Wednesday, April 25, 2012


Release date:
March 9, 2012
Sujoy Ghosh
Vidya Balan, Parambrata Chattopadhyay, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Saswata Chatterjee, Darshan Jariwala

This is an experiment for me. I’ve never before written a review 7 weeks after a film’s release ... But then, some reviews I write because I have to; some because I want to ... Because there’s such joy in sharing my thoughts about a film I loved. I suspect too that most people read reviews not just for help with their film-viewing decisions, but because there is such joy in finding your opinions echoed by someone you respect or in cursing critics whose views don’t match yours.
You’d think people refer to reviews only on the weekend of a film’s release, but my experience with Kahaani proves otherwise. As some of you are aware, I’m working on my first book. So I was battling a deadline in March that compelled me to miss the film when it was released. I’m pleasantly surprised to find though that between March and today I’ve received numerous tweets from regular readers of my blog urging me to review this film whenever I am free.

This is a unique experience for me. As a practice, I rigidly refuse to discuss a film with a soul if I intend to review it and I avoid reading other reviews till I’m done with mine. Although I’ve not chatted with anyone about Kahaani so far or read reviews before writing my own, I’m obviously aware that most reviewers and viewers have praised it, though a couple of critics did not like it as much. The film is now in its 7th week in theatres (very unusual these days even for high-cost productions). Made on a budget of merely Rs 8 crore, Kahaani had already collected nearly Rs 58 crore in its 5th week according to the trade website But an acquaintance buttonholed me to insist that the climax was “too abrupt” and undeserving of the accolades.
As I walked into the theatre to watch it many weeks after its release, I wondered if, after all the post-release hype, I too would be disappointed. As it turns out, I’m not. There’s only one way to describe my reaction to that ending … Oh my! I did not see that coming!
So the first A-plus in favour of Kahaani is for effectively exploring a genre which is one of Bollywood’s weaknesses. This industry rarely makes good thrillers – for evidence, look no further than the hollowness of Agent Vinod. But Kahaani manages to maintain the suspense till the very last shot. I was so glued to my seat, that I didn’t step out for snacks during the interval for fear that I would miss a few significant seconds.
You know of course that this is the story of a seven-months pregnant Vidya Bagchi (Vidya Balan) who travels from her home in London to locate her husband who went missing while on an assignment in Kolkata.  Strange thing is, no one in the city seems to recollect an Arnab Bagchi. A young policeman called Satyaki Chatterjee (Parambrata Chattopadhyay) steps up to help. Intelligence official Khan (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) is unmoved by Vidya’s plight but is keen to use her to solve a case.
Kahaani is one of those rare Hindi films that marries intelligent casting with a wonderful script. Actors for even the tiniest roles have been chosen with affection for the writers’ vision. So not only do the three leads deliver remarkable performances, but you come away from the film remembering even Saswata Chatterjee playing the destined-to-be-iconic Bob Biswas, the eerie undercover contract killer whose total screen time would not add up to many minutes.
Too many films put a strain on their actors by getting them to do accents and imitate the body language of people from communities they do not belong to. It takes a rare actor to manage the feat without distracting themselves from the rest of the performance. Kahaani makes no such unnecessary demands. Bengalis here are played by Bengalis. And Vidya Bagchi is actually a Tamilian married to a Bengali man (Vidya Balan herself is a Palakkad Iyer).
It’s also a relief that there’s more to the actress’ fine performance than just the physical demands of playing a pregnant woman. Although her character is experiencing great trauma, for not a second does she overdo the emotions. Bengali actor Parambrata – making his Bollywood debut here – is the sort of chap you want to reach out to hug when you see him on screen. But beyond the cuteness, his immense talent is exemplified by the scenes in which he gives us a whiff of a glimpse of Satyaki’s growing attraction towards Vidya.  As for Nawazuddin, you may remember him as the local journalist reporting Natha’s story in Peepli Live. In Kahaani, he gets a larger showcase for his undeniable skills and sharp good looks, leaving us anxious for more.
But the stars of this film are director Sujoy Ghosh, cinematographer Setu and the writing team (story: Ghosh & Advaita Kala, additional screenplay: Suresh Nair & Nikhil Vyas). Together they utilise Kolkata with all her familiar and unfamiliar scenes, without resorting to grating clichés; and subtly but surely they present to us a truly feminist film.
Since Durga Puja forms the backdrop of Kahaani, I was dreading a literal depiction of Vidya as the many-armed Goddess at some point, as she is seen in the poster. Fortunately, the film not only steers clear of such triteness, its woman-centricity goes way beyond the usual heroine-oriented Hindi film with the clearly spelt out focus on social issues! 
Pregnancy and childbirth are arguably the physically most vulnerable times in a woman’s life. But Vidya Bagchi in her advanced stage of pregnancy is not just determinedly mobile, she also proves that a woman’s physical susceptibility should not in any way overshadow her emotional resilience. More important, pregnant women often see themselves as unattractive, and Indian society tends to expect them to stay away from public platforms. It’s only in recent years that pregnant actresses have begun making routine public appearances. But how many pregnant Indian female TV anchors have you seen with their baby bumps visible on air? Not many, I’m afraid. In this context, Kahaani adds a whole new dimension to its understated feminism by pointing us towards the possibility that a man may very well be attracted to a pregnant woman who, as it happens, does not measure her worth by his interest in her. Besides, Vidya is at no point depicted as dowdy. She is smart, feisty, brilliant, beautiful, pregnant and utterly irresistible.
These serious subliminal messages only add to the fun that is to be had in watching Kahaani! You may choose to wait for it to be aired on TV. But there is something to be said about seeing a disturbing thriller in a darkened hall. I’m sorely tempted to make a second trip!
Rating (out of five): ****
CBFC Rating:                       U / A
Language:                              Hindi

Photograph courtesy:  

Saturday, April 21, 2012


Release date:
April 20, 2012
Vivek Agnihotri
Paoli Dam, Gulshan Devaiah, Nikhil Dwivedi, Bhairavi Goswami      

If you plan to be a prostitute, know this: that to be the best r***i ever, you must learn to “shake it, take it, fake it”. This gyaan is offered to prostitutional aspirant Kavya Krishna (Paoli Dam) in Hate Story by a top-notch r***i (the Hindi word that rhymes with undie) as she brushes her fulsome breasts against Kavya’s bulky bosom of which we see a lot in this film.

Since so much trouble has been taken to shoot those Dam breasts from all imaginable angles that would pass muster with the stiff-necked Indian Censors, and since far less effort seems to have been invested in this shallow script, I can only guess that the former are meant to be Hate Story’s USP! So here are my takeaways from this unintentionally funny film:

1.     Paoli Dam – Bollywood debutant but a known name in West Bengal – is beautiful.
2.     Paoli Dam is sexy. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions, boys, but I suspect you will agree that those killer curves are (as my teenaged friends would put it) hawt!
3.     Paoli Dam needs a better gym. Sorry girl, I’d usually consider such remarks personal, but a decently articulated assessment of your body is fair game when you position yourself as a sex bomb and drop your clothes at the drop of a hat. FYI if that’s the niche you are eyeing, a generous bosom and slim waist are not enough – you need a perfectly toned back too! And since this film has chosen to lure audiences into theatres with a photo-shopped, flawless rear view of you in the posters, the real thing on celluloid ought to match up!
4.     Paoli Dam and director Vivek Agnihotri have the courage not to camouflage her complexion. She is dark skinned and not pretending to be otherwise. This is such a pleasant change from most Bollywood films that use pancake, lighting and camera trickery to alter the skin colour of their dusky leading ladies. In that respect, Paoli harks back to the early days of Kajol, long before Ms Devgn nee Mukherjee became the whitened-up creature of the current cosmetic company ads that she now appears in!
5.     Paoli Dam needs to improve her acting.
Now that you’ve absorbed all that, here’s a sliver of the story: Kavya is a Delhi journalist whose sting operation exposes a cement company. This brings her in conflict with industrialist Siddharth Dhanrajgir who unleashes his life’s motto on her: “I f*** the people who f*** with me.” But Sid is doomed when Kavya dedicates her own life to vengeance against him because, as she explains, when a woman decides to sell her izzat instead of trying to protect it, no man stands a chance, least of all you, Siddharth Dhanrajgiiiiiiiiiiir!!! Drum rolls please!

