Friday, February 25, 2011

Tanu Weds Manu

Director: Anand Rai
Starring: R Madhavan, Kangna Ranaut, Deepak Dobriyal, among others
Stars: **1/2

Considering some of the edgier, more interesting themes have all come from smaller films in the last couple of years, much was expected from Tanu Weds Manu. Add to that, the promos have been extremely eye-catching. The film even begins on a promising note, and bristles with atmospheric, small-town charm.

The premise is again ripe with possibilities. It begins in very convincing fashion where an NRI groom, Manu (R Madhavan) is on a bride-hunting trip to India. He's shy and inhabited, with an affable, heart-melting smile. He's a far cry from the arrogant, accented English-speaking NRIs one normally gets to see in films. Manu as a doctor in London for ten years has mostly lived a boring life with little or no interaction with women. The bride-hunting is planned at break-neck speed by his mother (so as to accommodate as many girls as possible) and Manu - though surprised at such urgency- is too nice and affectionate to complain. Such an old-fashioned routine for marriage is not something he's terribly happy about, but he also realises he cannot put it on hold forever, and hence resigns to his parents' wishes. This entire portion has been shot with pitch perfect authenticity.

However, as it turns out, the girl he sees in Kanpur, Tanu (Kangna Ranaut) gets drunk to avoid him, and collapses on the bed where the couple is left in a room. Just a glance of her pretty face causes a great flutter in Manu's heart. Perhaps out of repression and a sudden release, or because Manu is genuinely attracted to Tanu, he's never able to get over her even when she declines to marry him. As it turns out, Tanu is a rebel without a cause, and smokes, drinks and abuses freely, and has a boyfriend whom she is set on marrying. Heartbroken, Manu returns back to Delhi. But the couple meet again, and Manu starts building his hopes.

What works for the film is R Madhavan - in an understated, yet very effective and credible character - who effortlessly slips into his role, and plays it with immense conviction. His performance has to be doubly lauded because Kangna is the weak link here, and it's left to this wonderful actor to hold their scenes together from slipping. Besides Madhavan's character - which is easily the highlight of the film - and Deepak Dobriyal's performance, as his friend, Pappi (fantastic!), Tanu And Manu is otherwise a regular rom com that takes a few false steps, especially in the second half. Only a very charming female lead could have made all the chaos believable. Sadly, Kangna is not upto the task. Her appearance and attitude don't go with the tone of the film at all, and her dialogue delivery is painfully bad and often incoherent. The actress perhaps thought this would be a Jab We Met moment for her, but Kangna plays the character as a weird, confused and crude female without any redeeming features. She walks around like a zombie, and Indian clothes look doesn't suit her Medusa- hair at all. Also Kangna's lip job has gone drastically wrong, and with her three inch pout, Donald Duck could be feeling a bit threatened. Kangna's look and performance - both let down a well-made film that deserved a more appealing actress. Of course some of the blame should rest on the writers and director, who perhaps could have justified Manu's intense liking for the girl better. On a script level, the situation is perfectly plausible of opposites attracting. Manu -being the timid, restrained and obliging guy that he is - gets drawn to the impudent and loud Tanu. But Kangna's character, and her relationship with her boyfriend are not satisfactorily explored at all.

The dialogues are crackling and all the character actors have done a sterling job. The music and background score is addictive. The film is of course enjoyable in parts, but one does get a bit tired by the end of it all, which suggests it's not such a joy ride after all.

Friday, February 18, 2011

7 Khoon Maaf

7 Khoon Maaf
Director: Vishal Bharadwaj
Starring: Priyanka Chopra, Naseeruddin Shah, Neil Nitin Mukesh, Annu Kapoor, John Abraham, Vivaan Shah, Konkona Sen Sharma, Aleksandr Dyachenko, Irrfan Khan
Stars: ***

Nothing to kill for

Vishal Bhardwaj's film has always been something to look forward to. From Makdee to The Blue Umbrella and Maqbool to Omkaara, the filmmaker's works have stood out for their cinematic richness, in terms of story-telling, treatment and music. At least three of his five films so far have been literary adaptations, two of them derived from Shakespeare, while The Blue Umbrella was adapted from Ruskin Bond's utterly poignant and beautiful short story. Though Maqbool and Omkaara were fine efforts, there were critics who felt that Bhardwaj did a literal reading of the Bard's texts, without uncovering their deeper layers. But the music, the texture and the performances more than made up for some of the complexity in the classics that the director may have missed out on.

But this literal reading becomes a problem in 7 Khoon Maaf. The premise of a young woman always craving for love and being disappointed each time in marriage, and ultimately killing her husbands, is an intriguing concept. However, for all its thrill-value, the story is never challenging or provocative. And with a distinct lack of depth and layering, the theme in fact falls a bit flat.

Again, the story is a literary adaptation of Ruskin Bond's short story, Susanna's Seven Husbands (the septuagenarian also features in a guest appearance in the film), where the author was requested to expand upon the original story by fleshing out each episode.

