Sunday, July 20, 2014

REVIEW 279: BANGALORE DAYS

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Saturday, July 19, 2014

REVIEW 278: HATE STORY 2

Release date:
July 18, 2014
Director:
Vishal Pandya
Cast:

Language:
Surveen Chawla, Jay Bhanushali, Sushant Singh, Siddharth Kher
Hindi


Why would you make a sequel to a bad film? Possibly because you think the first one had a USP? Well, here’s the thing: Hate Story peddled itself as a ‘bold’ film, which in Hindi cinema parlance means it had lots of sex. It did – tons more than what we usually see in a Bollywood film, or even for that matter in the average, mainstream Hollywood film. And it was not sleazy in the way C-grade Hindi films can be. That being said, the story of Hate Story had potential but was unable to sustain itself because of its illusions of grandeur, stupidly grandiose dialogues and a good-looking heroine who was so busy looking both hot and horny that she forgot to act.

Like its predecessor, Hate Story 2 too has a basic storyline with potential. It fails to hold itself together because of the bland characterisation of the heroine, an impactless lead actor, a fixation on melodramatic dialogues and a formulaic insertion of songs at inappropriate moments.

One more thing: if you’re going to watch it in the hope of seeing as much sex as in the first instalment, you will – like some of the gentlemen clearly were in my neighbourhood theatre – be disappointed. The trailer lies, my friends. There’s hardly any sex in this film.

In a nutshell, Hate Story 2 is about photography student Sonika (TV’s Surveen Chawla) who is forced to be the mistress of the powerful Maharashtra politician Mandar Mhatre (Sushant Singh). When he punishes her ruthlessly for escaping with her boyfriend Akshay (Jay Bhanushali, also from TV), after a series of horrific tragedies she decides to take revenge.

Films like this – in which a David of a woman takes on a Goliath of a man – can work only if she uses innovative means to exact her vengeance while combating massive hurdles. Sonika, however, hatches two completely unimaginative schemes at the start, and has little trouble planning and executing them. She also makes the transition from a physically battered, emotionally traumatised, mentally disturbed woman suffering from intermittent seizures to a confident, gun-toting, avenging Durga with inexplicable ease.

Chawla does the best she can with the illogical written material, but hers is a dull character. Besides, it’s hard not to be distracted by her startlingly high stilettoes, and the way her perfectly manicured nails and salon-styled hair survive all sorts of extreme situations.

While Hate Story 2 remains a uni-directional wronged-woman-out-to-take-revenge drama almost throughout, it does have some interesting elements. One comes in the form of the allies Sonika finds in her journey – a policeman who’s not a cliché (Siddharth Kher from 2010’s Teen Patti), a journalist who’s not the black/white rendition of mediapersons we usually see in Bollywood, and a third who constitutes an interesting and believable twist in the tale. By the time that twist comes around though, the film has been weighed down too much by its lack of depth and by the unrelenting supply of bombastic lines emerging from Mandar’s lips even in dire situations.

To be fair, the dialogue writing is not without merit in some scenes. Mandar is particularly hilarious when he is challenged in true Hindi filmi style one day by a good guy who roars: “Mandaaaar, mard ka bachcha hai to apne aadmi ko peechhe kar aur khud mere saath lad!” This is where the average Bollywood villain would have succumbed to his ego and shot back an equally melodramatic response. Mandar, however, replies coolly, “Koi shauk nahin mujhe mard ka bachcha banne ka,” while his goons beat the chap to pulp. Timing is of essence when you deliver such lines and Sushant Singh is, without a doubt, one of Bollywood’s best. It’s a pity that this terrific actor – best remembered as Sukhdev from that unfortunately underrated 2002 film The Legend of Bhagat Singh – is so rarely seen these days. The way he immerses himself in Mandar’s character is the best thing about Hate Story 2.

Unfortunately, the writer saddles him with a quirk that should have been given a rest towards the end but is not. Mandar’s old-style dialoguebaazi has him routinely spouting wise two-liners, each preceded by “Baba kehte thhe”. It works up to a point. It works when he has the upper hand. But when he is in a tight spot and he still persists in telling us what Baba used to say, it’s irritating.