No doubt there was potential in Hate Story’s story brief. After all, the all-consuming nature of revenge is always worth exploring! But latent possibilities are buried here under a contrived script in which all proceedings are manipulated to fall in line with the writer’s ultimate goal, the dialoguebaazi is more amusing than it is hard hitting, and the execution borders on the farcical. So when the heroine goes to jail, she seems to have the services of the best make-up artists and manicurists at her disposal. When she has to decipher corporate files, her photographer ex-colleague (Nikhil Dwivedi) most conveniently transforms into a finance wiz who can analyse those papers at a glance. And Daddy Dhanrajgir knows his son is destroying his business empire for vendetta, but he stands by and watches for a little above two hours, before he washes his hands of Sid. Arrey, if he’d intervened before that, how would the film have got completed?!

Incidentally, Nikhil and Gulshan Devaiah (as Siddharth Dhanrajgir) prove here that good actors sometimes manage to rise above banal scripts. Nikhil was noticeable in Mani Ratnam’s otherwise dull Raavan and in 2011’s little gem Shor In The City. Gulshan played a loose cannon to good effect in Bejoy Nambiar’s Shaitan (2011). In Hate Story he seamlessly metamorphoses from the fellow who stammers helplessly when he addresses his father to the ruthless, supremely confident bastard that he is with the rest of the world. Both men deserve better than this film.

As for the much-talked-about sex scenes in Hate Story … well, they’re way more explicit than what we’re used to seeing from Bollywood. And they’re not C-grade-style sleazy. But Paoli’s attempts to portray a steaming hot seductress are more laughable than sultry, the combined effect of ineffective acting and poor writing! Look no further than the scene in which she prances around the wet lawn of a politician’s house on a rainy day, spouting tacky dialogues steeped in puns to seduce him into appointing her to a top position in a bank.

Strange thing is that neither she nor director Vivek Agnihotri need have looked far for reference points. After all, Hate Story is produced by Vikram Bhatt who directed Raaz in which Bipasha Basu redefined “sexy” for Indian audiences.

Hate Story is not erotica as the publicity would have us believe. It’s a sad attempt at it!

Rating (out of five): * (For Nikhil Dwivedi and Gulshan Devaiah, and because I’ve seen far far worse. Don’t believe me? Click here for proof.)

CBFC Rating:                      A
Language:                            Hindi

Lead photograph courtesy:

Friday, April 20, 2012


Release date:
April 20, 2012
Shoojit Sircar
Ayushmann Khurrana, Yami Gautam, Annu Kapoor, Dolly Ahluwalia, Kamlesh Gill   

There’s no python sucking at a man’s crotch in this film. A crocodile does not bite anyone’s bum. The hero does not pee on a haystack. And not a single ape farts. But whaddyaknow, without any lazy gimmickry, Vicky Donor is still funny! Thank you, God! Thank you!

For the past decade now, the likes of Sajid Khan have persisted in equating the comedy genre with immaturity. But there’s hope shining on the horizon in the form of Vicky Donor’s bossman Shoojit Sircar whose film proves that you can be comical without being childish, that hilarity and stupidity are not the same thing!

