Monday, October 29, 2018


Release date:
October 26, 2018
Ajay Devaloka

Shine Tom Chacko, Shruthy Menon, Pearle Maaney, Rajeev Pillai, Prashanth Nair
English, Malayalam

What if we are characters in another person’s dream and death is that person waking up?

What if we could communicate in our dreams with individuals we have never met?

Writer-director Ajay Devaloka addresses these questions in Who: Chapter 2, an English-Malayalam film that travels back and forth across several decades all the way up to 2040 A.D. Through this time we encounter a young woman called Dolores and a reclusive man called John who are both troubled by what they see in their sleep. In the same region, two policemen are investigating the disappearance of a woman named Isabella when they learn that tragedy strikes in that area each year on Christmas day.

Dreams and the scope of the human imagination have pre-occupied philosophers and litterateurs for generations. Devaloka’s theme per se remains captivating, until a long-drawn-out voiceover in the end decides to idiot-proof it for us with a detailed explanation about electromagnetic waves, cosmic connections and other blah.

Before that finale, when we are left to ourselves to interpret the goings-on, large swathes of Who are quite interesting, and what appear to be loose ends are forgivable since a companion film to Who called Isabella is in the offing so one assumes that those gaps would be plugged in that film. “Quite interesting” but not entirely so because the film never comes to terms with its chosen language of communication, that is, English with some Malayalam. Its awkwardness with the former – in the writing and much of the acting – makes its silences preferable to too many of its spoken conversations.

Those silences, draped in the mists of a mountainous region “somewhere in India”, come swaddled in an alluring air of mystery, foreboding and desolation. DoP Amith Surendran embraces the film’s setting with both arms, his magnificent frames tempering the rich green of the mountainside with a perennial gray.

Visually then, Who is stunning. Thematically too it is filled with promise. But all the intriguing paranormal and pop psych questions in the world, the Biblical knowledge, the referencing of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream from the Old Testament, and beautiful cinematography cannot camouflage the fact that though the dialogues are written primarily in English with some use of Malayalam, the writer’s English does not flow comfortably.

The choice of language is in itself inexplicable. Where in India is this film located that people would force themselves to speak English even in private spaces although it does not come naturally to them and they do have a choice since everyone seems to know Malayalam too? Of course there is the other possibility – a perfectly acceptable one – that a director/writer would pick a tongue alien to his story’s setting because it is the language most understood by his target audience, like Richard Attenborough making Gandhi in English although we know that the characters in that film would mostly not have been speaking English in real life, and Milan Luthria making The Dirty Picture in Hindi although it is set in Chennai where, in real life, most of the characters would have been speaking Tamil with perhaps a spot of English. If you take that route as a filmmaker, you may opt for actors who speak in local accents but you cannot have a writer who writes dialogues in a way that no one speaks.

Not only do many of the English dialogues in Who sound pretentious (a woman called Arunima is crushed under this burden), but some are downright hollow to the point of being hilarious. Like this solo line delivered by John, who grandly tells one of the cops: Sometimes life is more than just a dream, isn’t it? He then walks away, as if he is leaving us to think deeply about a gem that just tripped off his lips.

Or sample this exchange between the two policemen discussing the fact that Isabella’s body has not been found although another woman who disappeared was later found murdered:

Cop1: I suspect a foul play.

Cop2:  Yes I think so too.

Oh, you do?!

Thankfully, these are the very worst of Who, and the rest is better. But the language also appears to affect the performances of some of the artistes since John’s little daughter and John himself sound more natural when they are speaking in Malayalam, but stiff and strained while dealing with their English lines. The kid, in fact, struggles with English to embarrassing effect.

John comes off worse on the whole though because English dominates his lines and, sadly, actor Shine Tom Chacko comes across as though he has been instructed to be intentionally mannered in his speech. Shruthy Menon who plays Arunima must have got the same memo. Menon is very likely at ease with both languages off screen, but is better with her Malayalam dialogues in this film, not because her acting changes for them but because those portions are better written.

One can only assume that with their theatrical performances she and Chacko are playing along with director Devaloka’s vision here since this is not how they have been in their previous films.

The actor who comes away from this film with her reputation unsullied is Pearle Maaney playing Dolores. To be fair to the others, hers is the best-written part. Still, there are places where she could have gone all melodramatic and lofty on us but does not. Whether she was given the freedom to decide for herself or that was Devaloka’s call for her we do not know, but either way she manages to keep Dolores unpretentious till the very end.

The first half of Who evokes curiosity despite its obvious flaws, because Maaney, the camerawork, and the theme keep it going. It becomes increasingly laboured as the second half progresses though. This is a theme worth exploring, it just needed to be handled in a less self-conscious and self-important manner epitomised by that laughable spoonfeeding session in the closing voice-over that may as well have been preceded by the words, “Dear viewers, I just showed you my very very intelligent film that I think perhaps you may have been too dumb to understand, so let me spell it out for you...” Uff.

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

CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
153 minutes 

A version of this review has also been published on Firstpost:

Sunday, October 28, 2018


Release date:
October 26, 2018
Gauravv K. Chawla

Saif Ali Khan, Rohan Mehra, Radhika Apte, Chitrangda Singh

In a brief job interview in the conference room of a leading Mumbai stockbroking firm, Baazaar’s hero Rizwan Ahmed is challenged by a smart alec MBA to sell a cup of coffee in that room. “Sell it and the job is yours,” he says. To underline his desire to belittle Rizwan, the fellow spits into a mug before handing it to him.

Rizwan is from a small town, but he is no shrinking puppy. He coolly drinks the spit, puts down a hundred bucks on the table and says, “Sold, Sir. To myself.”

(Note: that was not a spoiler – the scene is in the film’s promotional trailer.)

Ooh! So clever, na?

Or maybe not? Remember, the said smart alec only asked for the coffee to be sold, not drunk. The point of getting Rizwan to drink the spit was to underline the lengths to which he is willing to go to make it big – and of course to come up with a memorable scene – but if you think about it, far from being smart, he was being downright stupid, and the same can be said of the scene, based as it is on a gaping loophole.

When director Gauravv K. Chawla’s Baazaar is not trying to impress us in this fashion with its coolth, it remains inoffensive and mildly engaging even if generic. Rizwan is from Allahabad and keen to strike gold in Mumbai’s share market. His God in the business is Shakun Kothari (Saif Ali Khan), a Gujarati billionaire who has risen similarly from the ranks.

When Shakun is not buying and selling shares, betraying friends and selling his soul, he hangs out with his beautiful wife Mandira (Chitrangda Singh) – a khaandaani raees who has never known want – and their two lovely daughters. When Rizwan is not on the trading floor, he is building a romantic relationship with his gorgeous, unscrupulous colleague Priya (Radhika Apte).

A dogged SEBI official, meanwhile, has made it his goal to pin Shakun down one day.

Rizwan deals in stocks and shares, the film deals in the lines people cross and consciences that are killed on the road to wealth, and whether it is necessary to be unemotional and amoral to get there. The most interesting parts come when Shakun turns on persons who accuse him of being a fraud – suddenly, his calm exterior cracks, he snarls and gets violent as he lists out the fraudulent measures adopted by the other individual without any qualms until he was outwitted by Shakun.

There is an allusion to class bias in one of these confrontations. Corruption, after all, is less abhorrent in many Indian eyes when it comes packaged in designer business suits, an urbane exterior and a slick English accent. What Baazaar hints at therefore is also the hypocrisy of those who judge the corrupt. These are the elements in the script that should have been explored further. Unfortunately, Chawla is far more committed to the thriller aspect of the film, and that part is just so-so. While most of Baazaar is devoted to Rizwan’s rise and fall, his revenge and the accompanying dialoguebaazi come too quickly and too conveniently to be either convincing or gripping. Even Baazaar’s expensive look and colour scheme that foregrounds white, red and steel gray, is too familiar from past Bollywood projects that are distinguished by their conviction that they are suave. The result is a middling film, meriting neither love nor hate.

Radhika Apte’s striking presence makes hers the most impactful of the film’s supporting characters. Chitrangda Singh looks stunning, but has the same expression pasted on her face throughout. Rohan Mehra, who gets the meatiest role in Baazaar, is okay as an actor, I guess, but there is nothing about his performance or his personality that explains why so much faith has been invested in him. 

Saif Ali Khan’s swag never flags in his performance as Shakun. No one can make evil look quite as attractive as this Khan. That said, he really needs to take a long hard look at his script choices. He is unarguably the Hindi film industry’s most under-rated star actor, an artiste who does not get the credit he deserves for the depth he is capable of because he is so good at what he does, that he makes it look easy. Someone please convince him to revive the instincts that led him to Dil Chahta Hai, Hum Tum, Ek Hasina Thi and Omkara, and to get himself more projects worthy of his gift.

Until then, those of us who respect his innate talent and charisma will be left continuously tearing our hair out wondering when he will find the next Farhan Akhtar, the next Kunal Kohli, the next Sriram Raghavan or the next Vishal Bhardwaj of his life. Baazaar ain’t a patch on any of the above films, but it is not intolerable either. What it is is forgettable. Saif Ali Khan is the best thing about this ordinary film.

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

CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
140 minutes