Saturday, January 24, 2015




Release date (India):
January 23, 2015
Neeraj Pandey

Akshay Kumar, Mikaal Zulfiqar, Taapsee Pannu, Rana Daggubati, Madhurima Tuli, Kay Kay Menon, Danny Denzongpa, Sushant Singh, Anupam Kher

Baby is not half as clever as it clearly thinks it is. Nor one-tenth as cool. Not thrilling or funny either. What it is is lazily constructed, loophole ridden, long, lame and boring.

Director Neeraj Pandey’s penchant for playing to the gallery in a most dangerous fashion was evident from his debut film A Wednesday. In that 2008 thriller, a fellow known simply as “Common Man” (Naseeruddin Shah) is so frustrated with the Indian justice system that he blasts off terrorists as a solo operator, mirroring the kind of town-square justice that America meted out to Saddam Hussein and bloodthirsty mobs on the social media are increasingly demanding in India. Why concern yourself with legitimate trials, when an avenging hero could draw applause? Why bother with moderates when extremism is more likely to succeed at the box-office?

Pandey’s next film, Special 26, was superior because it struck a tricky balance, telling an entertaining story of con men without deifying them. A Wednesday’s anarchist ideology notwithstanding, it too was enjoyable since it served up genuine thrills. Baby, in contrast, is filled with glaring flaws. For instance, globally wanted terrorists in the film stay in a tourist resort in Saudia Arabia without a single bodyguard in their suite. Between the perimeter and the rooms, no safeguards are in place. When an Indian tech ‘expert’ (Anupam Kher) disables the electric fencing by hacking the hotel security system online, in subsequent dialogues he sounds surprised that a resort staffer manually restored the bijli. He hadn’t planned for that?! Yes, Baby is THAT silly.

So if patriotic chest-thumping was the goal, it must be pointed out that the film makes Indian spies look like asses. To be fair, the terrorists are asses too. One escapes from a building in Turkey while Akshay Kumar's Ajay spends some minutes inside, taking instructions on the phone from his boss in India. Yet, when Ajay emerges from those four walls, the bad guy is still in sight on a crowded street. It’s as if he was waiting around for the hero to finish his work.

For the record, Baby is thus named after a top-secret Indian espionage/counter-terrorism agency launched post-26/11. Why Baby? Because it was meant to be temporary. Feroze (Danny Denzongpa) is the head of the team, Ajay is a senior member.

Calling Baby simplistic is an under-statement. A pity, since it drowns lovely actors like Sushant Singh and Kay Kay Menon in a sea of stupidity. Too much in the film is unexplained. Why, for instance, does a reputed Saudi policeman do what he does in the end? Is it because the filmmaker fancied an Argo-like airport climax but couldn’t figure out how to pull it off with logic?

In the midst of all this, Akshay plays Ajay with utter conviction. Danny is likeable as his fatherly boss and it’s hard not to notice the cute-looking English-Pakistani model-actor Mikaal Zulfiqar playing Team Baby’s “asset” in Saudi Arabia. All three are helpless though in the face of the film’s persistent superficiality. The one bright spot in the proceedings is actress Taapsee Pannu’s very credible turn as an undercover agent who single-handedly wallops a villain in Nepal. Bollywood would be foolish not to cast Pannu in bigger roles in more action films in future.

Neeraj Pandey’s Baby is designed for a world where the word “terrorist” is used only to describe Muslims who kill innocents, and where the same label is never applied to the pepetrators of well-planned riots like Delhi 1984 or Gujarat 2002. So careful is this film to please the present ruling dispensation and its majoritarian supporters, that it describes the 2002 anti-Muslim riots of Gujarat as “Hindu-Muslim riots”. The film is also aimed at those segments of the population who are getting increasingly vocal about their antipathy to legal trials, courts, human rights, etc. These are the kind of people who will casually use words like “collateral damage” to brush aside innocent victims of anti-terror ops, not admitting to their quiet conviction that they will never personally be affected or their confident assumption that those victims will always be ‘the other’.

In some places, Baby also seems convinced that it’s funny. And so, in one scene, Ajay strikes an enemy agent after he has got the information he needed from the fellow. “Why did you hit me now?” the chap cries. “Out of habit,” Ajay replies unsmilingly. Oooh, so cool and so funny, na?

The scene that exemplifies Baby’s attitude though features Feroze, Ajay and a bumbling secretary to a Union Minister. When the babu trivialises the sacrifices of Indian spies, Ajay wordlessly walks to the door, latches it, walks back to the secretary, slaps him, walks back to the door and unlatches it, all while his boss looks on. Again, so funny and cool, no? I mean, Ajay is a deshbhakt so it’s okay, no? How dare we question the actions of a nationalist?

You may well ask why this is a big deal since Akshay and Salman have repeatedly played the vigilante in action comedies. The difference between most of those other films and Baby is that those films don’t position themselves as serious fare. Baby demands to be taken seriously.

As for the poor writing and laughable loopholes... well hey, why bother with a strong plot when you could earn cheap popularity with less effort, when populism could translate into a forgiving audience? Baby is an amateurish film.

Rating (out of five): *

PS: Baby’s subtitling is inexplicable. Expletives are replaced with random words – for instance, “fuck man” becomes “oh no” rather than asterisks. At one point we are shown DLF Promenade mall in Delhi’s Vasant Kunj but the subtitles identify it as a “Saket mall”. No idea why.

CBFC Rating (India):

Running time:
160 minutes


Release date (India):
January 9, 2015
Amit Ravindernath Sharma

Arjun Kapoor, Sonakshi Sinha, Manoj Bajpayee, Rajesh Sharma, Raj Babbar, Deepti Naval

Like its hero, Tevar spends most of its running time running all over the place. It wants to be grand, action-filled, funny, serious, disturbing, insightful, pretty, romantic and more. In trying to be so much though, it ends up being too little, throttling its slivers of promise with its own bare hands. This is a very crowded project and its intent gets lost somewhere in that crowd.

Tevar is the Hindi remake of the 2003 Telugu film Okkadu that elevated the young Mahesh Babu into a stratospheric league of stardom. The idea behind its Bollywood version is clearly to showcase Arjun Kapoor, whose father Boney Kapoor is the producer.

And so Kapoor Junior – playing a kind-hearted hooligan and kabaddi player called Pintoo a.k.a Ghanshyam from Agra – gets to loll about with friends, bash up goons, get bashed up by them, ‘save’ a girl from them, fall in love with her, dance with large groups of colourfully dressed male extras, dance with the heroine, dance with a glamorous female star doing a cameo and single-handedly vanquish the chief villain. In short, everything that a typical masala flick hero like Salman Khan gets to do in pretty much every film. Pintoo even sings Main toh Superman, Salman ka fan / Jo leve panga, kar dun maa-behen (to be pronounced “bhaan”),” in the very first number that serves to introduce the audience to this wonderboy.

The actor has both charm and talent, as we already know from watching his five film releases so far. That brooding demeanour adds to the intriguing package. However, he is yet to develop the charisma that sometimes enables stars to rise above poor writing and incompetent direction.

Tevar’s inadequate writing is exemplified by the characterisation of the leading lady and by Pintoo’s romantic graph with her. Firstly, we get to know next to nothing about this Mathura-based dancer called Radhika Mishra (played by a lacklustre Sonakshi Sinha), apart from the fact that she is the sister of a journalist who antagonises the state Home Minister (Rajesh Sharma) and his arrogant brother Gajendar (Manoj Bajpayee). She shows some chutzpah in the beginning when Gajendar unceremoniously proposes marriage to her, but in later scenes metamorphoses into a meek creature who hangs about without lifting a finger to help Pintoo while he takes on gangs of goondas in his bid to protect her. Second, it is clear why she falls in love with him (though he looks and behaves like a ruffian, he’s that rare creature who risks his life to help a stranger) but in his case, it appears that he needs no more incentive to love her than the realisation that she is in love with him.

The intersection of Pintoo’s strand with Radhika and Gajender’s story is smoothly executed in a high-adrenaline, highly believable scene. Oddly enough, that moment comes too late in the film. Worse, the momentum thus gained is soon frittered away by a congested narrative.

As if that’s not bad enough, songs are repeatedly inserted abruptly into the story, slowing down the pace and serving as awkward interruptions. It doesn’t help that almost all the situations which these numbers are chucked into are now Bollywood cliches. Even the choreography is cliched, with guest star Shruti Haasan getting her bottom drummed like a bongo by the hero in Madamiyan. Shruti is lovely and a natural dancer – she deserves better. So do Deepti Naval (playing Pintoo’s mother) and Rajesh Sharma who are sinfully under-used in Tevar.

Sonakshi Sinha, on the other hand, seems convinced that she does not deserve better, if we are to go by her decision to persistently opt for films in which the heroine plays tenth fiddle to the hero. She is such a marginal player in the proceedings in Tevar that I wanted to weep for the potential that was evident in Vikramaditya Motwane’s 2013 film Lootera. She spends most of Tevar peeping out wanly at the audience from behind Pintoo’s bulky shoulder. I guess we should be grateful she does not flash us her profile as she is wont to do in most of her films.

Tevar’s one saving grace is Gajendar. Manoj Bajpayee is clearly enjoying playing the evil fellow. He gets the best lines in the film, and delivers them with obvious delight. The scenes with this supporting character are evidence of what director Amit Ravindernath Sharma was trying to achieve overall with Tevar: a sort of Gangs of Wasseypur (GoW) 3 helmed by a Salman Khan/Akshay Kumar-like fantastical, comic action hero. Sadly, he can’t pull it off. Sorry, Mr Sharma, in Khan and Kumar’s most entertaining films, their swagger has been complemented by cheeky writing. Sorry again, but calling one song Joganiyan and another Madamiyan, doth not a GoW make; what it doth make instead is a GoW wannabe. Anurag Kashyap’s Wasseypur films (Part 1 in particular) had a swagger in their writing and directorial panache. Tevar has neither.

Rating (out of five): *

CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
160 minutes

Sunday, January 4, 2015



Should I watch this film? Who cares about your review? …And other questions most frequently asked to critics by readers and viewers.

By Anna MM Vetticad

Should I watch this film? Not only is this the question most frequently asked of critics, it’s also the toughest to answer. Because people expect to hear a “yes” or “no”, whereas the logical reply is this: “That depends on your taste in cinema. If your interests and tastes match mine, the answer is X. If not, the answer is Y. I would suggest though that you read my review because so many things that matter to me may not bother you and vice versa.

You see, it’s not the job of critics to tell potential viewers whether or not to watch a film, though an individual critic may choose to do so if she or he wishes. The critic’s primary job, however, is to give people a considered, well-informed assessment of a film and put it in perspective keeping in mind the socio-political and cultural context in which it has been made (Is it misogynistic? Is it sucking up to the government? Does it do justice to the book on which it’s based?), that particular team’s body of work and other factors.

When I explain this to those who have the patience to listen, the next question invariably is this: with so many contradictory reviews, how do I decide which films to watch?

That’s easy. There are some stars and directors to whom we are so committed that the harshest review in the world couldn’t dissuade us from watching their work. For the general mass of films though, a discerning consumer of reviews could perhaps follow a number of critics over a length of time, find one or two whose views tend to match theirs and then heed those critiques.

Over the years, I’ve gathered a list of other FAQs directed at critics. Here they are:

Can I take my kids for it?

I love parents who are responsible enough to make this inquiry. My friend Ravi says I should introduce a parental guide on my blog for concerned dads like him. The only reason why I have not yet done so is that like the previous question, there is no simple answer to this one. It depends on what you are willing to expose your children to. Some people don’t want their children to see even a brief kiss, others are anxious about long smooches, yet others draw the line at explicit sex. Me? I worry about violence and prejudice.

Will it be a hit?

I don’t know. A film may get a great response from everyone who sees it, but they could be small in number because it was released at exam time when families were staying away from theatres. Box-office success is a combination of so many factors beyond our personal opinions about a film’s quality.

Who cares about your review?

This one comes only from angry fans if you’ve dissed their favourite star’s film.
Is this your review or your personal opinion?
I do not understand this one. Of course it is my personal opinion. A fellow critic once told me he watches films with the public rather than at press previews so that he can decide his review based on audience reactions. This approach completely misses the point that our reactions to films are governed by our backgrounds, the exposure we’ve had to the arts and so on. Besides, one person who adores a film may hoot, whistle and dance in a hall, another may smile quietly to herself. Responses may differ from neighbourhood to neighbourhood. It’s hard to tell what purpose a review serves if you cannot even stand by it, since it’s not your own viewpoint.
Do reviews make a difference to collections?
Yes. Most people agree that small films get a boost from positive reviews. Big mainstream films with major stars and massive marketing are less likely to be affected, and yet reviews obviously contribute to the buzz surrounding a film. If negative reviews combine with poor audience feedback, even a huge film’s collections could possibly suffer after the first day or weekend, as producers may tell you in their more honest moments. Likewise, if a team that traditionally gets negative reviews were to suddenly earn positive comments, this too could generate curiosity. Without doubt, Salman Khan was catapulted to a different league altogether — from having his own committed fan following to attracting the interest of those who weren’t traditionally his fans — when Wanted and Dabangg unexpectedly received good reviews from at least some critics who had not previously shown a fondness for his work.
Anyway, don’t take my word for this. Ask Rohit Shetty, director of blockbusters such as Chennai Express and Singham. When I interviewed him for my book, The Adventures of an Intrepid Film Critic, Shetty spent a considerable part of the conversation cursing critics and telling me how little we know about what the audience wants. He also insisted that critics should publish reviews on Monday, instead of on the Friday of a film’s release. If you think there is a major disconnect between what critics say and what audiences like, then it should not make a difference to you, I said. He replied: I’m saying, ho sakta hai ek crore ka business aap log kha jaate ho. Ho sakta hai na? (It’s possible that you jeopardise a crore worth of business. Isn’t it possible?)”
Yes it is.
(This column by Anna MM Vetticad was first published in The Hindu Businessline newspaper on December 27, 2014)

Note: This photograph did not appear in The Hindu Businessline