Friday, August 18, 2017

REVIEW 519: BAREILLY KI BARFI


Release date:
August 18, 2017
Director:
Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari
Cast:


Language:
Kriti Sanon, Ayushmann Khurrana, Rajkummar Rao, Seema Pahwa, Pankaj Tripathi, Rohit Chaudhary, Sapna Sand
Hindi
                                                                                                                   

If you debuted with Nil Battey Sannata, there will obviously be high expectations around your next. Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari, who broke into Bollywood last year with that sleeper hit starring Swara Bhaskar, is back this week with her second film, Bareilly Ki Barfi.

Nil Battey Sannata was set in the Indian city that houses Shah Jahan’s monument to his love for Mumtaz Mahal. Bareilly so far has been best known to Bollywood gazers for the many musical references it has inspired, and most famously of course for that jhumka that Sadhna lost in the local bazaar in Mera Saaya 51 years back. I wish I could tell you it will henceforth be known for Bitti Mishra.

Bitti who?

That would be our heroine (played by Kriti Sanon), a spirited young resident of the place whose father runs a sweet shop, mother is a school teacher and who is herself working in the public grievances section of the city’s electricity department. Bitti’s parents are worried sick because though they have paraded their beti before dozens of prospective grooms, she is still kunwaari.

Whether or not she is a kanya in the complete sense of the word is a separate question that they have not dwelt on, but one potential husband does. “Are you a vurjjinn?” he asks her on the terrace of her home, where she and he have been sent to bond while both sets of parents wait expectantly downstairs. Bitti snubs him, as any self-respecting woman should, and so her matashri’s lamentations for her daughter continue.

This is our introduction to both Bitti and Bareilly Ki Barfi (BKB). Bitti is a non-conformist with a mind of her own, we are told: she ignores curfews imposed on daughters alone, does the break dance and rides a mobike in this conservative milieu. Add to that her professional and financial independence, a point underlined by her supportive Dad, and you might assume writers Nitesh Tiwari and Shreyas Jain would be satisfied with their rather neat profile of a small-town woman who refuses to be constrained by social straitjackets. But no sir, they are not.

Despite all these markers of Bitti’s free spirit, Tiwari and Jain (who earlier collaborated on Dangal, which the former directed) feel the need to make smoking the overriding signifier of her sense of independence by stressing and re-stressing it, then colouring it with a bold red marker in case we have not noticed – because Bollywood has for some reason in the past decade or so decided to make the cigarette the ultimate metaphor for feminism. Apparently, courage and a sense of independence are not good enough.

Nitpicking, did you say? Actually not. This confused feminism signifies the writers’ lack of conviction and clarity that turns out to be BKB’s undoing.

First, while the film’s first 20 minutes are devoted solely to Bitti, once the hero enters the frame she is completely sidelined. This delightful creature, brimful of potential though she is, is relegated to the margins as soon as we meet Chirag Dubey (Ayushmann Khurrana) and Pritam Vidrohi (Rajkummar Rao). From then on, Bitti is reduced to being nothing more than the object of their interest and duelling.

Second, both BKB’s male leads are victims of half-hearted writing, lost to the most inconsistent characterisation I have seen in a Hindi film in a while. The motivations for their actions are unconvincing because each man’s nature and character swings from left to right like a pendulum throughout the narrative. No, this not what you might describe as shades of gray, this is a different colour of the rainbow in successive scenes.

With a screenplay this weak, nothing can save BKB. Not Sanon’s natural charisma (this woman is truly special, give her better projects please!) nor Khurrana’s innate charm. Not the flashes of genius we get to see from Seema Pahwa and Pankaj Tripathi playing Bitti’s parents Susheela and Narottam; and from Rao when his character Pritam is being bullied by his friend Chirag.

Pahwa, Tripathi and Rao in particular pounce on every morsel of inspiration available in this largely uninspired script. All five artistes far outshine their film.

BKB even fails to explore Bareilly with any degree of detailing. Add to this one of the plainest soundtracks delivered by Bollywood this year (featuring songs by five composers) and it almost feels like Ms Tiwari and her writing team lost interest in this venture halfway through it.  

It did not start off this way. In the opening 20 minutes of BKB, there are little touches that hold out a promise of better things to come. Like a dejected middle-class Mum stuffing namkeen back into its plastic container after the departure of a possible dulha’s family from a ladki dekhna session, while her forlorn spouse packs laddoos back into their dabba. Like that scene in which Bitti lies to a cop that she is Christian and he breaks into English without batting an eyelid, as any north Indian fed on Bollywood stereotypes would. These well-observed moments are a reminder of the detailing in Nil Battey Sannata, a film that was both intensely local and universal. The rest of BKB does not live up to them.

