Monday, February 27, 2017


Oscars 2017 Predictions: Will Moonlight beat La La Land? Stats, trends and my personal picks

By Anna MM Vetticad

The Oscars are always political, but this year the function and the selections will no doubt be more so than ever. Already, the directors of the five nominated films in the Best Foreign Language category have issued a joint statement about rising xenophobia worldwide. Mentions of Donald Trump are expected to dominate winners’ speeches. And last year’s #OscarsSoWhite campaign is likely to be a major factor in the choices this year, which already has an unprecedented number of non-white nominees.

With just a day to go for the announcement, here are my predictions for the four most high-profile gongs of Oscars 2017:



Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
Hidden Figures
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea

With 14 nominations and universal critical acclaim, La La Land is the odds-on favourite to pick up the most prestigious trophy of the night. The film shares the record for most noms ever with All About Eve (1950) and Titanic (1997). The big question on the big day will be whether it will equal or beat the record for maximum wins, held by Ben-Hur (1959), Titanic and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) each with 11 trophies to its credit.

Statistics by and large seem to favour La La Land. Damien Chazelle’s deliciously energetic yet contemplative musical has already scooped up Best Picture awards at the BAFTAs and the Golden Globes (in the musical or comedy category). It also won the Producers Guild of America (PGA) Award, considered a strong indicator of who will bag the top Oscar. Since its inception in 1990, 19 out of 28 PGA winners have gone on to carry away the Best Picture Oscar.

If La La Land does not win, the film with the best chance of pulling off an upset is Moonlight, a poor black boy’s journey to adulthood under the crushing burden of a neglectful, drug-addicted mother, racial prejudice, homophobia and poverty. Already, Moonlight has taken home the Best Picture Golden Globe in the drama category.

Personally though, this is not my favourite of the nominated films. Moonlight was moving and thematically relevant but not, to my mind, as deeply satisfying as some of the other films in this category. Clearly, most critics across the world and in India disagree with me. So be it.

In a contest between La La Land and Moonlight, I would pick La La Land, a film of profound sadness despite its apparent liveliness. But my personal favourite from this shortlist is not even La La Land. My vote goes to the immensely inspiring and uplifting Hidden Figures. The true story of how black women overcame excruciating racial and gender discrimination to play a key role in America’s space programme is, to my mind, the most beautiful – and beautifully acted – film of the nine in contention. I am deriving hope from an award it won this season that, like PGA, is considered highly predictive

Hidden Figures walked off with the trophy for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture at the year’s Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards. Since 2008, six winners of SAG’s best cast award have gone on to win the Best Picture Oscar. Could this year be the seventh?

Likely winner: La La Land

Possible spoiler, very close: Moonlight

My personal favourite: Hidden Figures

My second choice (and very close): La La Land



Barry Jenkins for Moonlight
Damien Chazelle for La La Land
Dennis Villeneuve for Arrival
Kenneth Lonergan for Manchester by the Sea
Mel Gibson for Hacksaw Ridge

This one is as neck-and-neck as the Best Picture race. If La La Land wins the top honour this year, then it is possible that Academy members may choose to compensate Moonlight by electing Barry Jenkins as Best Director.

Still, this season’s trends favour Chazelle. He dominated the Golden Globes where he won Best Director and Best Screenplay trophies, picked up a BAFTA for Best Director and won the highly prophetic Directors Guild of America Award. That last one is a statistical clincher, since the DGA winner has gone on to get the equivalent Oscar all but seven times since 1948.

For the record, Chazelle should have received a Best Director nomination at the 2015 Oscars for his cracking music-themed film Whiplash. As things stand, this is his first Best Director Oscar nom.

Likely winner: Damien Chazelle

Likely spoiler (and very close): Barry Jenkins

My personal favourite: Damien Chazelle

Should have been nominated: Theodore Melfi for Hidden Figures



Emma Stone for La La Land
Isabelle Huppert for Elle
Meryl Streep for Florence Foster Jenkins
Natalie Portman for Jackie
Ruth Negga for Loving

In a category filled with brilliant women all of whom delivered brilliant performances, Emma Stone is a frontrunner going by the season’s trends. Her turn as a young woman who defies socially prescribed choices to follow her dreams, took her out of her career comfort zone into a genre that required her to sing and dance in addition to act on screen. She did all three with equal aplomb.