The most amusing part of this film is Jay Bhanushali. Poor guy is completely ineffective. He also has zero chemistry with his leading lady. That first time she predictably falls into his arms and they gaze into each other’s eyes, they both look so posed and strained that it’s laughable. When she starts seeing visions of a shimmery version of him, it’s meant to be emotional and all that, but frankly, it’s funny. And when they do get between the sheets soon after she models around in a swimsuit in and out of a pool, their love-making is generic, like two actors going through the motions rather than two human beings with electricity blazing between them. Maybe that’s why she doesn’t take off her bra in that scene! Oh ya, that’s how ‘erotic’ this film is.

To underline their lowwwe, Hate Story 2 resurrects Aaj phir tum pe pyaar aaya hai from the 1988 Madhuri Dixit-Vinod Khanna-starrer Dayavan. The choice of song unwittingly underlines the fact that Chawla is no Dixit. More to the point, although Khanna was way too old for Dixit who was just 21 at the time, he remains one of the hottest men to have ever graced Bollywood, and Bhanushali is not worthy of tying his shoelaces. As for porn queen Sunny Leone’s item number Pink lips, it’s a silly song with silly lyrics and even sillier choreography.

Sushant Singh is the only memorable presence in this feeble film. Dear Bollywood, why on earth do you neglect this man?

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

CBFC Rating (India):

A
Running time:
130 minutes



Friday, July 18, 2014

REVIEW 277: AMIT SAHNI KI LIST

Release date:
July 18, 2014
Director:
Ajay Bhuyan
Cast:

Language:
Vir Das, Vega Tamotia, Anindita Nayar, Kavi Shastri
Hindi with English



Vir Das can be genuinely funny. His stand-up comedy routines, I mean the ones I’ve seen, have been cheeky and irreverent without being distasteful or crude. And I remember nearly falling off my chair laughing when I interviewed him with his fellow cast members from Badmaash Company, back when I worked at a channel that he insisted on calling HeadWines Today. But stand-up comedy is usually a monologue. Few films can pull that off. Amit Sahni Ki List has so much of Amit Sahni talking to us the audience, that the entire film feels like one big monologue with some poorly etched out characters on the sidelines. And no, ASKL can’t pull it off.

This is such a huge disappointment because, of the three Hindi film releases this week, the one with the most promising trailers was this one. Besides, Das has managed to be quite charming as part of ensemble casts in comic ventures such as Delhi Belly and Go Goa Gone. And those two lovely dance-able songs – Ab main kya karoon (music and singing by Raghu Dixit;) and What the fark (music: Palash Muchhal, singers: Rahul Vaidya, Amit Mishra, Aditi Singh Sharma) – are just so much fun and so different in tone, tenor and delivery from what we’re used to in Hindi cinema. Not surprising considering that the composers are not yet Bollywood regulars.

Unfortunately, these nuts and bolts don’t add up to much because ASKL takes a concept bursting with potential, and expands it into the thinnest screenplay to emerge from Mumbai in a while.

When the crux of a film is pretty much what the film is in its entirety, you know there’s a problem. Here’s what it is: Amit Sahni is a well-off young MBA working with a multinational corporation who lives in a spacious, well-appointed flat, wears Pink Floyd and Metallica T-shirts, and is searching for the perfect girl based on a list of criteria he has made to aid his search. After a series of predictably disastrous dates with a bunch of cardboard cutouts – Kinky Pinky gets turned on by conversations about cars and tries to bang him while he’s driving; Sheena is a celebrity trainer who’s not really interested in a boyfriend/husband as much as she is looking for a cook who will help her stay trim – he meets free-spirited Mala (Vega Tamotia). She ticks off virtually none of the items on his list, but he finds an emotional connection that he can’t understand. Just as he’s allowing that relationship to teach him something about life and lists, he meets Devika (Anindita Nayar), a voluptuous Ms Perfect According to Amit Sahni Ki List with whom he gets along so well that they never ever fight.