The film begins with a young Susanna (Priyanka Chopra), who grows up in a wealthy Christian household with a loyal governess (Usha Uthup, used cheaply) and a couple of other servants. She takes under her wing a cute boy, who grows up to be the narrator of the film (Vivaan Shah). After the death of her parents, Susanna honours her father's last wish and marries an Army officer (Neil Nitin Mukesh). Having lost a limp, she discovers that her husband is a cruel, possessive and violent man. Susanna kills him in what appears to others as a freak incident. Then comes husband number 2, John Abraham, a rocker, who turns out to be a drug addict. The others prove to have other extreme problems, which forces her to kill each of them.

The film stays more or less engaging throughout, and the curiosity about what could possibly go wrong with the next husband is what sustains the narrative. Also, veteran actors like Irrfan Khan, Anu Kapoor and Naseeruddin Shah (delightful in pitch perfect Bengali accent) give solid performances in their respective sequences, frequently infusing life into a story-line that starts turning dull and pointless. The best written and most chilling part is for Neil Nitin Mukesh, who does an adequate job of it. But John Abraham disappoints in a role that is the most unconvincing of the lot. The section where Susanna falls in love with a Russian is also one of the tamer bits.

The disappointment in 7 Khoon Maaf is that in spite of its different theme, and some interesting characters, it never scratches much below the surface to throw any fresh insights on human behaviour or relationships. All the husbands have serious problems, which leaves Susanna with no option but to kill them. This makes the film quite regular, with standard situations.
Also, one would think that 7 Khoon Maaf would be a milestone for Priyanka, given that she gets to play a character from age 20 to 50 plus. Unexpectedly, Susanna's is a much under-written character, and you never really get into her head. Clearly, she has no special quality or allure, and is in fact, quite ordinary and meek. It is the husbands who take centre-stage, and Priyanka is left with a role that never really connects at any point.

Bhardwaj justifies all her killings by presenting her as the victim, thereby making it quite a shrill and straightforward film. There are ironical aspects to some of the characters (like Irrfan), but by and large, this is a less edgy, and not a very emotionally involving film.

He is especially unsuccessful in creating a wholesome character with Susanna. Think Being Julia or Scarlet O Hara, and the female combination of evil and manipulation, charm and impishness, spunk and spirit they represent. This one is a far cry from any of that, and a big missed opportunity in that regard. In stead of hard-core reasons to kill a man, it would have been so much fun if Bharadwaj would have subverted that idea by showing that any reason can be good enough to kill a husband!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Patiala House

This House has its charms

Director: Nikhil Advani
Starring: Akshay Kumar, Rishi Kapoor, Anushka Sharma, Dimple Kapadia
Stars: **1/2

Patiala House is Akshay Kumar's best film in recent times, but that's not saying much, given that his movies have lately touched new lows. Director Nikhil Advani, who already has two failures behind him — Salaam-e-Ishq and Chandni Chowk To China — has been itching to prove himself, and doesn't do too badly with Patiala House. The 'goings on' are kept interesting, with fairly engaging scenes, even if the basic premise remains a silly, stretched out one.

The film combines a dramatic father-son story, with the thrills of a cricket match, so you have some key plot points to look forward to. Not all of this comes together very well and the central conflict starts thinning out quite soon. Gurtej Kahlon (Rishi Kapoor) turns a stuanch hater of the English following a few racial attacks in Southall against the residing Sikhs. He takes it as a mission to turn the whole town into a self-sufficient mini-Punjab with schools and hospitals. Soon, he has his entire extended family staying here, toeing his line. Gurtej is respected in the community for his rebellous spirit, but the writers (Advani and Anvita Dutt) leave no doubt that he’s a vain, difficult and over-bearing man. And Rishi Kapoor being the fab actor that he is, absolutely nails the character. Most stunning is the actor's body language for this arrogant man, who seems to be pursuing the cause more for egoistical reasons than anything else. So while his quivering paunch in Do Dooni Chaar was endearing, denoting middle-class humbleness, in Patiala House, the same paunch gives him the appearance of an unpleasant, intolerant man.

Obviously, his wife (Dimple Kapadia) and elder son, Parghat Singh Kahlon aka Gattu (Akshay Kumar) are at the receiving end of Gurtej's bullying ways.
As a collegian, Gattu is a talented cricketer, but his father commands him not to play for England. Forlorn and disillusioned, Gattu gives up his dream and runs a shop instead. He's 34 now, and viewed as a loser by his younger cousins. They hold him responsible for setting the wrong precedent in the house, by following the patriarch's diktats blindly. So far so good. But from here, the film moves ahead in ways that are never quite convincing. For example, Akshay goes about listlessly for the first 90 minutes of the movie. One understand he's supposed to be inhabited and slightly depressed, but it comes out looking one-note and unidimensional. His character should have had more layers for the audience to feel a stronger empathy and connect. Again, the angle with Anushka, as the girl-next-door who prods Akshay to pursue his dreams is never effective. Anushka's exaggerated facial expressions and loud pitch do nothing to complement Akshay's character. The actress doesn’t seems to get that reacting is the better part of acting — the result is that she gives the same expressions and speaks in an affected manner. Her acting never gels with the overall tone of a scene. There's no doubt Anushka needs a good director to reign her in, and Advani isn't very successful here. This section partly affects the film's appeal. A more mature/ capable actress would have perhaps brought something more to this romance. There's a nice scene where the usually timid Akshay exchanges a few heated words with Anushka and immediately regrets it. This is a pivotal scene. It is his fondness for the woman in his life that really spurs him on. But given that this relationship is not very well-executed, the effect goes missing.