She has already won the year’s Golden Globe (in the comedy or musical category), SAG and BAFTA Awards. Her performance in La La Land has earned her accolades across platforms, from the popular to the hard-core arty and serious, including 2016’s Best Actress trophy at Venice, the world’s oldest film festival. Although Natalie Portman beat her at the Critics Choice Awards and Isabelle Huppert won the Best Actress Golden Globe in the drama category, Stone is seen as a shoo-in for an Oscar. A loss for her will be a big surprise.

Most likely winner: Emma Stone

Closest competitors: Isabelle Huppert and Natalie Portman 

My personal favourite (tough one): Emma Stone

Should have been nominated: Taraji P. Henson for Hidden Figures



Andrew Garfield for Hacksaw Ridge
Casey Affleck for Manchester by the Sea
Denzel Washington for Fences
Ryan Gosling for La La Land
Viggo Mortensen for Captain Fantastic

This category is harder to predict than the Best Actress this year because the awards season has not thrown up a clear frontrunner. Casey Affleck beat out Andrew Garfield, Denzel Washington and Viggo Mortensen to a Golden Globe in the drama category, while Ryan Gosling won a Globe in the musical or comedy category. Washington was not nominated for a BAFTA, the other four were; the prize went to Affleck. And all five gentlemen were in contention at the SAG Awards, where Washington emerged the winner.

Still, in a year when political correctness will be more at play than ever before, Academy voters may hesitate to vote for Affleck considering the cloud of sexual harassment charges he carries as baggage. Likewise, Washington may have an edge because of the manner in which the Academy has been shamed for its pro-white bias in recent years.

If Washington does win though, it would be a pity if the victory is attributed to anything but his stellar turn in Fences. As a householder who invites both sympathy and disgust (the latter is quite an achievement for a man with such a naturally likeable personality) he walked that fine line between being hard to love yet hard to hate on screen. Washington deserves to be named Best Actor at this year’s Oscars, not because of the colour of his skin, but because he did indeed deliver the year’s best performance by any male artiste in 2016.

Likely winner: Denzel Washington

Possible spoiler: Ryan Gosling 

My personal favourite: Denzel Washington

My second choice: Ryan Gosling

A version of this article has been published on Firstpost:

Photographs courtesy:

Friday, February 24, 2017


Release date:
February 24, 2017
Vishal Bhardwaj

Kangana Ranaut, Saif Ali Khan, Shahid Kapoor, Richard McCabe, Shriswara Dubey, Gajraj Rao, Saharsh Shukla, Kashmira Irani

Bloody hell!

She rides a horse across a stage near the India-Burma (Myanmar) border, blindfolds herself to throw knives at targets several feet away, bashes up bad guys, mud wrestles with a muscular soldier and runs swiftly atop a moving train.

The point is not that Kangana Ranaut merely manages to do all this in a film. The point is, she is convincing while executing challenging stunts, and looks good while doing them. So, allow me to borrow her character’s signature line in Rangoon: Bloody hell!

Ranaut is a queen. If there is one takeaway from Vishal Bhardwaj’s Rangoon, it is this: that there is something terribly foolish about a film industry which fails to fully tap the vast reserves of female talent at its disposal, and does not centre more action films around this lovely actress… or Priyanka Chopra… or Deepika Padukone… or Anushka Sharma… or any of their other feisty, fleet-footed women colleagues.

When Rangoon has the heroine displaying her physical prowess, it is on solid ground. It falters in other areas, but for the pleasure of seeing a fiery woman skillfully performing feats that have for too long been available only to the men of Hindi cinema, it is worth a watch.

Bhardwaj’s latest takes us back to 1940s India, where an action star screen-named Miss Julia (Ranaut) rules Bombay cinema. Her professional mentor and producer, Rusi Billimoria (Saif Ali Khan), is a married man who treats her like he would his pet poodle, a pretty creature to be patronised, pampered and protected, loved in the way he thinks love is meant to be given to a woman, but not respected.

We meet these two against the backdrop of multiple wars. Within India, Mahatma Gandhi and like-minded freedom fighters are trying to rid the country of its British colonisers with the weapon of ahimsa. Elsewhere, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose is building his Azad Hind Fauj. A battle is on between these two ideologies to capture the imagination of the people.

Meanwhile, Billimoria becomes beholden to the British for business reasons. Circumstances force Miss Julia to travel to the Indo-Myanmar border where she must headline a series of shows designed to raise the spirits of the ‘British’ troops stationed there. This is where she meets Jamadar Nawab Malik (Shahid Kapoor), an Indian like so many others serving in the British army, and employed to keep his own people down.

These then are the two triangles around which Rangoon revolves: Julia, Rusi and Nawab; India, Gandhi and Bose.

