Saturday, August 13, 2011


Release date:
August 12, 2011
Prakash Jha
Amitabh Bachchan, Deepika Padukone, Manoj Bajpai, Saif Ali Khan, Prateik, Tanvi Azmi

Aarakshan would have been perfect if it had been a show on a TV news channel on the subject of reservations. It covers pretty much every aspect of the debate – from caste tensions that arise as a consequence of quotas to the history of exploitation of lower castes, the need for positive discrimination and the frustrations of meritorious upper caste students.

But although Aarakshan starts off well, it tries to pack in too much into one film, beyond a point it lacks focus since it seems torn between reservations and the overall flaws in our education system, and somewhere past the halfway mark it just seems to go on and on and on. This is a pity because where it’s good, Aarakshan is really good. If ever there was a balanced discussion on the issue of reservations, it is this. Dear protestors, for god’s sake this film is neither anti- nor pro-Dalit. If anything, it’s pro-poor and anti-manipulation-of-the-public-by-politicians. There’s something very poignant about the idealistic Gandhian character Dr Prabhakar Anand played by Amitabh Bachchan who is far more impractical than the Mahatma ever was, and seems incapable of coping with the numerous behind-the-scenes pressures on a principal of a prestigious college (though it’s impossible to believe that he survived in the job for over two decades before the start of the action in this film). Despite the patriarchal tone to Anand’s relationship with his wife and daughter, it’s still moving. And there’s something very realistic about the portrayal of caste tensions – some latent, some blatant – among the students of a college in a North Indian city … you can either bury your head in the ground or accept the truth that this does happen.

Bachchan pitches in a solid performance as Anand, though I wish writers wouldn’t be so tempted to throw in a few English dialogues for him in every film, in a seeming bid to impress us with his uncommonly good accent in both Hindi and English. There are at least two points at which he is made to give a direct translation of a dialogue he’s just delivered – “kya aap mujh par jaativaad ka aarop laga rahe hai?” followed by “are  you accusing me of being casteist?”! C’mon, we Indians mix languages, we don’t dutifully translate our sentences in conversation! Manoj Bajpai is impeccably slimy as Anand’s bête noir Mithilesh Singh, the teacher who exploits his students financially, though I found the excessive make-up on his forehead quite distracting. Deepika Padukone plays Anand’s daughter Poorbi with elan and is blessed with some of the most powerful scenes in the film which she could have overplayed but does not – particularly moving is her showdown with her infuriatingly upright father, a scene that reduced me to a bumbling, blubbering mass of tears. Saif Ali Khan as Dr Anand’s poor Dalit protégé Deepak Kumar who ends up as a University rank-holder is as good as he always is. Those who question the director’s decision to cast Saif as a Dalit should consider rising above the stereotype in their own minds of what a Dalit looks like! Would they have objected if Saif was not a light-skinned, handsome fellow with a sharp, pointed nose?

The huge disappointment in this cast is Prateik, who was the discovery of Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na and was excellent in this year’s Dhobi Ghat. But in Aarakshan he appears spaced out beyond recognition, his dialogue delivery is laboured and he seems strangely uninvolved in the role.

If you look at a balance sheet then, Aarakshan has more going for it than against. The film’s first two hours are filled with high drama, emotion and tension as the reservation issue causes conflict in Shakuntala Thakral Mahavidyalaya, Bhopal, where Dr Anand is the principal. But I can pinpoint the exact moment from which it began to stretch itself to become boring for me. It was right after Poorbi’s raging fight with her father – beyond which the film gets defused, Bachchan is given too many speeches to deliver and we are subjected to too many lengthy classroom sessions with details of mathematical equations. Besides, the film appears to condone Dr Anand’s accept-me-without-question autocratic attitude simply because the writers seem not to want to concede that their protagonist is flawed too (pretty much the way Bachchan’s patriarchal Raj Malhotra was painted in hagiographic shades in Baghban). Also, Poorbi’s you-are-what-you-are-only-because-of-my-father sermon to Deepak seems to carry a sub-text that the messiahs of the Dalits have always been benevolent members of the upper castes and that the lower castes can take no credit for their own achievements!

When the last half hour of a film feels like 30 minutes too much, there’s something seriously wrong. But still, Aarakshan raises some important questions and pulls it off for about two hours of its 2 hour 40 minutes running time. For all its flaws then, Aarakshan will hopefully contribute to the national debate on reservations.

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

CBFC Rating:                       U/A without cuts
Running time:                        160 Minutes
Language:                              Hindi

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


Release date:
August 5, 2011
Karan Razdan
Karan Razdan, Rituparna Sengupta, Satish Kaushik, Ila Arun, Atul Kulkarni, Anang Desai, Zakir Hussain, Anupam Kher

Let’s cut to the chase: Aagaah is a film about a terrorist who dies in Mumbai and returns as a ghost whose messages prove useful to Indian intelligence agencies. I’m dying to say “this review is a warning, not just a review”. But I won’t, because I can’t accuse a director of packing his films with clichés and then start with a cliché myself. After watching Karan Razdan’s Girlfriend a few years back, I didn’t think I’d ever be so amused by a film purporting to be an insight into a serious subject. Girlfriend was homophobic and prejudiced to the point of being loathsome. Aagaah, on the other hand, is so amateurish in its attempt to appear ‘secular’ that I can’t be  bothered to even get irritated with it.

Here, in short, is the story: Karan Razdan plays fisherman Ramsharan from a small coastal village in Gujarat. One day on the high seas, his boat is taken over by terrorists who intend to use it to enter India. As he breathes his last, bleeding from their bullets, he delivers a lecture on religious tolerance to the terrorist leader Azaan Khan (Atul Kulkarni). Khan is killed almost as soon as he enters Mumbai. His mulq refuses to accept his body along with the bodies of the rest of his squad who too die after a successful attack on India’s commercial capital. Cut to Ramsharan’s village where his wife (Rituparna Sengupta), parents (Satish Kaushik, Ila Arun) and daughter are mourning him when a spirit in the form of white smoke possesses the child.

So who is this ghost? Never mind really. Back when he made Girlfriend, Razdan portrayed a lesbian woman as a motorbike-riding, kick-boxing, possessive, violence-prone creature who cuts her hair short midway through the film, as if the stereotyping until that point had not been enough … and in the end, perhaps as a safeguard against possible protests by Hindu right-wingers who believe lesbianism is against our Bharatiya sanskriti, the film informed us that the lesbian was a Christian … because of course Christians are quasi-foreigners in Hindi filmdom’s textbook, so why would saffron forces object to that, right?! In Aagaah The Warning, Razdan’s terrorists are all Muslims, the Indian who sold out his people is a Muslim, but in a ham-handed bid to be balanced, there’s also a kindly Peer baba (Anupam Kher) who issues a message about how the Quran is being misinterpreted by terrorists and a Muslim ghost who explains to live terrorists that despite dying for the cause he has not attained jannat. The effort to seem ‘secular’ is embarrassingly awkward.

Rituparna Sengupta, Satish Kaushik and Ila Arun try their best to appear earnest. But it’s not enough, because of course good actors are only as good as the writers and directors of the films they star in. It’s a particular pity to see a talented Bengali actress like Sengupta being dealt such a poor hand by Bollywood.

Some of you may ask: If we could buy Vyjayanthimala’s desire for revenge in Madhumati, if we could accept Patrick Swayze’s determination not to leave this earth in Ghost, if we could stay with Bruce Willis and the child who talks to the dead in Sixth Sense, then why can we not stomach a dead terrorist who seeks the forgiveness of his victim’s widow, writes on walls and becomes a source of b) How much does Bachchan make per film?om. he'information for Indian intelligence agencies in Aagaah? Because the success of a supernatural thriller lies in being written with such polish and directed so deftly that we viewers forget ourselves, our cynicism and our rationalism while watching it. The writing in Aagaah is immature. It goes without saying that director Karan Razdan is no Bimal Roy, Jerry Zucker or Manoj Night Shyamalan; and I apologise profusely to all my readers who are offended that I referred to Aagaah The Warning in the same sentence as three classics. I’m truly sorry!

