Friday, September 13, 2019


Release date:
September 13, 2019
Raaj Shaandilyaa

Ayushmann Khurrana, Annu Kapoor, Vijay Raaz, Abhishek Banerjee, Nushrat Bharucha, Rajesh Sharma, Manjot Singh, Raj Bhansali, Nidhi Bisht 

Ayushmann Khurrana, poster boy of quality blockbusters in Bollywood, has made a habit of playing men leading dual lives. In Vicky Donor he was secretly a professional sperm donor. In Andhadhun he was a pianist indulging in elaborate fakery when his initial lie forces him to tell another, then another and another. Writer-director Raaj Shaandilyaa’s Dream Girl has him playing a man pretending to be a woman on a phone sex line.

Khurrana’s Karamveer Singh has had a talent for impersonating women from his childhood. In desperation for employment in his adulthood, the boy from Gokul agrees to work at a call centre at which women offer solace and conversations to men who dial in. In his avatar as the sexy sounding Puja, Karam makes an unexpected discovery. Although there are a few sleazy chappies at the other end of the line, a majority of his clients turn out to be decent folk desperate for company, empathy and a listening ear.

There is a message woven in there about the extent of loneliness in the modern world where social networking sites give people an appearance of having numerous friendships while in truth most struggle to find even a single considerate confidant. The overriding aspect of Dream Girl though is its comedy. Puja’s interactions with her/his regular callers in the first half of the film are hilarious with an underlying, understated poignance despite a spot of stereotyping here and there. Karam’s world goes dramatically awry when each one falls in love with this kind, funny stranger who seems to understand them better then those they meet on a daily basis.

From the second half, Dream Girl struggles with bumpy writing. The story and screenplay by Nirmaan D. Singh and Shaandilyaa (who is a TV comedy veteran) run out of considerable steam post interval once Karam starts trying to get rid of Puja’s admirers. The team does not know how to make the point they wish to put across without getting too preachy, or how to remain funny without getting flippant to the point of being mean and offensive. And Shaandilyaa as the dialogue writer seems not to have been struck by the irony of a film being insensitive while calling on society to be sensitive to those around us.

The downhill ride begins in a scene in which Karam visits an old lady to spill the beans on her grandson, who is one of Puja’s suitors. His comments directed at the lady’s age are jarring when contrasted with the tone of the film and his characterisation until then. Karam had tossed around a couple of such throwaway lines on his first encounter with her early in Dream Girl, but they passed off in the manner of a scene featuring an actual ageist guy and the actual ageist comments even apparently good people tend to pass in real-world social interactions without realising how hurtful they are being, and also because this was not the dominant takeaway from that passage. The post-interval scene with the grandmom though is ageist from start to finish in a crude, disturbing fashion, and ends up painting Karam as a rather nasty person which he was not shown to be until then.

The writing falters repeatedly from here on. When Karam tries to get an elderly widower out of a relationship with Puja by tapping the man’s conservatism in the matter of inter-community marriages, the scene is so poorly written and confused that it seems more like he is trying to convince the guy to stay on in the relationship.

The screenplay gets repetitive in the second half, runs out of ideas and also leaves loose ends hanging. Just when you think Dream Girl has succumbed to what critics have in the past called The Curse of the Second Half though, it picks up once again thanks to certain cast members with unfailing comic timing.

Pyaar Ka Punchnama girl Nushrat Bharucha is unable to make an impression playing Karam’s fiancee Mahi in Dream Girl. It is a measure of how irrelevant her character and that relationship are to this film, that the entire affair is pretty much wrapped up in the first half within the span of one song, the least interesting one of the lot here. The empty writing of Mahi, her grandmother and a policeman’s clichéd nagging wife shows Team Shaandilyaa’s disinterest in – or perhaps ignorance about – women. Like Mahi, Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!’s Manjot Singh too is treated like a stepney by the screenplay, although he gets to evoke at least some laughter within the limited material handed to him.