Vicky Donor is the story of a sperm donor who makes big bucks by giving generously of his swimmers to an infertility clinic in Delhi’s Daryaganj area. Baldev Chaddha is the doctor with the uncanny ability to recognise the quality of a man’s sperm from just looking at his face. Dr Chaddha’s business is in a precarious state because he’s had a high failure rate with artificial insemination. But in Vicky Arora from Lajpat Nagar he spots a potential saviour. Vicky is initially reluctant, but it’s hard to say no to the money that pours in when it turns out that he has an incredibly high sperm count and his little fellows come armed with high motility. The Emperor Alexander of Sperms are now in demand, making Vicky a rich man. Along the way, he falls in love with a pretty banker called Ashima Roy. Will his ‘profession’ affect their relationship? The answer unfolds through a unique combination of wit, drama and simplicity rarely seen in a mainstream Bollywood film dealing with sensitive social issues.  
Vicky Donor is built on a foundation of strong writing and casting. Juhi Chaturvedi supports her unusual story with a screenplay that maintains an unrelenting pace almost throughout. Her dialogues too hit the right note especially while showcasing state-to-state cultural differences within India with humour that stops short of being caricaturish. Without giving away the story, let’s just say that in the hands of a less skilled, less refined, less original and less forward-thinking writer, I could imagine that this film might have either passed judgement on single/divorced/working women, or made icky jokes about semen and spermatozoa (this is really what I was dreading as I walked into the theatre!) or given us irritating stereotypes of Punjabis and Bengalis, or done all the above.

What we get instead are side-splitting interactions between Vicky’s all-Punjabi family and Ashima’s all-Bengali clan that explore familiar clichés in an unfamiliar, inoffensive fashion. Also on offer are some of the most interesting women you’ve seen in a Hindi film in a while; and the heartwarming relationships Vicky shares with the ladies in his life. Like Vicky, I too was tempted to say out loud to his grandmother: in this city, there are only two things that are truly modern – the Metro and you!

The thing that jarred was a father (never mind who) telling his daughter in passing that she should be relieved her husband is not blaming her that he can’t have a child because of her. Hmmm … it’s not that an Indian parent would not utter such an insensitive line, but that it didn’t fit with the character as he was written until then. Also, Dr Chaddha’s penchant for describing all men in terms of their sperm was funny to begin with, but became a bit of a drag as the film rolled on. If I were being finicky I’d say some aspects of the story do stretch believability – the way Vicky manages to keep his ‘job’ a secret for such a long time; and Dr Chaddha’s relentless chase. But that’s cinematic, comedic licence that is forgivable when you look at the bigger picture! And the bigger picture, my dear friends, is an amusing, sweet, moving, unconventional Bollywood comedy!

VJ-turned-film debutant Ayushmann Khurrana pitches in an impeccable performance as a strapping Punjabi boy who is bewildered at being pursued for his sperm but shows equal doggedness when he in turn pursues the girl he loves. In the role of his Ashima is TV actress Yami Gautam whose striking beauty and talent are another of this film’s assets. And veteran Annu Kapoor is lovely as Dr Chaddha. Bringing up the rear are an array of solid supporting actors including Dolly Ahluwalia as Vicky’s mother and Kamlesh Gill as his grandmother.

Vicky Donor’s social messages on infertility, sperm donation, adoption, family and the stresses that accompany modern life are so neatly woven in that they don’t really feel like messages at all. The climax of Vicky Donor – which could have ended up seeming silly or melodramatic if stretched a second longer – is just right. And the second half could have been maudlin, but the deft writing and direction ensure that the film retains its light touch till the very end. It helps that debutant producer John Abraham joins the cast in the catchy Rum rum rum rum rum song that runs with the closing credits during which his shirt is torn off for no apparent reason and he gets hosed on that amazingly-worked-out torso. These are great times to be a female Hindi film viewer!!! Thank you again, God!!! Thank you!!!

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

CBFC Rating:           U/A
Language:                  Hindi and Punjabi

Lead photograph courtesy:   

Saturday, April 14, 2012


Release date:
April 13, 2012
Supavitra Babul
Pulkit Samrat, Amita Pathak, Ashok Pathak

The trailer of Bittoo Boss reminded me of two recent films. Apart from the similarities in lingo, look and feel, there’s also the fact that Bittoo Boss’ hero shares his first name with the lovable Ranveer Singh’s character in Yash Raj Films’ Band Baaja Baaraat (2010) … remember that crazily charismatic fellow? And perhaps the resemblance to the posters and promo of TanuWeds Manu (2011) has something to do with the fact that TWM and Bittoo Boss are both Viacom 18 films.
But should the comparisons end there? Unfortunately, yes.