Rating (out of five): 0 stars

CBFC Rating:                       A without cuts
Running time:                        110 Minutes
Language:                              Hindi

Sunday, August 7, 2011


Release date:
August 5, 2011
Rajiv Mehra
Pankaj Kapoor, Gaurav Kapur, Manoj Pahwa, Sanjay Mishra, Deven Bhojani, Hemant Pandey, Asawari Joshi, Mahesh Thakur

I guess Chala Mussaddi Office Office will work best for those who have been regular viewers of Office Office, the popular TV serial from which it is derived. But even if, like me, you’ve watched just a few episodes here and there, or you’ve not seen the show at all, it’s possible that – like me – you’ll have a nice time watching it.

The film is as simple as the serial … Mussaddi Lal Tripathi (Pankaj Kapoor) represents the common man who is constantly trapped in a web of bureaucratic corruption, red tapism, administrative sluggishness and all the other issues that the aam aadmi in India faces every day. The film begins with the death of Mussaddi’s wife. He goes off on a pilgrimage for the repose of her soul and to immerse her ashes in our holy waters. Mussaddi’s long absence from home results in him being declared dead in government files. Result: the stoppage of the pension due to him as a retired government teacher. Most of the film is spent on Mussaddi’s efforts to prove that he is alive.

It’s strange that this film has not been promoted at all by its producers, especially since its protagonist’s struggles are likely to find a resonance with all of us while the nation debates the Lokpal Bill. Mussaddi Lal is you and me. He is Everyman. He is the middle-class family of Dibakar Banerjee’s Khosla ka Ghosla whose land has been fake-sold by a crookish property dealer. He is the little old man who strips at a government office to shame an apathetic babu into action in Lage Raho Munna Bhai. And unlike the Common Man in A Wednesday, he is not playing disturbingly to the gallery by offering an anarchic but populist solution to our problems – he is simply sticking to the Gandhian dictum that stays on screen right through the end credits: “Corruption ought not to be an inevitable product of democracy. Be the change you want to see in the world.” Mussaddi Lal’s refusal to pay a bribe to get what is rightfully his may seem naïve to many, the film’s denouement could be viewed as simplistic, but it’s touching all the same!

Pankaj Kapoor as the central character has had years of practice playing the hapless citizen, but still knows how to pull at our heart strings. He is ably assisted by Gaurav Kapur in the role of his no-good son and the other members of the original serial’s five fixtures – Manoj Pahwa, Sanjay Mishra, Deven Bhojani, Hemant Pandey and Asawari Joshiwho play multiple parts in the film. Makrand Deshpande makes an appearance as a sort of wandering minstrel singing the film’s title song at regular intervals.

The strength of Chala Mussaddi, as in the case of the serial, is that its point is conveyed through humour with scenes and dialogues that are deliberately exaggerated yet not of the slapstick variety. Like the bribe-taking government official who says: “Hum sarkari karamchari hai, koi bimari thodi hai jo theek ho jaaye (We’re government servants, not some sort of disease that can be cured).” Like the student who pays lip service to customs but is too lazy to get up from his chair to touch his old teacher’s feet and so makes do with some long-distance paao chhoona.

Chala Mussaddi is not without its problems. Some of the jokes (especially the decidedly unfunny “do baate ho jaayegi” gag mouthed by Bhojani) get repetitive. Some (like the ones involving the pandits fleecing a man mourning his wife’s death) are not novel. And it’s irritating to see a lack of attention to detail that prompted the editor to splice together shots of Mussaddi and his son headed for the Pension Office on a scooter through a route that takes them past Connaught Place, then Red Fort, then back past Connaught Place and then past Red Fort again. That’s tacky. Still, this is a film with a heart and soul, a good cast and good intentions, a sense of humour and relevance to the times we live in! It’s not sock-you-in-the-stomach, punch-you-in-the-gut brilliant. But it’s nice.

