Saturday, May 19, 2012


Release date:
May 18, 2012
Ram Gopal Varma
Sanjay Dutt, Rana Daggubati, Vijay Raaz, Amitabh Bachchan, Abhimanyu Singh, Madhu Shalini, Anjana Sukhani, Lakshmi Manchu

Remember how George Costanza and Jerry Seinfeld try to sell the concept for a TV show to the bosses at a major American network with the words: ‘It’s a show about … … … NOTHING!’?

I’m afraid my mind wandered towards Seinfeld and in many other directions as I watched Ram Gopal Varma’s Department. Because it truly felt like a film about … … … NOTHING!

I know there is a story somewhere in there, and I will try to recount it to you in a later paragraph. But it was hard to focus on the subject at hand since I was so distracted by this film’s numerous purposeless camera angles – shots of a character taken from below another’s armpit, Vijay Raaz as seen from below a lady’s thigh, a dancer’s right thigh placed over the left while the camera teases us in the direction of her crotch, Amitabh Bachchan as seen from above, an elongated Raaz as seen from below ...

Department is set in the Mumbai underworld which was once Ramu’s forte. That of course is the tragedy of this film: that the man who gave us the rawness of Shiva, the intense hopelessness of Satya and Company, could be so lost in himself as to have made Department. Underlining the tragedy is the fact that he has a cast of fine actors at hand here (not counting Lakshmi Manchu – playing Sanjay Dutt’s wife – whose dialogue delivery is decidedly awkward). Just last year, Abhimanyu Singh chilled us to the bone playing a homophobic policeman in director Onir’s I Am. Monsoon Wedding’s Dubey (Vijay Raaz) delivered one of the finest supporting performances of 2011 with his turn as the gangster taking shit – literally – in Delhi Belly. But these wonderful men and their co-stars – Amitabh Bachchan in particular – are reduced to mere props in the eyes of an eccentric camera.

So let’s quickly be done with the story! Shiv (Rana Daggubati) is an honest and disillusioned policeman who is recruited by Mahadev (Dutt) into a new department – simply called The Department – that works outside the purview of the law to put the fear of God in Mumbai’s gangsters. The don Sawathya (Raaz) must contend with them while also dealing with rebellion in his own gang. Meanwhile, Shiv meets gangster-turned-politician Sarjerao Gaikwad (Bachchan). Also in the picture are Shiv’s fiancĂ©e (Anjana Sukhani), Mahadev’s wife, Sawathya’s flunkey DK (Abhimanyu) and his power-and-cigarette-obsessed moll (Madhu Shalini).

In its effort to throw up surprises at every turn, Department is so contrived that it’s boring. For god’s sake, by now we need more than the revelation of an underworld-politician nexus to shock us out of our seats! And for god’s sake, a steady stream of violence, a steady flow blood and a gratingly loud background score can’t compensate for a poor script! In a scene that could variously be described as a tribute or an effort to recreate an iconic passage from Satya, DK and his girlfriend stand on what seems like a cliff overlooking Mumbai, and DK throws out a remark to the cosmos about his ambitions. No Ramu, it doesn’t work. It especially doesn’t work for those of us who watched and loved Satya back in 1998, and still have an image etched in our minds of that glorious moment in time, of a scruffy Manoj Bajpai on a cliff, looking across the waters to Mumbai and yelling out to the world: “Mumbai ka king kaun? Bhiku Matre!

There’s nothing novel either in the content or the presentation of this latest underworld story from The House of Ramu. Unless you count the bizarre camera work! Uff! The shaky camera and weird angles in Ramu’s Not A Love Story last year gave me a touch of nausea and the beginnings of a migraine, and spoilt what was otherwise a very unusual and surprisingly nuanced take on the Neeraj Grover murder case. In Department the camera does not shake, but the shots are still weird, travelling above, below, beneath and between various body parts without either being particularly artistic or adding to the narrative in any way. The only shot I found even half-way interesting was a very close close-up of the side of a teacup with the visible shadow of the beverage still swilling around inside, left there half drunk by a policeman who must do his political master’s bidding and leave everything, yes everything, when summoned to a task. That apart, I suppose I’m grateful that emerging Telugu star Rana dubbed for himself in this film instead of being given a completely mismatched voice as he was in his Bollywood debut Dum Maaro Dum. In every other department though, Department is a let-down.

And about that much-touted item number with model Nathalia Kaur … ya okay, she’s got a hot body, but so what? So do a zillion other girls trying to make it in Bollywood! There’s such a thing as screen presence. And that she certainly ain’t got! So why has Ramu been waxing eloquent about her all this time?

O Ramu, Ramu, wherefore art thou Ramu?

Rating (out of five): *

CBFC Rating:                       A

Language:                              Hindi

Saturday, May 12, 2012


Release date:
May 11, 2012
Habib Faisal
Parineeti Chopra, Arjun Kapoor, Gauahar Khan

Regressiveness is never more dangerous than when it’s pretending to be liberal. Ishaqzaade is a cleverly deceptive anti-women film that diverts attention from its true colours with a heroine who spits fire and can fire a gun with panache rarely seen in a Bollywood leading lady. But like so many Hindi films that have come before, it also stipulates that a woman must forgive even the worst, most inexcusable crime committed by the man she loves. And make no mistake about this: what the hero does to the heroine at one point is nothing but a crime!
The film’s shockingly backward stance on women is particularly disappointing because it is directed by Habib Faisal who made that excellent Rishi Kapoor-Neetu Kapoor-starrer Do Dooni Chaar and wrote the fabulous Band Baaja Baaraat. Don’t get me wrong … I have no doubt situations and characters like the ones in this film do exist in the real world, but it is always clear when a film is taking a position on an issue as opposed to a position being taken only by a character/s in that film. Ishaqzaade’s story by Aditya Chopra and Habib Faisal, screenplay and dialogues by Faisal leave us in no doubt where the makers of this film stand on women’s rights and sexual aggression. This is unfortunate because Ishaqzaade has so much else going for it!

The story is set in the small town of Almore in northern India. The patriarchs of the Qureshi and Chauhan clans are standing for elections from opposing parties. Against this backdrop, Chauhan’s no-good grandson Parma and Qureshi’s feisty daughter Zoya meet and fall in love. As you can imagine, because of the political rivalries and religious differences involved, the path to the altar is not smooth for them.
The first half of Ishaqzaade is quite lovely – the humour is unusual and unrelenting, there’s a natural style to the storytelling and there’s a twist at every turn leading to an entirely unexpected scenario right before the interval. Like most Hindu-Muslim romances in Bollywood, this one too plays it safe and sticks to the tradition of making the woman the minority community member while the Hindu in the relationship is the man! That apart, I enjoyed the way Faisal’s smoothly written lines don’t pussyfoot around the offensive terms people tend to use in real life to describe members of other communities: Parma repeatedly calls Zoya a Musalli to her face, she calls him a kaafir. But post interval, the story goes out of control, the medieval attitude towards women is revealed, the dialogues begin to sound over-smart and the humour feels misplaced considering the grim setting. All this leads up to a completely unsatisfactory conclusion!

Debutant Arjun Kapoor – son of producers Boney Kapoor and Mona Kapoor – plays Parma in the first half of the film as if he was born into the role. This ishaqzaada is first a haraamzaada (bastard) in the fullest sense of that word – a trigger-happy goonda, a liar, blackmailer, a regular visitor to brothels, an oppressor of the poor. In the second half though, when a more nuanced performance is called for, he falls short. He also needs to guard against the fact that a couple of his facial expressions seem lifted right off Abhishek Bachchan. Still, because he’s got an interesting screen presence I’ll wait to see him in his next film before deciding whether he was simply being himself in the first half of Ishaqzaade or he was acting well.
Gauahar Khan as the prostitute with the golden heart and the actress playing Parma’s mother are the pick of the supporting cast. The mom is also blessed with the most credible and consistent character in the film. The rest of the cast is a mixed bag.  

The star of the film though is Parineeti Chopra playing the spirited Zoya. This role has much in common with the cheeky kid she played in her debut film Ladies vs Ricky Bahl just months back, but she manages to bring enough to this performance to make Zoya’s pizzazz different. Parineeti’s obvious talent is no compensation, however, for Zoya’s conformist, wimpish behavior after the interval that seems completely out of character. In fact, Zoya’s inconsistent characterisation must rank as one of the worst pieces of writing in a Hindi film in recent years!
Discussing the music, cinematography and other technical aspects of Ishaqzaade seems superfluous considering the way the film’s fun and seemingly feminist first half is marred by its anti-women second half. Perhaps this should not come as a surprise. After all producers Yash Raj Films are the ones who gave us Laaga Chunari Mein Daag which suggested that an abla naari in the big city with a family to support back in her village has no option but to become a hooker!

There’s more to liberalism than putting a gun in your heroine’s hands!
Rating (out of five): **1/2

CBFC Rating:                       U/A

Language:                              Hindi

Monday, May 7, 2012


Release date:
May 4, 2012
Kunal Deshmukh
Emraan Hashmi, Randeep Hooda, Esha Gupta, Manish Chaudhary, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, Arif Zakaria

A friend mentioned the other day that she’d just realised she has so far not seen an Emraan Hashmi film. Not surprisingly though, many of her favourite Hindi film songs from the past few years have featured this least acknowledged of Bollywood’s reigning stars.
It’s a given then, but it merits a mention … as in the case of every Emraan Hashmi-starrer, there’s plenty of hummable music to be had in Jannat 2, a film about the nation’s flourishing illegal arms trade. Emraan plays a small-time gun runner in Delhi who ends up becoming a police informer. Somewhere along the way, he falls in love with a woman and decides he wants to clean up his act. Let it be stated for the record that this film is not a sequel to Jannat which was released in 2008.

Jannat 2 starts off in quite an entertaining fashion but fizzles out through the second half. Some of this has to do with the fact that it’s too obvious in its effort to be clever, possibly aiming at the style of the 2010 gangster film Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai starring Emraan and Ajay Devgn that hit the jackpot at the box office with its 1970s-Bollywood-style dialoguebaazi. We get an early indicator of Jannat 2’s pretensions with the name of its hero: Sonu Dilli KKC (kutti kameeni cheez). Such subtlety!
Still, there’s interesting chemistry between Emraan and Randeep Hooda playing ACP Pratap Raghuvanshi who virtually blackmails the small-time crook into becoming a police informer. Their love-hate relationship could have carried this film through, if it weren’t for the under-written, under-acted asides in Jannat 2 that fail to draw us in.

So there’s Manish Chaudhary playing the big gun in the gun trade who remains nothing more than a trying-too-hard-to-be-menacing presence with really strange motivations. His is a small role that could be excused, but there’s no overlooking Dr Jhanvi who is running away from her past even as she runs a charitable clinic where Sonu first meets her. The lack of sparks between the two and the utter predictability of their relationship graph make the film’s romantic track decidedly dull. It’s also hard to empathise with this woman when the writer/director’s treatment of the character and actress Esha Gupta’s acting limitations reduce Jhanvi to nothing more than a showpiece. Yeah, so we know that she has flawless skin, a fabulous figure and (don’t hate me for saying this but) she looks like Angelina Jolie … So what?! Making matters worse is the placement of the love songs in the story and the completely unimaginative settings of these songs. The ending may have been heart-wrenching if Esha could act, but since she just about gets by in that department, the final portion comes across as overly stretched in a desperate attempt to wring tears out of the audience.
But Jannat 2 is not a hopeless case either. It features some action and chase scenes that made me sit up and take notice. It’s also nice to see a deserving actor like Randeep Hooda being given substantial roles in two mainstream films in quick succession (last year he had Sahib Biwi aur Gangster). Emraan too is convincing as the rascal with a heart. In fact, the two leading men are so good together that I found myself wishing Sonu Dilli had fallen in love with ACP Pratap instead of Dr Jhanvi! When these gentlemen are not sharing screen space, one of Jannat 2’s more moving moments comes from Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub in a small but impactful role. Ayyub had earlier played Jessica Lal’s killer in No One Killed Jessica and the hero’s friend in Mere Brother ki Dulhan.

I don’t see myself ever making the effort to watch this film a second time, but despite its many flaws, it’s only fair to say that Jannat 2 is a mildly entertaining even if unmemorable film.

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

CBFC Rating:                       A

Running Time:                      133 minutes

Language:                              Hindi

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