I say “unfortunately” because I adored Band Baaja Baaraat, I found the first half of Tanu Weds Manu lots of fun, and Bittoo Boss is a film with tremendous potential that it simply does not live up to.
Bittoo is an attractive, talented and cocky wedding videographer in Punjab who revels in the attention he gets from female guests. His ultimate goal is to become a feature film maker, but when the going gets tough, he decides to take up pornography to make a quick buck. I can’t tell you more without giving away too much. But promising story brief, right?

The interesting premise is let down by a patchy screenplay and inconsistent casting though. TV actor and film debutant Pulkit Samrat is pleasing to the eye and convincing as the aspiring film maker Bittoo who walks an unusual path to attain his goal. No, he doesn’t have the electrifying screen presence with which Ranveer Singh zapped us in BBB, but remember that Ranveer might have been half the smashing debutant he was without Maneesh Sharma’s brilliant direction, the impeccable writing by Sharma and Habib Faisal, and spunky Anushka Sharma as Shruti Kakkar providing the perfect foil to his OTT character. Still, Pulkit in Bittoo Boss displays a noteworthy ability to swing between the smug small-town heart throb with the swagger, the proud professional who can’t bear the slightest slight even if it could lead to a significant career break, the angry lover and the guy who can’t walk away from his golden heart. But too many aspects of his character and story are glossed over in this half-baked screenplay. For instance, are we seriously expected to believe that it takes just one hard knock for this supremely confident young man to take such a dramatic career decision? 
And before that, there is this other question: why did he fall for the leading lady? Don’t get me wrong. I’m not for a moment suggesting that only beautiful women should be cast as heroines in films. And to be fair, Amita Pathak is a good actress. But when almost every single female guest at a wedding is falling all over a cute guy, yet he has eyes only for one among them, she’d better be wonderfully well fleshed out in the script and played by an actress with a striking screen presence. Nay on both fronts here! The character is quite charmless. As for the actress … Well, charisma is not about looks, it’s about an X factor that’s hard to explain. You either have it or you don’t. Sadly, Amita does not. This is disappointing since the lead pair needed to share an exciting chemistry for his despair to be convincing. It’s not. ’Cos they don’t.

Amita is producer Kumar Mangat Pathak’s daughter so I cannot blame the casting team for her, particularly since their choices for some of the smaller parts are interesting. The actors in Bittoo’s attempts at porn feel like real people. A special mention must go to the kid playing the under-age girl whose name, I’m afraid, I missed! In the role of Bittoo’s porn assistant Vicky is Ashok Pathak who is energetic, believable and delightful.

The slumps in Bittoo Boss’ writing and direction are inexplicable since there are parts of this film that are handled in both departments with a simplicity and firmness of hand that are very effective ... such as the quarrel between the lead pair when Bittoo refuses to let a TV channel head insult his work; and especially especially the lengthy portion dealing with Bittoo’s foray into pornography. Here the film makes a superbly subtle point about date rape which is completely unexpected in a country like ours where the “she asked for it” taunt is thrown at most rape victims. In fact, this part of Bittoo Boss is so absorbing that it almost feels like someone else helmed the rest of it.

Erratic … that’s what Bittoo Boss is!

Rating (out of five): **
CBFC Rating:                       U/A
Language:                              Hindi with Punjabi

Saturday, April 7, 2012


Release date:
April 6, 2012
Sajid Khan
Akshay Kumar, John Abraham, Riteish Deshmukh, Shreyas Talpade, Rishi Kapoor, Randhir Kapoor, Asin, Mithun Chakraborty, Jacqueline Fernandez, Zarine Khan, Boman Irani, Johnny Lever, Malaika Arora Khan, Shazahn Padamsee

I can deal with Salman Khan urinating on a haystack in Anees Bazmee’s Ready. I can even take the farting ape of Bazmee’s No Problem. I can forgive the now predictable scenario that unfolds at the end of pretty much every Priyadarshan comedy, with the film’s entire cast congregating at one place and chasing each other in circles. But nothing, absolutely nothing, is an excuse for The Great Bollywood Rape Joke.
It was the last straw for me in Housefull 2. It came in a scene in which Sunny (Akshay Kumar) visits his father in the film. Dad is played by Ranjeet, villain of yesteryears. In an allusion to the numerous rape scenes the actor has shot through his career, the name plate behind him reads, “Dr Ranjeet V. Asna K. Pujari”. Get it? Vasna ke pujari? Devotee of lust? Yawn. That’s supposed to be his name. And below that comes the word “therapist”, except that the letter “e” has got partially unhinged from the board, so that it reads, “the rapist”.