Ayushmann Khurrana is good as always in Dream Girl, especially while doing women’s voices. His accents are not consistent though. His tendency to sometimes swallow words, which has been controlled by his directors in the past, is also occasionally a problem here, and is exacerbated by the sound design of Dream Girl which allows extraneous elements to drown out the spoken word here and there. Still, Khurrana holds the film together by ensuring that Puja is amusing but never a caricature.

The ones who save Dream Girl though when the writing dips are three men playing Puja’s admirers: Annu Kapoor (Vicky Donor) as an old man whose son has been urging him to remarry, Vijay Raaz (Monsoon Wedding, Delhi Belly) as a shayari-spouting Haryanvi policeman and Stree’s Abhishek Banerjee as a diffident music fan. These smashing artistes and the Meet Bros’ largely peppy soundtrack make Dream Girl worth a visit to theatres despite its rough patches.

My favourite part of the film comes with the song Dil ka telephone, which brings these disparate fellows together. Indian lyricists often mix languages randomly without the blend contributing in any way to the development of characters in a story and the scenarios they inhabit. But when Messrs Kapoor, Raaz and Banerjee’s characters turn up with the songTu mera dream girl bann jaaye / I’m searching for your love” written by Kumaar, the marriage of English and Hindi is comical precisely because these are men that we know absolutely do not actually speak like that. Besides, few actors have the ability to throw themselves into a situation and convince an audience to suspend disbelief like this trio can. Shaandilyaa should thank his stars that he managed to rope them in for Dream Girl.

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

CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
132 minutes

This review has also been published on Firstpost:

Sunday, September 8, 2019


Release date:
September 6, 2019

Mohanlal, Radikaa Sarathkumar, K.P.A.C. Lalitha, Aju Varghese, Dharmajan Bolgatty, Honey Rose, Siddique

I don’t suppose there is any point in pointing out to directors Jibi and Joju that packing their film with ugly ageist remarks aimed at a woman is at odds with their purported goal of batting for the elderly. Well, never mind then.

The very literally titled Ittymaani: Made In China is about a Kerala-based man called Ittymaani (Mohanlal) who was born – c’mon take a guess ... wait for it ... wait for it – in China. That tenuous connection to our superpower neighbour gives the hero and his mother (K.P.A.C. Lalitha) an excuse to occasionally chat in what I assume is Mandarin to fool their community. It also serves as a spark for a bunch of predictable jokes about Chinese goods.

In the same town lives the wealthy Plaamoottil Annamma (Radikaa Sarathkumar) whose wicked wicked children neglect her. This is the sort of film that does not have time for shades of grey in its characters. And so, the aged are consigned to across-the-board sainthood and painted as unblemished innocents deserving of nothing but our adoration. Annamma’s offspring and spouses, meanwhile, are uniformly depicted as irredeemable evil louts with not a grain of decency in them.

The hero, for his part, has a golden heart. Some of the early jokes in Ittymaani: Made in China come from his penchant for extracting a commission from anyone with whom he has a financial transaction including – shamelessly – the doctors at a hospital where he admits his beloved mother in an emergency. But fear not, people, it is not what you are thinking. By the end of the film you will learn that he is, in fact, Saint Ittymaani.

Many are the lectures delivered about the duties of the youth towards their parents. Simultaneously, the town behaves as if there is nothing more repulsive and shocking than the prospect of an elderly widowed mother marrying, especially if her groom is a younger man. The disgust at the possibility of a senior woman’s kalyanam comes not just from the jerks in the community but also from those who are portrayed as kind and open-minded. The same folk have no qualms about Ittymaani going for a pennu kaanal (meaning, to see a potential bride) at the home of a girl called Jessy Pothen who, comparatively speaking, has the appearance of a child.

