Tuesday, March 29, 2011


Release date:
March 25, 2011
Sushen Bhatnagar
Divya Dutta, Ashutosh Rana, Rajit Kapoor, Kitu Gidwani

This seems to be a week of films that must have looked good on paper. Monica is the story of a girl from Little Lucknow who moves to Big Bad Delhi and becomes more involved than any journalist should in the world that she’s covering as a reporter. Monica Jaitley has an affair with a powerful politician, gets too close to her sources and is ultimately murdered.

The film begins with promise. Divya Dutta comes across as very real while playing a wannabe who allows her ambitions to get ahead of her. And Ashutosh Rana shines as the politico with gray shades. He’s not all bad or all good: he’s a blend of both, which is such a rarity among Hindi film ‘villains’, so a pat on the back for the writer too. But two good performances, one well-developed character and a few other plus points can’t carry a film through.

The greatest flaw in Monica is that it shows a limited understanding of the media. Yes, there is no doubt that there are too many journalists around who are intoxicated by the false sense of power that the job can bring. So yes, the director is spot-on on that front. But it’s the little things that irritate. Firstly, how about having checked with the HR departments of major media organisations about their salary scales? Junior print journalists are not a lavishly paid lot and yet, Monica the rising scribe (whose husband, we are told, is still struggling) is shown living in a sizeable flat in Delhi that houses a spacious granite-laden bathroom with a roomy Jacuzzi. At that point in the story she has not yet been drawn into the corrupt system, so do tell me where the money came from? An editor in the film lambasts Monica for being ungrateful to him when it is he who elevated her from the post of a mere “sub reporter” to a special correspondent. What the heck is a “sub reporter”? Either he meant “cub reporter” (an informal term used to describe newcomers on the job) or a “sub-editor”. But clearly, the team of Monica hadn’t done enough research to know the difference. The least they could have done was consult Peepli Live’s Anusha Rizvi who is one of the few directors in the history of Bollywood to have got the workings of an Indian newsroom right.

What’s also wrong with Monica are the many insinuations that it makes despite being a work of fiction. The film’s pre-release publicity suggests that the story is at least partially inspired by the murder of journalist Shivani Bhatnagar. There can and should be no half measures in such matters. If Monica Jaitley in this film is the late Shivani Bhatnagar of real life, then won’t the public infer that the drunken, insecure, unsuccessful Mr Jaitley of the film is the real-life Mr Bhatnagar? Isn’t that insensitive and irresponsible considering that viewers may draw conclusions about Shivani’s family after watching this film?

Add to this the loopholes in the script, the fuzzy characterisation of the leading lady, a story that becomes terribly confusing after a point as it goes back and forth between flashbacks, and some surprisingly bad acting by the usually dependable Rajit Kapoor as Monica’s husband, and you know why there’s as little hope for this film as there is for the protagonist who digs her own grave. We witness Monica’s dramatic transformation from a diffident small-town girl in saris to a bold, hyper-Westernised, cleavage-flashing, chain-smoking, unscrupulous big-city journalist – I’m not saying this is implausible, but I wonder why we are never given the reason for this metamorphosis. Monica’s first decision to sleep with politician Chandrakant Pandit (Ashutosh Rana) is not opportunistic but emotional. But we are never given to understand when, why or how arrogance and promiscuity set in. When she sleeps with a powerful female industrialist (Kitu Gidwani) it’s unclear whether she is genuinely leaning on another woman for support or was a closet lesbian/bisexual all those years or was merely cashing in on the older woman’s attraction towards her.

But in that unexpected dalliance, I still find something to praise in Monica. Homosexuality is usually caricatured – and male – in Hindi films. Fire starring Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das was a rarity. More recently came Karan Razdan’s ridiculously bad Girlfriend. After seeing Ishaa Koppikkar and Amrita Arora hook up in that film, I must say I felt some trepidation at the prospect of icky, vulgar or laughable shots of two women between the sheets when I heard of a lesbian angle in Monica. But kudos to director Sushen Bhatnagar for shooting Divya Dutta and Kitu Gidwani in bed without making any crude effort to titillate. Wish the rest of the film had been just as deftly handled.

Rating (out of five): *1/2

CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
120 Minutes

Monday, March 28, 2011


Release date:
March 25, 2011
Sangeeta Datta
Sharmila Tagore, Soha Ali Khan, Girish Karnad, Om Puri, Neerja Naik, Mukulika Banerjee

I can imagine that this film must have sounded remarkable at the concept level: a father re-discovers his three daughters after his wife passes away. To any listener, it also sounds remarkable at the casting level: an iconic leading lady of 1960s & ’70s Bengali and Hindi cinema, playing a starring role in a film with her actress daughter for the first time. But it’s never about the concept, casting and storyline alone. There’s that not-so-minor matter of screenplay and direction? Life Goes On fails to score on either front.

Sharmila Tagore and Girish Karnad play Manju and Sanjay Banerjee, a wealthy, elderly Bengali couple in Britain who’ve clearly spent a very happy life together. She’s a singer and guardian of his home; he’s a doctor. Their daughters are a diverse trio. The eldest is Lolita, a home-maker who’s given up her career for her two children while her work-obsessed British husband takes her for granted. Tulika is a TV journalist with aspirations to being a sports reporter, who would choose job over family on most days, and lowers herself further in the eyes of her conservative community by being a lesbian. The youngest – stage actress Dia (Soha Ali Khan) – is dating a Muslim boy, much to the chagrin of her Islamophobic father who’s still haunted by memories of post-Partition violence in India. And then there’s the family friend played by Om Puri who hides a secret that could destroy their fragile ties.