When will Bollywood stop treating rape as a source of amusement? Sickening!
It can’t possibly get lower than this, I thought. But I was wrong. Towards the end of the film, when Sunny visits Dad again to introduce him to his bahu (Asin), the old man does not realise that the pretty girl before him is his daughter-in-law. So he leers and approaches her while gradually unbuttoning his clothes and lasciviously chanting the word, “beauty … beauty … beauty,” with every step he takes. Stop! Dad, she’s your bahu, says the son. Creepy Dad halts in his tracks, starts buttoning up again and retraces his steps, while still ogling her and now chanting, “Betibetibeti …”

Ugh! Yikes! Ewwww!
How Asin – Bollywood newcomer but star of southern Indian cinema – could have subjected herself to such a scene is beyond me. So I’ll say it again: I have no problem with the crocodile in Housefull 2 biting the bottom of Jolly (Riteish Deshmukh). I can close my eyes to the scene in which a python clings to the penis of Jai (Shreyas Talpade). I can even survive all those shots of lecherous Sunny’s tongue marginally lolling out. But I draw the line at rape!

Let me be very clear about this: I actually do enjoy the occasional mindless comedy and I realise that slapstick humour is often politically incorrect by nature. Despite its rampant sexism, I still laughed through No Entry. In spite of its overt homophobia and crudeness, Kya Kool Hai Hum cracked me up. Welcome was silly but hilarious. The Golmaal series maybe juvenile but I actually had fun with Golmaal 2&3. Though most critics in this country ripped Housefull to bits, I didn’t mind it too much. And what the heck, I found DesiBoyz and parts of F.A.L.T.U. funny. But there is a difference between being cheeky and being distasteful, between being politically incorrect and downright insensitive. And I suspect even diehard devotees of brainlessness would agree with me that when a film maker repeats his own successful formula, it can get boring.
And so, if in Housefull Sajid Khan gave us two men trying to deceive one father and one brother in collusion with two pretty women, he takes the “2” in Housefull 2 rather literally, giving us four men trying to deceive four fathers in collusion with four pretty women whose primary job is to look smashing in skimpy outfits. If in Housefull we were given the song Papa jag jaayega, here in Housefull 2 we get Papa toh band bajaye and Right now. Most of the dialogues involve rhyming words such as Sunny saying, “Langurs, have my angoors.” No you dirty people, it’s not what you are thinking, he’s actually offering grapes – the fruit – to guests!

The formulaic repetitiveness of the plot and dialogues are quite tragic because on a good day, Akshay, Asin, Riteish and Shreyas can be killer comics, and it was nice to see how John had evolved from being Akshay’s sidekick in Garam Masala to standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Akki in Desi Boyz. Besides, there’s some serious … uh … erm … chemistry between Akshay and John here. And the déjà vu notwithstanding, the songs are catchy, visually attractive and well choreographed. Despite everything I’ve said before this, I’ll concede too that there are some genuinely entertaining scenes here and there in the film (especially the ones involving Rishi Kapoor and a wisecrack offered by Johnny Lever about a man, his pregnant mother, his gullible father and their driver). But these scenes are few and far between, there are too many intermittent slow patches and there’s too much that’s a reminder of Housefull in Housefull 2.

But congratulations all the same, Sajid Khan! In Aakhree Pasta (Chunkey Pandey) you have managed to create one of the most irritating characters I’ve seen in a Bollywood comedy. As for you, Shreyas Talpade, having seen you in Nagesh Kukunoor’s splendidly sensitive Iqbal and witnessed your comic abilities in Om Shanti Om, it hurts to watch you in this film!
Rating (out of five): **

CBFC Rating:                       U/A
Language:                              Hindi