Rating (out of five): **3/4

CBFC Rating:                       U without cuts
Running time:                        98 Minutes
Language:                              Hindi

Photograph courtesy: (on Facebook)   

Friday, August 5, 2011


Release date:
August 5, 2011
Nila Madhab Panda
Harsh Mayar, Husaan Saad, Gulshan Grover, Pitobash, Beatrice Ordeix

Smile Foundation – producers of this film – could have made a documentary on the need to educate our children. What they’ve done instead is given us an unobtrusive, non-preachy, loveable film about a little dhaba boy in Rajasthan who idolises A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, is inspired by Kalam’s rise from poverty to Presidentship, studies doggedly by the light of a kerosene lamp while developing an unlikely friendship with a local ‘prince’.

Much of I Am Kalam’s charm lies in its authentic feel and its sense of humour. But it would have been half the film that it is if it hadn’t starred those two exceedingly talented boys Harsh Mayar and Husaan Saad. Mayar has already won a National Award for his performance as the poor yet perennially positive Chhotu who longs for an education and insists on being addressed as Kalam after his hero. He’s a live wire before the camera. Saad’s Ranvijay is less bubbly and therefore less likely to attract attention, but the actor plays his part of the lonely and kind youngster from an erstwhile royal family with the ease of a practised performer though he has starred in only one film before this. The warmth of their chemistry is what well and truly brings alive this sweet and small film.

The story is simple and contained in the two paragraphs I’ve written already. After years of playing over-the-top caricatures of bad men in numerous Hindi films, here in I Am Kalam, Gulshan Grover turns in an unexpectedly likeable performance as Chhotu/Kalam’s boss. Bhati Mamu is the dhaba owner who recognises his boy helper’s immense talent and – in an unrelated development – falls in love with one of his tourist memsaabs. That musician mem is played by Delhi-based French actress Beatrice Ordeix whose Lucie Madam is kind, considerate, a frequent visitor to Rajasthan and in love with India. Ordeix and Yamla Pagla Deewana’s Emma Brown Garrett offer a ray of hope for viewers tired from years of watching actors of limited talent and/or charisma playing white folk in most Hindi films. Chhotu’s bête noir in I Am Kalam is Laptan played by actor Pitobash who is as delightful here as he was in a larger role as an impetuous small-time crook in Shor In The City earlier this year.

The beauty of I Am Kalam lies in the friendship between Chhotu and Ranvijay. But the interactions between Bhati Mamu and Lucie Madam too are entertaining without mocking Bhati, though it might have been tempting to go that way – nice touch! Equally enjoyable are the scenes in the dhaba where the white tourists all look and speak like real white tourists, where Chhotu picks up languages with alacrity, where everyone is taken in by this spirited child, and where we have one of the film’s most memorable moments: an impromptu jam session kicked off when Lucie is testing a new ravanhatta – the traditional stringed instrument popular in Rajastan – and is joined by Chhotu on his khartal, an unnamed tourist with a banjo (Delhi-based musician Deepak Castelino) and everyone else who gathers around to clap, click pictures or watch in admiration ... evocative evidence, if any is needed, that music has no language, class or nationality.

The only thing that didn’t work for me in I Am Kalam was its hurriedly wrapped up ending suffused with improbabilities. Could a tradition-and-possibly-caste-bound king who is so conservative that he doesn’t run a kitchen at his palace hotel suddenly be transformed into the benefactor of a poor boy? And why did that song in the children’s classroom focus so much and so awkwardly on the teacher? The director’s sure-footedness through the rest of the film turns slightly shaky in the last 10 minutes.  