The hypocrisy is not confined to the characters in the film. The filmmakers themselves mirror the values of the regressive people they have created. Consider this. Cast in the role of the supposedly old Annamma is Radikaa Sarathkumar who is just 56. While the supposedly young Ittymaani is played by Mohanlal who is 59. And the reason why Jessy Pothen looks like she could be Ittymaani’s daughter is because the actor playing her, Honey Rose, is in reality young enough to be Mohanlal’s kid. 

There is a significant twist right before the interval that could have led Ittymaani: Made in China down a path of brilliance, novelty and progressiveness. However it comes to nought in the face of the story’s ageist, sexist, highly misogynistic true colours.

There are so many double standards in this self-righteous film, so many examples of narrow-mindedness, that a comprehensive listing is not possible. For one, a satellite character compares Annamma to a 1965 model Ambassador, but that is a relatively mild potshot in a narrative that has double entendre flying fast and thick in conversations and gestures. And oh yes, like a string of Mollywood ventures since the formation of the vanitha mathil (women’s wall) in Kerala early this year, this one too features a random flippant remark dissing the MeToo movement.

Jessy Pothen barely utters a couple of sentences throughout Ittymaani: Made In China but she does fulfill the only purpose for which she is inserted into the plot – she looks sexy, she looks youthful and she goes moony over Ittymaani. This, as Mollywood audiences well know, is an essential requirement of most Lalettan films these days, almost as if the megastar is on a mission to prove that he is attractive to much younger and good-looking women. The Annammas of this universe may be scorned and expected to retire into the Vanaprasthashram of their lives and ultimately embrace Sanyas, but heaven forbid that anyone should eye Mohanlal from the very lens through which he and his filmmakers view women of his generation.

Rating (out of five stars): *

CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
158 minutes 

This review has also been published on Firstpost:


Release date:
September 5, 2019
Dhyan Sreenivasan

Nivin Pauly, Nayanthara, Aju Varghese, Sreenivasan, Mallika Sukumaran, Vineeth Sreenivasan, Renji Panicker
Malayalam and Tamil

“Just name one quality of Dinesh that has caused you to like him,” Shoba’s worried father quietly beseeches her. His beautiful daughter has nothing to say in response. The fact that she is supposedly in love with the Dinesh in question and this scene comes well into the second half of Love Action Drama speaks volumes about their relationship. An answer is nowhere in sight even when the end credits roll around, which speaks volumes too about the vapid writing of this film.

It takes a special effort to cast Malayalam cinema’s sweetheart Nivin Pauly and Tamil-Telugu megastar  Nayanthara in the same project yet somehow end up with a flat, man-centric, immature dramedy. Actor turned directorial debutant Dhyan Sreenivasan manages that feat. You might imagine that Dhyan would be getting reams of advice at home – he is, after all, the son of the venerable veteran actor-writer Sreenivasan and younger sibling of the supremely successful actor-director-singer Vineeth Sreenivasan. His connections, genes and the star power of his lead cast are no match though for the shallow writing of this film.

Love Action Drama is a romance in which it is impossible to figure out from start to finish why the central couple are into each other or whether they are into each other at all. They say they are in love so we are forced to believe it but the writing of the bond between them is sterile. The misplaced priorities in Dhyan’s screenplay are entirely to blame. The characterisation of Shoba is sketchy at best. More time has evidently been spent styling her than writing her. The result is that Nayanthara looks stunning (although it would have helped to go easy on the oil or lotion or whatever it is that her team used to shine her arms to distraction in her introductory scene), but there is little we get to know about Shoba beyond that she is a Chennai-based Malayali who runs some sort of business, and as one man early in the film confides in another, she is that terrible F word. You know, feminist. Hawww.

Dhyan treats the female of the species like an alien race in the way a person might if he has lived in a segregated society all his life and never had solid friendships with women. In contrast, the writing of Dinesh is detailed. So is his relationship with his friend Sagar (Aju Varghese).

Shoba and Dinesh meet when she visits Kerala for her friend’s wedding. He is an alcoholic, chain smoker and layabout, in mourning since he fancies himself to be in love with the bride who is his cousin. His feelings clearly do not run very deep, considering that by the end of the wedding he has transferred his giggly affections to Shoba.