That’s it. Not a single situation in the film allows the characters to rise above what I can only guess must have been the one-line description of each of them in the initial concept note.

Firstly, the film is so one-sided that we at no point get to identify with the girls or for that matter, with Amit’s silent dad who is always reading newspapers, or his wannabe cool mother who has been dreaming about his marriage even before hers happened, or his childhood friend who is a wannabe chef (played by the good-looking Kavi Shastri).

Second, it’s simplistic. There’s not a thing the film discovers about relationships beyond the point that is so obvious from the minute you hear the explanation for the title in the first few scenes. ASKL’s idea of depth seems to be to have Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy lying on the table when Amit visits Mala at home one day.

Third, its idea of what is cool is odd. Mala whistles at a waiter in a restaurant and that’s presented to us as evidence of how hip and unfettered she is. Err…I don’t know about you, but I would be completely put off by people who whistle at human beings to attract their attention, but especially at waiters, busboys, servers in banquet halls, flight attendants, household help and subordinates at work. And if that didn’t go against her, how come Amit can bear being called Gappi by her? Gappi? Seriously?! Yikes!

Fourth, Amit himself is dull and not well fleshed out despite the zillion lines the film gives him.

Fifth, the film is verbose. Oh so verbose. I like Das. I do, I do. But at one point I was so exhausted listening to his unrelenting narration that I wanted to cry out to him to stop talking.

Add to this the fact that both the actresses – to borrow a very politically incorrect term from Amit’s mother – struck me as “BTMs (behenjis turned modern)”, an acronym that I remember was popular back when I was in college. Sorry, I know that might be categorised as a classist comment, but it’s not. I’m merely pointing out that their personalities are not quite suited to the clothes they’re made to wear and their styling. There are few things as unattractive as people trying to be what they intrinsically are not.

The final nail in the coffin of my experience of ASKL: for the most part, it is a bore. What does it say about the film that the funniest line comes about one-and-a-half hours into the story (it involves Doordarshan, I won’t say more). Das has a likeable screen presence that is wasted here. You just need to watch him in a village in Durg in Chattisgarh towards the end of the film, turning the simple act of scratching his way up a hillside into a moment of brief hilarity, to know what he’s capable of. But like stand-up comedians, actors too need solid written material to back them. ASKL’s screenplay (credited to Shiv Singh and Rohit Banawlikar) does not have that.

What the fark, Ajay Bhuyan. What a fark-ing wasted opportunity! 

Rating (out of five stars): *

CBFC Rating (India):

U/A
Running time:
110 minutes 

Trailer courtesy: Effective Communication

REVIEW 276: PIZZA (3D)


Release date:
July 18, 2014
Director:
Akshay Akkineni
Cast:




Language:
Akshay Oberoi, Parvathy Omanakuttan, Dipannita Sharma, Arunoday Singh, Rajesh Sharma, Omkar Das Manikpuri, D. Santhosh, Hussain Dalal
Hindi


Pizza is terrifying. There you go – you don’t have to get to the last paragraph to discover the bottomline of this review. Debutant director Akshay Akkineni’s 3D supernatural thriller Pizza – a psychological thriller if you wish to see it that way – is terrifying. 

This is a Hindi remake of the Tamil film of the same name released in 2012. The original was directed by Karthik Subbaraj, and starred Vijay Sethupathy and Remya Nambeesan in roles played here by Akshay Oberoi and Parvathy Omanakuttan. This latest version is what the retelling of a well-told story should be: the screenplay remains pretty much the same, yet there are enough changes in the treatment to improve upon the strong foundation laid by Subbaraj.

Pizza begins with Kunal (Oberoi) waking up from a nightmare. He’s one of those people who doesn’t ‘believe’ in ghosts, yet like everyone who does not, somewhere deep down inside he actually does. Is there a human being out there who can escape a fear of the unknown?