But still, this is a lovely film! 2011 has been unusual because it has brought us a string of Hindi children’s films, all of them very well cast, from Sagar Ballary’s Kaccha Limboo and Amole Gupte’s Stanley ka Dabba to Chillar Party just last month and Bubble Gum just last week. Bubble Gum suffered from indifferent production values and Chillar Party meandered beyond a point. I Am Kalam is more polished; it’s also well-intentioned, entertaining and as much for adults as it is for kids. Sanjay Chauhan’s writing is straightforward and extremely effective. Nila Madhab Panda’s direction is so confident that it’s hard to believe this is his debut feature. A big thank you to him for bringing together the sparkling Harsh Mayar and Husaan Saad in one film. Mayar lives in a resettlement colony in Delhi and is making his film debut with I Am Kalam. Saad was earlier seen in Delhi 6. It will be our good fortune if Hindi cinema provides these remarkable children with more opportunities so that two decades from now, we are still watching them on the big screen, perhaps as the successors of Ranbir Kapoor and Ranveer Singh.
Rating (out of five): ***1/2  

CBFC Rating:                       U without cuts
Running time:                        90 Minutes
Language:                              Hindi

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


Release date:
July 29, 2011
Rakesh Ranjan Kumar
Raghuvir Yadav, Neha Dhupia, Avijit Dutt, Aman Verma, Nalin Singh

I really really don’t understand why this film was made! I mean, the title suggests that the script writer has found a clever way of weaving together the lives of India’s apostle of non-violence and Germany’s ambassador of cruelty. What we get instead is footage of the Mahatma either writing to Hitler or delivering homilies to his followers, which is alternated with scenes from Hitler’s last days. Gandhi is known to have sent two letters to Hitler, trying to dissuade him from following a path of violence, and on this sliver of history rests an entire nearly-two-hour film. Also thrown into the cooking pot is Balbir Singh, a Punjabi soldier in Subhash Chandra Bose’s forces sworn to Hitler, walking aimlessly along the French-German border with a ragtag bunch of colleagues, reminiscing about home and wondering what role they could possibly be playing in India’s battle for independence.

The separate stories of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and Adolf Hitler have been told so many times by now that any new film on them needed to come armed either with brilliant treatment or a whole new line of thinking about their lives – this film has neither. Nothing, and by that I mean ABSOLUTELY NOTHING new emerges from Gandhi to Hitler. Did the film maker really think we didn’t know that Hitler was betrayed by Heinrich Himmler towards the end, that he married his mistress Eva Braun shortly before committing suicide, or that his most trusted lieutenant Joseph Goebbels also shot himself?! And what point was being made by inserting Balbir’s parallel track into this film? So okay, he and his wife end up following completely different ideologies (she is a follower of the Mahatma’s dictums on ahimsa) but take us further than that, please! As if it isn’t tiresome enough to witness Balbir’s wanderings which seem to serve no purpose in this movie, we are treated to Border/LoC Kargil-style flashbacks to his lady love in Punjab embellished by song and dance.

Considering the intriguing title, Gandhi to Hitler is a huge disappointment. Especially because the film gets its look and the casting of its principal players reasonably right. Avijit Dutt as Gandhi emulates the Mahatma’s voice, demeanour and posture well enough. Raghuvir Yadav is unexpectedly appropriate as the moustached, quick-footed Hitler of the photographs and footage we’ve all seen. But the insubstantial script leaves them looking like they’re doing little more than mimic the physical characteristics of the historical figures they are playing.

The makeup, hair and overall styling of all the lead characters is impressive, particularly Dutt, Yadav and Neha Dhupia playing Eva Braun. What’s also interesting is that all the Germans in the film are played by Indian actors speaking Hindi and thankfully, not trying to do German accents … that could have been a noteworthy experiment, if only the film had been blessed with some substance, a worthwhile storyline and a better supporting cast. As for the editing, it’s inexplicable – there’s a major jump at one point where a soldier from Balbir’s group disappears and is found dead by his colleagues in a cottage, his body lying beside a cowering local woman who has been apparently gangraped by French outlaws. Why and how did our desi boy go there? We are not told. Do I really care? Nope!

Rating (out of five): 1/2  

CBFC Rating:                       U/A with two cuts (one featuring Gandhi treating an injured goat, the other showing some women feeding a buffalo – the Censors asked for these scenes to be removed since prior permission had not been sought for the use of animals in the film)
Running time:                        115 Minutes
Language:                              Hindi