On the face of it, this is a setting bubbling with possibilities, and considerable swathes of Rangoon (especially in its second half) do mine that potential. Ranaut delivers a seemingly effortless, chameleon-like performance as a woman who is by turns fragile and fierce, hurting yet invulnerable, a child who grows into a woman during the course of the film. The actress and the character she plays here, possess a body that is as intriguing as her mind: she appears delicate, yet explodes with energy and athleticism when life demands it of her.

Thankfully, Rusi is not the suave, likeable, easygoing flirt Khan has played in too many films now. He is an amoral yet charming creature, a man of grays and internal conflicts that appear to surprise him as he discovers them. Khan is as assured here as he has been in his best work so far (read: Hum Tum, Ek Hasina Thi and Omkara), making Rusi hard to like yet impossible to hate in a way that only he can. Rangoon is a sorely needed reminder that this Khan is one of the finest actors among all the heroes in Hindi cinema right now, the one whose versatility has been least explored.

However, for the film to be compelling all the way, it needed us to root for Julia and Nawab, not Julia and Rusi, but the chemistry between Ranaut and Kapoor is strangely lukewarm. And Kapoor deadpans his way through the role, which is inexplicable considering that he is emerging here from a career best performance in Haider (2014) helmed by the same director.

Chemistry is not a factor of good acting alone, it emerges from great writing. Therein lies the problem with Rangoon. Unlike the immersive writing of Haider, Rangoon seems detached from its proceedings, narrating them like an observer rather than a participant.

The story of Rangoon is credited to Matthew Robbins who earlier wrote 2011’s Saat Khoon Maaf, which Bhardwaj directed. The screenplay has been jointly written by Robbins, Sabrina Dhawan (who wrote Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding) and Bhardwaj himself. Perhaps Bhardwaj should have known better than to team up once again with Robbins, considering that despite all the atmospherics and intrigue he managed to summon up in Saat Khoon Maaf, that too ended up feeling like an outsider’s view of the world it sought to create.

This is one reason why Rangoon does not come alive on screen. The film also takes too long to lift off. The best of Rangoon is packed into its second half, but it is once again pulled down by an overly dramatised, ham-fisted ending that is trying too hard to be emotionally wrenching in its nationalist fervour and imposing, but ends up being amusingly trite instead.

That said, the positives of Rangoon call out. Pankaj Kumar’s cinematography is imaginative and grand, and despite the occasional weak spot in the special effects, the film looks rich. Dolly Ahluwalia’s costumes, the hairdos and styling are all exemplary. The combination of Ranaut’s verve, the retro choreography by Farah Khan and Sudesh Adhana, well-written songs blending perfectly into the narrative and lavish set pieces, make Rangoon’s many song-and-dance numbers memorable.

The music is by Bhardwaj, the lyrics by Gulzar. Now that’s a team worth repeating. They roll out an entire spectrum of moods for Rangoon, ranging from the ruminative romantic ballad Yeh ishq hai to the frothy mischief of Mere miya gaye England. When the same film gives you Arijit Singh singing “Sufi ke zulfe ki / Lau utthi Allah hu / Jalte hi rehna hai / Baaki na main na tu” and “Mere miya gaye England / Baja ke band / Na jaane kaha karenge land / Ki Hitler chauke na”, in Rekha Bhardwaj’s voice, you almost will it to extend that quality into every other department.

If only.

Early news about Rangoon indicated that it was based on the true story of Fearless Nadia, the Australia-born actress who lived from 1908-1996 and ruled the Hindi film industry as an action star in her time. As is often the case with such Bollywood ventures, the rumours (very likely initiated by the film’s own team to generate a buzz around the project) have given way to an officially stated position that Rangoon has nothing to do with Nadia.

The truth is, Julia is probably inspired by Nadia, but this is not a biopic. This is a love triangle set in a time when the people of India were grappling with the opposing ideologies of the Mahatma and Netaji. The Bhardwaj who made Maqbool, Omkara and Haider is a man perfectly suited to a film like Rangoon. Sadly, without the writing brilliance of the director’s Shakespeare trilogy, Rangoon gets many things right, but fails to come together as an involving, engaging whole.

Still, Ranaut is remarkable playing the sort of character no Hindi film leading lady has been given for decades now. A big bow to Bhardwaj for that, and to the actress for choosing a path advocated by Gandhi, being the change she clearly wants to see in Hindi cinema. This action queen deserved a more vibrant film though.

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

CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
167 minutes 25 seconds