghu (Ali Fazal), son of Mumbai politician Meenatai Pawar (Smita Jaykar).

Disappointingly for a film co-produced by veteran Ramesh Sippy and his son Rohan, the lady neta’s name is its only cheeky touch. The late Balasaheb Thackeray’s wife was Meenatai, and Pawar is, well, you know the Pawars. Looks like writer-director Charudatt Acharya was having fun there.

No idea what happened thereafter. The introduction to the disparate cast of characters working with Sonali and the basic plotline are successful in getting viewer interest piqued. Unfortunately, too much unravels too soon in this film.

There are many elements that appear promising – the father-daughter relationship minus the presence of a mother figure (not common in Bollywood films), the personal touch offered by small business operators, the potential collusion between politics and big business, the bleak future of small businesses when that collusion takes place, and more. All this is particularly relevant in the context of the continuing FDI-in-retail-vs-the-future-of-kirana-stores debate. Sadly, Acharya fails to flesh out these elements and take them forward, which is odd considering that his earlier co-writing credits include films vastly superior to this one: the unusual horror flick Vaastu Shastra, the interesting though inconsistent Dum Maaro Dum and the delightfully quirky, layered Ayushmann Khurrana-starrer Nautanki Saala (the last two directed by Rohan Sippy). Sonali Cable merely skims the surface of everything it deals with, while our little Ms David and the people at Shining end up looking like clichés.

Besides, though the actors in Sonali’s office and home settings are believable, and Smita Jaykar feels very real as a politician of questionable morals, Rhea Chakraborty sticks out like a sore thumb. She is just too glammed-up to fit the part of a young woman sweating it out in a narrow bylane in lower middle-class quarters in a congested city. She has an expressive face but her makeup is too flawless, her jewellery too well-matched to her stylish, figure-emphasising clothes. In a country where working women are extremely careful about the way they are turned out for fear of being misunderstood, I’m not saying a real-life Sonali Tandel shouldn’t dress like this woman, but that she wouldn’t dress like her on the job in the kind of job she does.

Sonali’s posture too is more like that of a professional model at a studio shoot than a woman running a corner shop. Notice how she stands, her dainty hands planted just above her hips to underline her tiny waist that is already highlighted by her impeccably cut tops. Let’s get real!

Ali Fazal is the cute-looking guy who played Vidya Balan’s boyfriend in Bobby Jasoos earlier this year. Fazal has a likeable screen presence and delivers a neat performance here, despite the half-baked screenplay. The redeeming factor for Chakraborty is that she has good chemistry with him. In fact, they’re hot together when they cuddle up.

The villains in the story never make the transition from cardboard cutouts to real human beings: there’s the sleazy corporation owner (Anupam Kher), his obsequious second-in-command who is out of his depth in the job throughout but is not fired anyway, and a third man who seems far wiser than the second-in-command but does not take over the job. At least Kher’s character boasts of an innovative quirk that is effectively icky: he has a earbud permanently stuck in his ear, thus constantly conjuring up visions of ear wax and – don’t ask me why – people who pick their noses or men who don’t wash their hands after peeing. This, his obsession with khakra and the ridiculous tasks he gives his ever-on-call gori firangi Woman Friday are amusing to begin with, but after a while they become yawn-worthy and you want to see evidence of action in his bustling mega-company beyond those three men mostly cooped up in a room.

The last thing you would expect from Ramesh and Rohan Sippy is a film that looks like it ran out of both money and imagination early on. In addition to better writing and casting, this one needed more extras in more frames and sets that weren’t trying hard to look like natural settings.

Sweetness of intent can’t make up for superficial content. Too much of Sonali Cable feels as if a section of the team lost interest in this project long before it was wrapped up.

Rating (out of five stars): *1/2

CBFC Rating (India):

U/A
Running time:
128 minutes



REVIEW 297: THE JUDGE


Release date (India):
October 17, 2014
Director:
David Dobkin
Cast:




Language:

Robert Downey Jr, Robert Duvall, Vincent D’Onofrio, Vera Farmiga, Jeremy Strong, Billy Bob Thornton, Ken Howard, Dax Shepard
English


The Judge is not the most earth-shatteringly original film. What is impossible to ignore though is the heavyweight cast, from the two Roberts playing an estranged father and son, to every single supporting player. For them and them alone, this would be a film worth seeing. 

To be fair though, there is more to it than just the assembly of awe-inspiring actors. The Judge is the story of the successful, high-flying big-city lawyer Henry/Hank Palmer and his dad, the imperious small-town judge Joseph Palmer. When Henry’s beloved mother passes away, his return back home for her funeral brings the long-dormant father-son animosity to the surface.

Where the film focuses on the relationship between Henry and Joseph, Henry and his ex-girlfriend Samantha Powell (Vera Farmiga), Henry and his brothers – the former baseball star Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio) and the mentally slow, camera-obsessed Dale (Jeremy Strong) – it is on solid ground. Each of these actors possesses a certain quiet dignity that does not betray them even in their characters’ more over-wrought moments. Where The Judge falters is in its effort to throw too much into the mix, with the primary element of strained family ties stirred up with the ravages of old age, a crime thriller aspect, courtroom drama, romance and other bits and bobs.

Some of it seems familiar and none of it is outstandingly unusual, which is why The Judge falls far short of being a remarkable film. It is however, never short of being good.

Watching the legendary Robert Duvall and the always-excellent Robert Downey Jr play off each other as Joseph and Henry is a bit like watching Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts share screen space as the mother-daughter duo Violet and Barbara in their Oscar-nominated performances in last year’s August: Osage County – there is such joy in seeing two generations of great actors in the same frame. That being said, the Palmers are nowhere near as dysfunctional as Violet’s crazy clan. The Judge is less about screaming confrontations and more about things left unsaid, about rage left simmering below the surface until it threatens to destroy treasured bonds.

Comparisons are inevitable too between The Judge and last year’s deservedly multiple-Oscar-nominated Nebraska. Watching Henry and Joseph rediscover each other is no doubt a reminder of David (Will Forte) rediscovering his declining father Woody (Bruce Dern) in that film. The screenplay of The Judge though pales in comparison with the genius of Bob Nelson’s writing for Nebraska, which packed understated, heart-wrenching emotion into every single second of its filmic existence. The Judge is nowhere within touching distance of Nebraska.

However, there is much to recommend The Judge too. Foremost among its strengths is the fact that unlike many prodigal-son-returns-to-the-small-town tales, this one does not feature a single character who seems to regret their backwaters existence. Samantha Powell in particular is the exact opposite, the one who discovered early on that this is where she belongs, in the process turning out to be much more than Henry clearly ever thought anyone could be in his hometown.

Sans too many grand flourishes, DoP Janusz Kaminski seems to revel as much in showing us the picturesque Indiana countryside as he does in unintrusively capturing that tear that struggles not to escape Henry’s eye. It’s been a while since we’ve seen Downey in a film in which he is not a high-strung Sherlock Holmes or a maverick millionaire with superpowers. The Judge is the best showcase for this endearing actor’s ability to play a regular guy since the lovely Zodiac in 2007.

The pairing of the two Roberts is of course the selling point of the film. They are backed here by an intimidatingly talented supporting cast. Vera Farmiga’s luminous presence is hard to miss even in the small role of Samantha. The wonderful Vincent D’Onofrio brings to the part of Glen Palmer a brooding intensity that is familiar to Indian viewers who have seen him play the male lead in the beautifully written and acted police drama Law and Order: Criminal Intent. Fluff TV junkies would perhaps be pleased too to spot Leighton Meester in a tiny but impactful role as Samantha’s daughter Carla, far removed from the sheen and glamour of her calling card – the big-city rich kid Blair Waldorf that she played in the irritatingly frivolous Gossip Girl.


The actors do not though overshadow the film’s other strength: those moments of intimacy when you are least expecting them. Watching Henry repeatedly struggle not to break down, seeing the father and son tide over an awkward bathroom accident with a shared chuckle, that brief instant in their darkened home when Glen quietly observes the two rip the covers off their anger against each other… as much as the powerful cast, these are what make The Judge worth our time, warts and all.

Rating (out of five): **3/4

CBFC Rating (India):
A
Running time:
MPAA Rating (US):
142 minutes
R (Rated R for language including some sexual references)
Release date in the US:
October 10, 2014