The film has many loopholes. If Rishi Kapoor's character hated England so much, why didn't he think of moving back to India? It's also a bit tough to believe that all the cousins consider Gattu the reason for their stifled existence. One doesn't see why they can't move out of the house and do their own thing if they really want to. Again, the father-son relationship has not been explored to its full potential. All these problems don't completely derail the film at any point, but your emotional involvement as an audience does get minimised.
The direction is competent, and there are a few scenes that evoke a genuine smile. Like the one with the bride and her obsession for a grand, filmy marriage. There's touch of class to the cricket matches shot in the final half and hour, but the emotional content is just not strong enough for us to be moved like one did in Lagaan and Chak De! India. Yet, not a bad effort and certainly, one of Akshay's better films in recently times. Go for it.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Yeh Saali Zindagi

Stars: Irrfan Khan, Chitrangada Singh, Arunoday Singh, Yashpal Sharma, Aditi Rao Hydari
Director: Sudhir Mishra
Showing at: Citypride, E-Square, Inox
Stars: ***

The thing with certain filmmakers is that the themes they tackle in their most influential works tend to find a way into their subsequent films. In Sudhir Mishra's case, Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi, a period movie set in the 70s, can easily be counted as a modern-day masterpiece. Not surprisingly then, when Mishra tries to portray love in the seedy and labyrinthine universe of assorted thugs, corrupt police officers and shady businessmen in Yeh Saali Zindagi, you see a distinct trace of the romantic themes he dealt with in his earlier celebrated film.
Mishra, being the unconventional man that he is, joyously destroys chiches with his by-now-familiar tone of subversion and irreverence. However, this brash and erratic style of filming is something one has come to associate with new-age directors, almost to the point of repetition. Hence one looks for more than mere shock value. Mishra’s film is promising, but tends to rely too much on the sensational — what with it making news for having its actors thrash Mallika Sherawat’s 22 kisses record.

Yeh the title suggests, is full of colourful cuss words, most of it meant to scanadalise and titilate. If it stays engaging and amusing for major part of its two hour running time, it is largely because of the excellent actors on board, and Mishra gives his character wonderful touches. However, the central plot itself, has the Hazaaron... hangover, and in this case, is less satisfying to see on screen. There are also definite points where you feel somewhat exasperated with all the chaos and confusion happening in the film. Chitrangada's sketchy character contributes to that feeling as well.

As has become a trend with many small-budget black comedies and satires, the narrative moves back and forth, with many interesting characters being part of the mix. When the action starts, you see a despondent Arun, a fixer (Irrfan Khan) who is madly in love with Priti (Chirangada Singh). But she falls for another guy (Vipul Gupta). Meanwhile, Kuldeep (Arunoday) is a thug trying to begin on a clean slate, and appease his upset wife (Aditi Rao Hydari). But he's willing to take up one final assignment, a high profile kidnapping case, which involves getting his boss (Yashpal Sharma) released from jail, that also promises some moolah.

Kuldeep and his gang are supposed to kidnap the CM's daughter and his proposed son-in-law (Vipul), the same guy who Chitrangada is seeing. The gang makes a mistake and kidnaps Chitrangada instead. This proves frustrating for the players, because the CM's daughter has now given up on her fiance and the minister won't make any concessions. Irrfan goes to all kind of lengths for his lady love, and her lover! Much like Hazaaron...Irrfan's character is inspired from Shiney Ahuja's masterful role as a fixer, and his attempt to do the unthinkable for the girl he loves, is also taken from there. In the same way, Chitrangada's character, who loves one man sincerely, but will take favours from another, was better written in Hazaaron.
There are individual scenes that are extremely well done, but the central plot involving Chitrangada-Irrfan-Vipul is somewhat unconvincing. One can't quite see why Chirangada ditches Irrfan in the beginning, and some montages trying to explain this doesn't make anything clear. But Irrfan, the actor, is flawless and delivers yet another solid performance. Ditto with Yashpal Sharma, who is terrific. Arunoday's act is fresh. Chitrangada is decent, though her expressions keep alternating between a pouty smile and a harried frown.

Mishra, with his unique sensibility and maturity, is always someone to watch out for, and though Yeh Saali Zindagi isn't anything out of the world, and certainly this could have been a much better film, it still has many strengths to recommend itself.