Kunal is a pizza delivery boy who lives with his wife Nikita (Omanakuttan), an aspiring writer of ghost stories. They lead a rather normal life with all the regular problems that young urban couples have. An unplanned pregnancy briefly disrupts the peace at home, since Kunal worries about how they will bring up a child on their modest income, but that quarrel too is quickly resolved. Then one day he visits the home of his boss whose wife, it turns out, is possessed by the spirit of someone called Anjali. And life is never the same again.

How that turn of events leads Kunal to a haunted bungalow is something I will leave you to discover when you watch this excellent spook story, the best to emerge from Bollywood since Ram Gopal Varma made Bhoot in 2003. In the months and years that followed the success of Bhoot, there were many that tried desperately to clone the chills. What they did instead was trot out tons of clichés ranging from ear-splitting, screechy sound effects to women with hair falling over glazed eyes, humans flying through the air, litres of blood and goo, and ominous, mantra-chanting holy men of all faiths. It was hard not to be exasperated, amused and/or disappointed by them all, including Varma’s own lifeless Bhoot Returns in 2012.

The best horror films don’t allow viewers to feel conscious of how they are being manipulated. Just a handful of Mumbai directors – Vikram Bhatt among them – have hit the nail on the head, and just occasionally at that, in this genre in the past decade. While one has to admit that the bar is not high in Bollywood, it’s not fair to judge Akkineni by that: he pole-vaults a mile above it.  

The selling point of the original Pizza was the number of twists in the tale in the second half. Its weakness was that the scares in the first half, while genuine, were too few and far between. When the hero was trapped in that haunted house, there were too many long patches of inaction between the patches of frightening action. The Hindi remake plugs that loophole so thoroughly that it makes Kunal’s time in the bungalow its USP – an extended sequence of unrelenting, heart-stopping, thankfully low-on-gore, gasp-inducing jolts that I confess had me cowering in my seat.

The second half does not manage to sustain the pace of panic, but the job has been done by then. Besides, there’s at least one very neat twist coming up; and much else to like, such as the fact that it feels like a slice of real life in terms of its settings, costumes and the manner in which relationships play out. In the interactions between Kunal and Nikita, especially their tensions over their unborn baby, it also shows that a film does not have to be preachy or “about a social issue” to deliver social commentary.

Sound design is crucial to a horror flick. This one has so much audio clarity that you can clearly distinguish between Kunal’s footsteps on a wooden floor and on a carpet in a deserted corridor. Tapas Nayak is the man behind this delightful detailing. Pizza also uses interesting graphics for its opening credits. The 3D is a worthwhile add-on. And the music, though not as splendid as Santhosh Narayanan’s background score for the Tamil film, is goosebump-inducing all the same.  

The screenplay is backed by a cast that is good even if not as solid as the stars of the Tamil film. Akshay Oberoi is effective but does not have the acting depth of Vijay Sethupathy. Arunoday Singh, who hit the nail on the head with his performances in Aisha (2010) and Yeh Saali Zindagi (2011), is the weak link here, the only one whose appearances in the scary scenes border on the farcical – unlike the others, he looks like that naughty elder brother or cousin who waits around the corner to scare kids with rolling eyes and a loud “bowww”. Omanakuttan’s so-far untapped range is evident here. And Rajesh Sharma as the superstitious pizzeria owner is sturdy as always.

If you haven’t seen the original film then I’d strongly suggest that you avoid it and its plot synopsis on the Internet until you’ve seen this one. I held off watching the Tamil Pizza until I’d seen the Hindi remake this week. No doubt my response to this film would have been different if I’d done things the other way round. No doubt too, my response to the original would have been different if I’d seen it first. Goes without saying that each of us reacts uniquely to every film we watch depending on the sum total of our life’s experiences, our tastes and where we are at that point in time. Be warned: one of my fellow critics at the press preview of Pizza was highly amused at those of us who were petrified by the proceedings on screen. Me? I was scared witless in the first half of Pizza. The second half slows down, but it still had me hooked.

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

CBFC Rating (India):

A
Running time:
117 minutes

Poster and trailer courtesy: UTV Spotboy