The only positive that remains consistent throughout BKB is the humour in its dialogues (barring the decidedly silly, schmaltzy climax). Funny conversations, however, are not enough to redeem the insubstantial story into which they are written.  

My heart kind of broke as I watched BKB. 2017 has been a lousy year for quality Hindi cinema so far. Apart from a handful of indies that have shone in the dark, the rest of Bollywood’s offerings in the past eight months have been bad enough to tempt a cinemaniac to hang up her boots. Even in my saddest moments in the months gone by though, I did not dream that the woman who brought us the life-affirming tale of Chanda and Apu from Nil Battey Sannata would follow that up with the blandness that is Bareilly Ki Barfi.

What happened, Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari?

Rating (out of five stars): *

CBFC Rating (India):
UA
Running time:
122 minutes 49 seconds

This review has also been published on Firstpost:




Monday, August 14, 2017

REVIEW 518: CHUNKZZ


Release date:
August 11, 2017
Director:
Omar Lulu
Cast:



Language:
Balu Varghese, Honey Rose, Dharmajan Bolgatty, Vishak Nair, Ganapathi S. Poduvel, Lal, Siddique, Mareena Michael, Remya Panickar, Hareesh Perumanna  
Malayalam


There were once four boyzz from Kerala
Who pretended ee life-il oru care illa
But deep down inside
They all wanted a bride
And they mourned because, y’know, penn illa.

Now these boyzz treated women like shit
As sub-humans on whom men should spit
They leered at their teacher
They were that kind of creature
I swear I can’t stand them one bit.

So these boyzz lolled about ogling girlzz
Then along came a gay girl with curlzz
She ignored all the boyzz
Did not fall for their ployzz
Or so it seems as this story unfurlzz.

One day she and the boyzz climb a wall
To scale which she seeks help, that is all
One boy pushes up her bum
He is that kind of scum
’Tis behaviour that made my skin crawl.

The hero is a chap called Romario
Who behaves like he’s some sort of Lothario
But he’zz playing a part
To mask a desperate heart
All Romario wantzz is to marry-o.

On a Goa trip with Riya from college
He peepzz into her loo without her knowledge
He leerzz at the lady
I tell ya he’s shady
’Tis a fact we had better acknowledge.

He tellzz us he wants to see Riya’s “kuntham
Yes, the creep will not even say “vaginum”
He first triezz to bed her
Then he getzz to wed her
Next we learn it was all a sick stratagem.

Now remember that gay girl called Sherin?
The one I mentioned right at the beginnin’?
Sherin’s part of his plot
But I don’t care a dot
Cos this film clearly looks down on women.

These fellowzz treat women like dirt
Meant for three things: marry, screw or flirt
Yet they so badly want
A pretty wife to flaunt
But respecting that wife, I guess, would hurt.

It is clear here that women are objects of hate
Why do these boyzz long to wed women or date?
As property to claim?
As scapegoats to blame?
Ask questions, dear viewers, it’s still not too late.

Now you may say: “Who cares for this critic?’
“She’s just too much of a bloody damned cynic”
Well don’t care for me
That’s not the point, you see
We must shame starzz like Perumanna, Lal and Siddique.

Dear leads Varghese, Nair, Bolgatty and Poduvel
Can you tell us when better sense will prevail?
You are good with comedy
But you pick this travesty
How much further will you lower your level?

Honey and Mareena, where goes your self-respect?
Is this not a film any thinking woman ought to reject?
You are artistes, not meat
Not a hungry man’s treat
You okayed this script, knowing what to expect?

This film Chunkzz thinks it is oh so cool
In the way it showzz how these men drool
At those thingies called women
That they don’t see as human
Chunkzz is not even worth our ridicule.

What this film deserves is our utter contempt
From our judgement, it should not be exempt
When we tolerate these blokezz
And laugh at their jokezz
We give such men in the real world consent.

If Chunkzz mocked religious folk instead of women
Netas would wail, cops would put Omar in prison
That is not my demand
I, a viewer, reprimand
Ugly humour that treats women as sub-human.

Rating (out of five stars): none (I refuse to rate this film)

CBFC Rating (India):
U
Running time:
121 minutes

This review has also been published on Firstpost: