Monday, December 23, 2019


Release date:
December 20, 2019
Lal Jr

Prithviraj Sukumaran, Suraj Venjaramoodu, Mia George, Deepti Sati, Adhish Praveen, Saiju Kurup, Suresh Krishna, Nandu, Shivaji Guruvayoor, Lalu Alex, Vijayaraghavan

A major star needs a driving licence. The motor vehicle inspector in charge of his application is his fan. A misunderstanding caused by a third party’s actions leads to a blazing showdown between them. Could this be the starting point of great cinema? Yes, if writer Sachy and director Lal Jr are involved. In their hands, what follows is a captivating, unexpectedly insightful examination of human nature, as a game of pride and pettiness, fandom and fury leads to a high-profile war over a tiny issue.

Prithviraj Sukumaran plays the actor Hareendran, and Suraj Venjaramoodu is the MVI, Kuruvilla J. Both are in top form in Driving Licence, a suspense-filled, fast-paced ride that belies and surpasses all expectations raised by the trailer and the film’s opening minutes. At first it appears that this will be just a David-vs-Goliath battle. Then it seems that it will be a story of how even the smallest cog in a wheel can cause massive disruptions. Then it looks like it will be about media sensationalism or Mollywood politics. Then it heads in the direction of how the bureaucracy misuses its powers. Each time you think you have cracked Driving Licence,  it takes a surprising turn. This screenplay is one of the cleverest pieces of writing to emerge from Malayalam cinema in what is already a great year for Mollywood.

Lal Jr, whose calling cards as a director so far have been Honey Bee and Honey Bee 2: Celebrations, whips up the excitement levels in his latest venture with the aid of editor Ratheesh Raj’s smooth transitions and swift cuts. What elevates Driving Licence above the average thriller and makes it almost unslottable genre-wise though is its thoughtfulness. Intelligent writing, deft editing and nuanced acting join forces to ensure that neither Hareendran nor Kuruvilla is villainised or heroised at any point. What we get instead is a plausible series of circumstances aptly illustrating how momentary bursts of temper (from both gentlemen), arrogance (Hareendran’s) and small-mindedness (Kuruvilla’s) could cause otherwise manageable incidents to spiral out of control. The film is not perfect – we are never quite given to understand why Hareendran trusts his childhood friend, the politician Johnny Peringodan played by Saiju Kurup, when it is so clear that the man is untrustworthy, and Kuruvilla’s wife (Mia George) comes across as a caricature – but it is gripping all the same. 

Though Driving Licence – perhaps intentionally – gives off a vibe of being casual fun, it is quite the opposite. Don’t get me wrong. It is lots of fun. However, it is anything but casual. In fact, it is brave in the way it highlights the control big stars in Kerala have over their fans associations (this is true of fans groups across southern India’s film industries) at a time when the aggression, criminality and toxic masculinity of such associations has come under scrutiny after the actor assault case of 2017, the formation of the Women In Cinema Collective and the attack on Parvathy for her outspokenness. 

That said, the handling of Mollywood politics is less layered than the rest of the film. The misogynistic AMMA (the Association of Malayalam Movie Artistes) which has behaved shamefully in the aftermath of the 2017 attack, has been given kid-glove treatment here, and painted simply as a bunch of supportive men who back a fellow artiste when he is treated unfairly. This, and the speech given by Hareendran in the end when he holds back from lambasting his fans shortly after they displayed horrifying mob behaviour, are the places where Driving Licence chooses to play it safe. Hareendran the superstar is very likely to be cautious in comments about his fans, but this is Team Driving Licence itself avoiding antagonising the public. 

These, no doubt, are conscious decisions. What appears unconscious and is therefore far more disturbing is the way Kuruvilla’s physical roughness towards his wife and the manner in which he trivialises her are portrayed with a such-is-life tone rather than a critical eye. 

Hopefully, Lal Jr and Sachy will rise above their social conditioning next time and will also show even more courage than they have shown here. 

The two leading men in Driving Licence are surrounded by a well-chosen supporting cast, including Deepti Sati who lends quiet dignity to the role of Hareendran’s wife despite her limited presence in the proceedings, Suresh Krishna who is hilarious as a mediocre actor and Hareendran’s jealous rival, and Adhish Praveen as Kuruvilla’s son. There is a scene in which the boy realises that his Dad is lying to avoid telling his wife about a humiliating experience – the camera rests very briefly on him, but those moments are enough for this remarkable youngster to convey a child’s internal conflict.

Venjaramoodu has already rocked the big screen with his performance as a lonely, ill-tempered old man in Android Kunjappan Version 5.25 earlier this year. In some ways Kuruvilla is a more challenging role because it gives him no crutches to lean on, like the heavy makeup of Android or the massive age difference between him and his character. In this film as in that one, he has to earn sympathy for his character despite his misbehaviour with another character who is hard to dislike. Venjaramoodu of course pulls it off.

2019 has been a mixed bag for Prithviraj. While Brothers Day was disgraceful and his directorial debut Lucifer was disappointing, both Nine and Driving Licence are reminders of what a fine actor he is. That he is also heartachingly handsome does not hurt, of course. In his turn as the brusque superstar who adores his wife, Prithviraj owns every frame in which he appears. He is one among the multiple reasons why Driving Licence, despite its share of potholes, remains a thoroughly entertaining experience.

Rating (out of 5 stars): 3.5

CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
135 minutes 

This review has also been published on Firstpost:

Friday, December 20, 2019


Release date:
December 20, 2019
Salman Khan, Saiee Manjrekar, Sudeep, Sonakshi Sinha, Arbaaz Khan, Dimple Kapadia, Pramod Khanna, Mahesh Manjrekar, Rajesh Sharma, Sharat Saxena 

Early in Dabangg 3, Salman Khan’s character is chatting with his subordinates when he makes what may seem like a throwaway remark, “...hum class aur mass, dono ke liye kaam karte hai” (I work for the classes and the masses). Since “class” and “mass” are words used by the Hindi film industry to informally categorise sections of the audience, this is obviously more than just a casual comment – it is an allusion to Khan’s success across social strata since he turned out the blockbuster Wanted in 2009. 

The effort to retain his cross-sectional appeal is evident throughout this dated, dull and clichéd film, which is what makes it such a mish-mash of conservatism and liberalism, almost amusing in its confusion

Dabangg 3 marks Khan’s third screen outing as Chulbul Pandey, the comic-serious policeman who has no qualms about circumventing the law to serve the common people. In keeping I suppose with Hollywood’s trend of serving us origin stories of superheroes, this Bollywood venture is about how a useless, purposeless fellow called Chulbul became the chap we now know him to be: a destroyer of evil who is ever ready with a self-deprecating joke or gesture. By Film 3, he is the ASP of Tundla, still married to Rajjo (Sonakshi Sinha), a father, and up against a human trafficking don called Bali Singh played by Kannada star Kichcha Sudeep (his name is spelt as Sudeepa here).

The writers’ please-all aim in Dabangg 3 leads to many scenes of unwitting irony. Such as when Chulbul speaks of respect for women and gets furious at men who refer to women as “maal” just moments after he is shown dancing to the song Jumme ki raat from the 2014 hit Kick in which Khan’s own character had picked up Jacqueline Fernandez’s skirt with his teeth without her knowledge and followed her while dancing. Then there is Chulbul taking a purportedly feminist stand on dowry and women’s education even as he describes himself as the “rakhwaala” (keeper) of a woman he intends to marry. The self-consciousness and duality of his liberalism become exhausting to watch after a while.

Equally exhausting are the rusty dialogues filled with rhymes, many failed shots at clever wordplay, some scenes of double entendre and others of downright crudeness. 

Sample: Chulbul saying, “Hum unhi ko tthokte hai jo zaroorat se zyaada bhokte hai” (I only bump off those who bark too much). 

Sample: Rajjo telling her husband, “hamare petticoat mein chhed mat karna” (please do not pierce a hole in my petticoat) when he snatches it away from someone who was fitting a drawstring in it, at which point hubby eyes her suggestively.

Sample: a random character who randomly enters a toilet where Chulbul’s brother is doing potty, at which point we are subjected to gurgling potty sounds.   

Sample: Chulbul impaling his butt on a nail.

Sample: a bad guy’s crotch falling on a dagger.

Sample: Chulbul dropping his pants by mistake when he takes off his belt to whip someone. 

Sample: Chulbul shooting a junior who asks how he can get a promotion. I am not kidding – Chulbul actually fires a gun at his colleague in this scene.  

All these scenes are designed to elicit laughs.  

And then there are lines like this that are no doubt meant to sound smart but do not: Chulbul saying, “Ek hota hai policewala aur ek hota hai goonda, hum kehlate hai policewala goonda” (there are policemen and there are hooligans, and then there are those like me who are police and hooligan combined).  

The story is not even worth recounting. It feels like a bunch of disparate ingredients hurriedly thrown together in a cooking pot. So does the music by Sajid-Wajid who have in the past created so many memorable tunes for Salman Khan starrers. Here they first recycle the Dabangg title track, then deliver two numbers that sound like first cousins of Tere mast mast do nain from Dabangg, one terribly boring song in which Chulbul romances Rajjo and – c’mooon, they’re not even trying – Munna badnaam hua.  

The SFX are bad. Even the choreography has nothing new to offer, which is odd since the ace choreographer-cum-dancer Prabhudeva has directed this film.  

As far as acting goes, Khan’s charm wears thin as he tries hard to resurrect that unusual blend of gravitas and humour that worked so well in Dabangg in 2010. Here he comes across as almost embarrassingly juvenile.  

Sinha has little to do but pout and look pretty. Her Rajjo is even thrown up in the air by a massive explosion that somehow leaves her makeup completely unscathed. Why is this talented women wasting herself so?  

An unimpressive newcomer called Saiee Manjrekar gets a large supporting role to which she lends nothing but her smooth complexion and lovely figure. The rest of the cast hams shamelessly.  

Anyone who has seen Sudeep in his Kannada films knows that he has the charisma to match Salman, but he does not stand a chance here in Dabangg 3 in the face of a sketchily written character which does little but showcase his towering physique.  

There is so much tomfoolery and immaturity in this film  that the climactic fight sequence comes as a shock. It is so grossly violent and in-your-face that I could barely bring myself to look at the screen. (And of course because it is a masala film by a commercially focused director with a major male star as the lead, it has been given a UA rating instead of the strict A it deserves.)  

And no guys, it is no longer entertaining when two male actors with fabulous bodies take off their shirts for no reason to engage in fisticuffs. This was a fun device when it was first introduced, especially because for decades before that, male stars had been completely careless about their bodies and it was assumed by both the industry and audiences that only women can and should be objectified. Now though, it is a boring formula. Gentlemen, we love the fact that you work out, so get your scriptwriters to find a more imaginative way now to let you display your sexy torsos, please?  

Somewhere in the middle of Dabangg 3, Rajjo tells Chulbul that she will never again force him to take a ’70s-’80s style kasam (oath). Never mind the context. I do wish Bollywood would take a kasam here and now to lay Chulbul Pandey a.k.a. Robinhood Pandey to rest.  

Rating (out of 5 stars): 1.5

CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
163 minutes

This review has also been published on Firstpost:

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