There’s so much that writer-director Sangeeta Datta could have done with this basic material. But when the only well-written lines in a film are passages from memorable classics, then you know there’s a problem. Life Goes On is steeped in Rabindranath Tagore. Dia quotes a Ritwik Ghatak film in conversation. Manju writes in her journal: “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.” But that’s really not her, of course; that’s Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet. And mommy’s motto for the family – “Life goes on and this world keeps on turning” – comes, as you know, from the song For the good times.

The film is largely in English with a smattering of Bengali, and suffers from the bane of most Indian English films: this is just not the English we Indians speak. The dialogue delivery is as stilted as the writing and the only one who gets by passably is Khan, possibly because she speaks a certain propah English in real life too, much more than the rest of the cast. Karnad delivers perhaps the worst performance of his career in Life Goes On. And Om Puri seriously risks his reputation as a thespian with this film.

The lighting in the indoor scenes is of poor quality and does particular injustice to Soha. In fact, the only one who comes off looking good here is pretty Neerja Naik playing Daughter No. 2 Tulika. But what in the name of heaven was Datta thinking when she gave the rather regal Sharmila Tagore top honours in the credits and then reduced her to little more than a series of flashbacks where she sings or walks elegantly through gardens?

But what worked the least for me in this film were the repeated efforts to draw a parallel between the Banerjees and Shakespeare’s King Lear. In the original play, Goneril and Regan are liars who ingratiate themselves with their father to win his kingdom after which they ill-treat him, while his youngest child Cordelia continues to stand by him even though he disinherits her for her plain speaking. The comparisons in Life Goes On are contrived and ineffective because … well, for god’s sake, every old man with three daughters is not a Lear!

It feels sad to say this because Life Goes On starts off rather nicely. The comfort levels between Manju and Sanjay are quietly though firmly established; the director’s decision not to show Manju’s actual death was well taken; and the first few hours after her passing away are played out very realistically. But it turns out that well begun is not always half done. And in the ultimate analysis, Life Goes On is a lifeless film. As we watched it, a friend seated next to me was reminded briefly of that recent, poignantly low-key British film Another Year which took us through one year in the life of a happily married elderly couple. But there’s a difference between under-stated and dead. Life Goes On is like the lustless, listless kiss that Soha’s Dia shares with her boyfriend Imtiaz on screen. It lacks passion. And it’s a bore.

Rating (out of five): *

CBFC Rating (India):
U / A with no cuts
Running time:
114 Minutes
English with Bengali

Sunday, March 6, 2011


Release date: March 4, 2011
Director: Yogesh Mittal
Cast: Tena Desae, Anupam Kher, Pavan Malhotra, Rushad Rana, Suhasini Mulay, Seema Biswas
The door opens …
Devinder Devilal Dua enters …
Cut to his daughter who is seated in the room …
Da-dhaam goes the music …
Cut to Dua who says …
Well, never mind what he says. Because by this point post-interval in Yeh Faasley, virtually every scene had been stretched to such an extent in this fashion, that I had completely lost interest in the film.
It’s unfortunate, because Yeh Faasley starts off with promise. Debutant director Yogesh Mittal manages to conjure up an enticingly eerie atmosphere as he takes us into the story of young Arunima Dua. She is the only child of the wealthy, widowered businessman Devinder Devilal Dua and his late wife, a music-loving rajkumari from an erstwhile royal family of Rajasthan. Arunima is extremely fond of her father. But circumstances conspire to rake up suspicions that all may not be what it seems. Did her mother really die in an accident or was she murdered? Were her parents happy together? Is her father a good man who is being targeted because a ‘commoner’ ought not to marry ‘above his station’? Was her mother having an affair?
The questions, when they first arise in Yeh Faasley, are intriguing. But boredom sets in with the unduly long-drawn-out attempts to build up suspense through repeated flashbacks to the day Arunima’s mother died. With some concise editing, this is a device that could have been effective. Heck, if Kurosawa could do it, why not Mittal? But when the climax arrived two hours and 30 minutes from the start of Yeh Faasley, I was really past caring whodunit.
To make matters worse, the actor playing a young Devinder Dua in the flashbacks just wasn’t good enough. If he was, would Yeh Faasley have been saved? That’s hard to tell because films like this one are a reminder that good actors are helpless at the hands of inefficient direction and editing. When a languorous song is inserted into a murder mystery at a point where it should be hurtling towards its climax, when the camera lingers more than necessary on almost every face, when the director doesn’t know when to yell “cut” … that’s when ever-dependable actors like Anupam Kher (an older Devinder Dua), Pavan Malhotra and Suhasini Mulay are completely wasted.
These veterans may come to terms with this opportunity lost. But what about youngsters Rushad Rana and Tena Desae? Soap opera star Rana – who plays Arunima’s friend in Yeh Faasley – is an attractive and talented actor with an impressive screen presence. Although this is not his first Hindi film, the significance of the role means that it had the potential to be his big big-screen break. Desae – a remarkably pretty and successful model – makes her Bollywood debut playing Arunima in this film. She may not be terribly impactful as an actress but she comes across as sincere all the same. Imagine what she might have been in a less dull film!
Rating (out of five): *1/2