Like George from Premam – Pauly’s 2015 blockbuster – Dinesh too is an immature guy from the beginning to the end of this journey. A film may very well be centred around a kiddish adult, the problem arises here because the film itself is kiddish. Love Action Drama is no different from Premam in the way it casually applies the word “love” to a man who saw a woman and found her hot.

Besides, Dhyan lets slip some really deep-seated prejudices masked in comedy in his film. At three places, casual remarks by his characters reveal that he believes it is a given that dark skin is ugly. And what is with Malayalam cinema’s insistence on depicting little children in serious romantic relationships? Not funny at all, please.

The use of language in Love Action Drama calls for a discussion. The manner in which conversations shift from Malayalam to Tamil and back is smooth and natural because of the milieu and the backgrounds of the characters. But the Hindi words “beta” (son) and “acchha” (okay) written into lines spoken by Renji Panicker’s character do not trip lightly off the actor’s tongue and end up coming across as a forced, somewhat tacky effort to offer evidence that he is Mumbai based.

Like many Malayalam music directors these days, Shaan Rahman really needs to get over his apparent belief that injecting Hindi or English songs and lines into a film’s soundtrack somehow ups its cool quotient. It is hard to understand this practice. Is it that these artists think Malayalam is not cool enough? Or do they see Hindi and English as the only possible indicators of modernity and an urban Indian setting? By all means, mix languages, brother, if you can come up with something special and it fits. What though is the point you hope to make when, in a Malayalam-Tamil film set in Kerala and TN, you kick off the narrative with a Hindi-English number titled Raathein (Nights), a word that you cannot even get your singer Narayani Gopan to pronounce correctly, which your lyricist Preeti Nambiar then follows up with amateurish lines like “setting me afire / whatever we desire / come a little closer to me” and “all I want tonight / touching you and feeling you and loving yooooouuuu”?  What is the purpose of the uninventive, heard-before refrain “mere khayaalo ki malika tu” (woman, you rule my thoughts) in Varavaayi? The song that does manage a flow in its English-Malayalam blend is Kudukku possibly because lyricist Manu Manjith does not sound strained and because the amazing Vineeth Sreenivasan imbues “On the floor baby / hit it hard baby / rock the party baby / pattoolangi podi (if you can’t, then go to hell, woman)” with an intentionally over-done comedic tone that complements and therefore acknowledges the unapologetic silliness of it all, though I do worry about the simmering animosity towards the woman in these lines.

Love Action Drama works in parts when Dinesh and Sagar are hanging out together and making an ass of themselves. The effectiveness of some – not all – these scenes comes from the chemistry between Nivin Pauly and Aju Varghese, and their natural comic abilities. Varghese is of course cast incessantly as a comedian, Pauly’s filmography has offered him more variety. What makes him the star that he is is his ability to be as grave as his characters in films like Action Hero Biju and Kayamkulam Kochunni have required him to be, innocent and earnest as the chap he played in Bangalore Days and the silly fellow he was in Premam.

Love Action Drama taps his versatility with a narrative that repeatedly breaks its own mood by jumping from extreme intensity to extreme frivolity without warning often within the same scene. The switches are fun at first because they signal the writer-director’s keenness that we not take his film too seriously. Fair enough. The technique wears thin though as Love Action Drama’s lack of substance becomes increasingly obvious and it wanders about aimlessly, wanders again, then wanders some more.

Late in the film some twists are set up as obstacles in the Shoba-Dinesh relationship. As it happens, they do come as interesting surprises, but their impact is greatly diluted by the absence of conviction in the first place in the relationship that is sought to be destroyed. After having misbehaved terribly with Shoba, at one point when Dinesh begs her to take him back, she says: “Convince my father.” Convince yourselves first, ya.

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

CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
142 minutes 

This review has also been published on Firstpost: