Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (#21 of 52)

Karan Johar movie’s are an event by themselves. So ADHM can not exist as just ‘ADHM’ – but it is Karan Johar’s ADHM which means that any views and opinions about the movie must be looked at objectively through that lens. In fact it’s impossible I’d say – especially with a movie embroiled in as much controversy as this – to not view it through that lens.

I’ve always had a soft corner for Karan Johar the person – maybe it’s the cooliyat and poshness which has a halo effect, but also I think there is a tendency to root for him because he always seems like a bit of an underdog (yes I am aware how full of irony that statement is) with his young age (once upon-a-time) and vibe of vulnerability, effeminate mannerisms, under-a-cloud sexuality, the number of pot-shots he’s subject to etc. So I quite enjoy Koffee with Karan, I don’t mind his columns on NDTV and think he’s quite brave about it and I therefore always seem to want to like his movies as well.

I was too young to be aware of the macro-environment around Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, but I think I liked it then because quite frankly it was cooler than any other Hindi movie I was then aware of. I recognized how silly Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham was, but I had fun I remember (my dad did not, this also I remember). I went out of my way to watch Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna (see my review here from 2006) – and I don’t know whether I was being subconsciously defensive, but 18 year old me seemed to like it and I still think it was a mature effort. Student of The Year I was massively disappointed with (there was 0 surprise in the movie if you’d watched the trailers) – but I look at that as an anomaly in the KJo universe – it’s so different from most of his other movies. Long story short, I had expectations from ADHM. Not to be blown out of the park but that this should be an interesting take from a seemingly intelligent man at least.

After ADHM however, I’ve kinda lost faith in Karan Johar. Because this movie was quite frankly a ridiculous ego-trip, attempt at pretentious intelligentsia with enough wink,wink…nudge,nudge while catering to the masses at the same time. So the rest of this piece is going to read like a rant. You’ve been forewarned.

The beginning itself did not seem fresh – this was exactly how 2 States had been played back with Arjun Kapoor as a narrator. A shrink at least makes sense to go into memories, why you would do that for a magazine interview…but this is in the overall scheme of things – a minor quibble. Anushka and Ranbir meet while on a night out in town, a premise in itself I never understood. She kind of picked him up to make out with him, then decided this wasn’t fun. So normal people leave. Madam however invites the guy over to travel across town. Then she without rhyme or reason, calls his girlfriend a gold-digger (she may have been, but this had zero reason established), fights with her, then again calls Ranbir out for another double date and so on until they’re both single, and become best friends rather too quickly. Quick recap now: Hot-ex comes into the picture. A seemingly independent, strong, free-spirited girl who was giving gyaan about love crumbles in a minute against character. Heartbreak Hotel ensues. Spurned Ranbir finds a cougar Aishwarya (of course with a cool profession like a shayar, no one can be a banker or HR manager in a Karan Johar movie no?) to hang out with (read: sleep with). Seems to learn something, but actually learns nothing. Learns some lessons on one-sided love from cougars ex. Pursues Anushka again who is now married. Channels this grief to make music mean something (again borrowed from Rockstar). Becomes successful singer. Anushka leaves hot-ex in meanwhile. Reunites with Ranbir. Some more lessons on one-sided love. Exit scene.

Okay – so where does one start the litany of complaints which I left out mid-way? I am grateful I read an article the morning I watched the movie in which Yash Johar explained why all characters in his movies are rich: ‘So that the focus can be on emotions and not on the economies of everyday living’. So that’s Ranbir and anyways, he ‘wants to be’ a singer. But WTF is Anushka Sharma up to for the whole movie? Not once do we get an inkling of what she is doing or what she wants to do except for attend Bollywood dance classes in the middle of the day. Likewise the not-so-successful shayar in Vienna. The only guy with at least an interest in earning a living is the relatively bad guy (smoker, tattoos, grunge-profession like DJ – yep all stereotypes met).

On that note, why is this whole movie shot in random pretty European cities? Shoot anywhere you want – but at least build some connection of the city to the plot. London has nothing to do with Ranbir (Ayan) and Anushka (Alizeh) – they could have been rich brats in Delhi. Why in blue hell is an Urdu poet/shayar (what’s the difference?) in Vienna of all the places? If you wanted to force-fit Vienna into the story, at least make Aishwarya’s character (Saba) an Austrian temptress from whom the kid learns a few lessons.

But wait. What lessons? Again I totally missed the point or take-away of the whole Saba track. Was it just to tell Ayan that he’s still besotted with Alizeh? The only lesson about iktarfa pyaar that came in actually came from her husband. The whole breakdown, the epiphany, run to the hotel – what did it tell him? The way Ayan reacted after being turned down, was that not enough of an indicator for Alizeh to understand he’s never going to grow up? But at least we stuck to the whole no means no part here.

And what was the deal with Saba anyways – as they say in MBA lingo – WIIFM (What’s In It For Me)? Was she just looking for a boy-toy initially? Side note – why was Ayan singing Hindi songs with goras in the middle of Europe? And oh – the denouement (I overuse that word) with that convenient exit option – Cancer. Where could we have possibly have seen that before? And what exactly happened at the end? While I appreciate the fact that at least like KANK, there was no forced happy ending – was this a sad ending?

I personally think one-sided love is a wonderfully interesting topic to make a movie upon. The most underrated Indian gem around this is a 2011/12 movie Ek Mein aur Ek Tu which even though was a rom-com handles the issue with a bit more nuance than ADHM. This movie fails in my mind because of more than a few reasons. One the characters other than Ayan are ridiculously one-dimensional. It is just difficult to take any of them seriously when they behave, talk and react like most people would not. Especially both the key women. What are they smoking as a Firstpost article asked us? At least Ayan is a petulant kid who know’s he’s a petulant kid.  The other for me was the whole set-up – the whole London, Paris, Vienna sojourn, the aimless wandering which just kept gnawing at me even though I knew it should not be a big deal. The dialogues are stilted. Anushka whom I really like has over-acted. Aishwarya is weird at times. And Ranbir seems to have played this man-boy too many times in his career already.

There are pieces of the movie that work – the outbursts, the raw-ness of the emotion, the maturity of confessions, two wonderful songs in the second half and of course some killer one-liners. Also the fact that for a mainstream mein mainstream movie like this, there are risque choices – Ayan and Alizeh making out minutes after they meet, the refreshingly un-judgemental way in which Saba has been portrayed. But all of these are buried so deep under a labyrinth of ridiculousness that they’re a glass of water to a man in the desert. They’ll help you go a little further, but hardly going to help you recover to safely.

★★

Happy Bhaag Jayegi (#18 of 52)

Happy Bhaag Jayegi is a clean feel-good comic movie. That in itself shouldn’t be a big deal but it is. I can’t recall the last proper Bollywood funny-movie (not indie) which did not have

  • Rohit Shetty type stunts and general over-the-topness
  • Akshay Kumar or Ajay Devgan’s by-now old routines or cast with Aftab’s, Ritesh Deshmukh’s, Shreyas Talpade and co.
  • A group of scantily clad bimbettes on the poster with not much of a role
  • Making fun of dumb/deaf/injured people, or those with accents or cuckolded husbands doing a slapstick routine (I’m looking at you Tanu Weds Manu 2)
  • General innuendo-ish or toilet humour

Basically something beyond the Golmaal or Housefull stereotypes.

I realise I sound like the ultimate urban Indian snob while writing all this – but if you’ve watched Happy Bhaag Jayegi you’ll realise that isn’t the case. Again, as with Madari – it’s not a great movie. But it’s a very very refreshing movie in this genre in Bollywood.

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The plot is simple enough. The girl Happy wants to run away from a marriage she’s forced into. She ends up in Pakistan. Her true love, her forced love and her dad want to rescue her. The Pakistani family she’s landed up in wants to send her back without too much of a fuss. Cue standard confusion routines which you can probably see some distance away and a climax borrowed from any Priyadarshan book. But it’s been done very sensitively. I especially liked (really liked, as in made me happy) that they showed Pakistani’s as pretty normal people. The characters are all a little dumb and except for Abhay Deol, very one dimensional. But they’re nice to each other – even the supposed villains. The acting seems decent enough without being outrageously good or bad. There are plot holes, but you know you’re not watching a very realistic movie anyways (unlike Madari for example), so I found myself more willing to ignore them. And I came out feeling quite happy and in a good mood.

Good enough 🙂

★★★

Madari (#17 of 52)

Madari is not a great film even if you watch it independently, without any biases. There are too many plot holes, for a story based on realism and which requires the viewer to empathize with the protagonist it requires a fair suspension of belief and the payoff at the end is a bit of a meh. It’s not an awful movie, but it’s not a great one either.

But movies don’t exist in a vacuum by themselves – and Nishikant Kamat, a national award winning director with a pretty long filmography should be aware of that. The biggest problem I had with Madari was that I found it all – been there, seen that. And I’m not the biggest watcher of movies – Indian or anyways. Dombivali Fast in 2005 was about a man rallying against the system. A Wednesday (and even Mumbai Meri Jaan which released around the same time 2008-09ish had similar elements) kinda took the concept forward, only adapting it to the era – adding mobile phones, cellular tracking and a lot of gizmos. Madari now adapts that to 2016. So there’s a bit of social media, children brought up in new-age urban India and the people taking power into their own hands (a la the Nirbhaya incident of 2012). I actually thought A Wednesday was also by Nishikant Kamat because they’re so much alike.

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Even Jimmy Shergill seems to be playing the same character he was in that movie – only half a decade older. He seems to be relishing playing these foxy cop roles (and thankfully he doesn’t have a love interest), Irfan Khan does his shtick (which is good, but again he could probably sleepwalk through it now) and there’s a precocious young boy who’s kidnapped who sort of grows on you as the movie progresses. The supporting cast is a mess though – I could recognize lots of Marathi TV or theater stars who seem to have been roped in by the director, and who also seem to have woefully misunderstood the medium. Note the Home Minister and the other minister who overact like their lives depend on it.

This is old wine in a new bottle, the wine has gone stale (if that can happen, it’s a metaphor) and the bottle by itself isn’t that pretty either. And the wine makes you smug and feel you’ve done something as well, when you’ve just heard a relative narrating an old story you’ve already heard again.

★★

Udta Punjab (#16 of 52)

The thing about movies like Udta Punjab – which are trying to bring ‘social’ issues to the mainstream is that they mustn’t be preachy. Or take themselves seriously. Which I think Udta Punjab does really well. There’s a scene in the movie where the drug-addled rockstar Shahid Kapoor suddenly has a conscience flash and he starts telling his audience at a concert about why they shouldn’t get carried away by drugs. And the audience shuts him up, hooting him down causing him to lose it. I liked that touch, that’s exactly what’s likely to happen in real life and it showed an awareness of the films own subject matter and how it needs to be presented to be effective.

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So we go to Punjab, where the utopian land of prosperity and green fields has been replaced by something more sinister. The opening montage tells us about all the characters and there intentions. So there is the problem statement : a land beset by drugs. We will look at it from 3 distinct point of views : (a) Rockstar who sends the message (b) Cop who lets the system ferment for not knowing better (c) Unwilling labourer who get’s caught up in this murky world. Add (d) Innocent young addict brother (e) Corrupt cop who intentionally lets system ferment (f) Well meaning doctor working on reform – who’re also tossed into the mix. We know that somewhere these stories will meet, that parallels will be drawn. And it’s done quite well – give an outside an ELI5 version of the problems plaguing the state.

The Shahid Kapoor track was nice, a little too caricatured to ring true, but engaging and conveying the emotion. His sudden and extemely unrealistic transformation was probably the worst part of the movie though for me – 108 kms on bicycle is a little too much. The Alia Bhatt track, although short on too much background was the strongest – pulled up by the sheer strength of performance. The Kareena-Diljeet one was the weakest, bordering on farcical with playing detective in a manner that would make Nancy Drew roll her eyes. It’s the smaller scenes pieced within that leave you though – the one with Tommy in jail with the kids who’d killed their mother, the rant that Alia’s character finally let’s rip on Tommy, some of the scenes with Balli, the reactions of the cops etc.

Udta Punjab works because its entertains first. And therefore educates best.

★★★★

Raman Raghav 2.0 (#17 of 52)

The one word which stands out above all for Raman Raghav 2.0 is slick. Right from the trailer, the opening credit montage, the pulp-fictiony titles on screen, the way the story is divided into chapters with cool names, the background score – the overall production values are absoultely top notch. And while that itself does not make a good film, it does add a certain joy to the experience of watching it. It made me very happy, and at an intellectually visceral level (excuse the oxymoron and understand the bhaavna :P) – proud as well that an Indian film could be this flawless.ramanraghav.JPG

Now, the story of Raman Raghav 2.0 has little if any suspense or mystery about it. (I liked that they took that minute to show why it’s 2.0, and build the connection – however tenuous upfront). It’s linear, it’s straightforward and as Anurag Kashyap’s told us himself on Facebook – explained down to the last T. We have Ramanna, whom we’ve known since the trailers is a psychopath – a murderer who’s unhinged and can go to any limits. But we’re also shown in the first 10 minutes itself how unhinged Raghav – the cop who’s on his case is as well. We know the lengths he can go to, to an extent the depravity he’s capable of. (Suprateek Chatterjee on HuffPost made an interesting point about how this couldn’t have been shown – and I’ve been thinking about that ever since). We therefore know once we find out that Raman is looking for his Raghav, who this Raghav is – the question is only about how he will get there. It is therefore not the greatest movie plot ever. It is however captured on-screen an extremely engaging manner in which this tale is told sucking you in and keeping you engaged for the 2 hours 20 minutes of its length. At various points of time I found myself holding my breath, flinching, leaning forward in my chair – an immersive cinema experience. And isn’t that what we go to the movies for?

The other issue which you seem to realise after stepping out of the theatre is that while the protagonist is certainly Ramanna, who is very well fleshed out – we know his quirks, his background, his philosophy (wonderfully explained in manner and matter I thought), we don’t quite know enough about Raghav. It may be a conscious call to not muddle the mind of the viewer, but as an aftertaste – it’s something you can’t quite put your finger on.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui has been there and done that with such characters before (Talaash comes to mind), but he still puts on an acting clinic in every scene he’s in. His mannerisms for walking, eating and talking, enunciation of certain words and matter-of-fact expressions are something worth revelling in – this is a unique performer at the top of his game. Vicky Kaushal, I had slightly mixed feelings about – but while he may not make you go wow, he never jars and is a worthy foil to the master in front of him – he certainly holds his own. Amruta Subhash is excellent at conveying the horror of a sister in a slightly disturbing role, as are some of the actors playing smaller roles too. I loved the girl (Sobhita Dhulipala, Google tells me) – there are many roles as a siren coming her way for sure – she looks stunning and in a limited role, plays her part. Eventually though this is the director’s film through and through.

★★★★

Waiting (#15 of 52)

Waiting had the cutest trailer which released over a month before the movie and piqued my interest. Watching this on the back of Nil Battey Sannata – was expecting something quite similar.

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The concept is indeed unique, relate-able and very very fresh. The word Waiting comes from ‘Waiting Room’ – Naseeruddin Shah & Kalki are the spouses of two patients stranded (?) in the waiting room of a posh Kochi hospital. And such waits are agonizing – often as in this case there is no timeline, nothing concrete to look forward to every day and a lot of agonizing moping around. The movie does show us this through the monotony of keeping vigil, the moments of solitude which you try to share, the stages of grief the loved ones of a patient are likely to go through.

Different people also react to these situations differently, and that is the premise of the core story within the movie. The director uses the first half an hour to contrast the two central characters – Old world, suave, zen-like Professor who lives his peaceful life of solitude in pleasant Kochi offering coffee (or Cochin as the movie keeps referring to it) who keeps his issues and problems to himself and asks ‘what’s the point of Twitter?’. Posh, loud, social-media savvy, expletive-dropping Tara from Mumbai with millions of axes to grind with the whole world. Both heavily loaded in cliches and stereotypes. And how while their inherent honesty to each other and the situation draws them together, how their world-view and philsophy to life eventually influences the decisions they make. Is the Professor only holding on because once he loses his wife, he will have to reinvent his life and give it a new meaning? Is Tara shying away from surgery for her husband because she is scared of being bound down by an invalid husband?

These are some very genuine and valid questions which come up in I am sure everyone’s minds. The problem is I think, the movie seems to conveniently avoid answering how the protagonists change their mind – either that, or in all humility – I did not get that part. The catharsis seems slightly forced over a night of bacchanalia (well, if that term applies to 2 individuals :P). The flashbacks while really sweet, only served the purpose of showing the fickleness of life and ended up feeling a tad too long.

So while it has it’s moments – Waiting does not really stick or stay as a whole. Those moments though do with some lovely dialogues (most of which are already in the trailer)  – Rajat Kapoor has an excellent role as a Doctor who doesn’t mind playing God for the greater good, Tara’s friend laying it on thick as the overbearing friend who causes us all to suffocate and the amiable colleague from SciTech. Unfortunately though – the two protagonists can never rise above their cliches. All in all a great concept for a short TV movie, but just not enough meat I felt for a full length feature film.

★★★

Nil Battey Sannata (#14 of 52)

Background : I first noticed Swara Bhaskar in Tanu Weds Manu II or Returns, a movie I found tremendously overrated and little patience for. I found her character as Kangana Ranaut’s friend to be the high point of the film – someone for whom you could use all the cool sounding adjectives like zesty, spunky, bubbly and high-spirited without them seeming force-fitted. I then followed her on Facebook where she seems to make the right noises and appears to be a balanced individual who has a life and voice outside the characters she plays, not yet a part of the caricatured B-town swish set and hence perhaps a little more refreshingly open. An article in support of some of the JNU vaudevillans was heartfelt and well thought-out, even if you chose to disagree with the basic premise. It’s through her then that I found out about this release called Nil Battey Sannata, and initial week word-of-mouth snippets and Facebook/Twitter sentiments seemed positive. I’m always game for an experiment – especially when the core protagonist is one you like in real-life as well as reel-life. But the issue with such ‘smaller’ movies is you rarely get a chance to view it again if you miss the first week. And so Baaghi released, and Nil Battey Sannata was wiped out and chalked down to one of those missed opportunities.

And then a few weeks later, a random high-spirited Friday evening, a friend very strongly recommending even travelling a huge distance to watch this movie. The next day, casually flipping through the mobile app – surprise surprise, it’s actually playing in a multiplex right down the road : word-of-mouth actually did work. And hence, off we went – without watching a trailer, without understanding the meaning of the title and still without an iota of an idea about what the movie is even about.

When you enter with that blank a canvas, it allows you to paint really experience it without tripping over any serpents of anticipation. And Nil Battey Sannata really draws – no -sucks you in.  Apeksha isn’t a great student – especially in Math, and her mother Chanda is obviously concerned at her belief that she should never aspire to be more than a ‘bai’, since that’s what her mother is. Chanda dreams many a dream which her daughter isn’t interested in. Enter the helpful employer Dr. Diwan who provokes Chanda to join the same school – and class! – to keep an eye on and drive Apeksha on to the right path. I will not bother into getting into the minutiae of the story here, but it’s a film full of cuteness and sweetness as the premise indicates.

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I thought one of the most unique things about the movie was the fact that a mother-daughter relationship was explored in a non-stereotypical, non-patronising manner. We’ve seen a lot of father-son relationships (Udaan, Wake Up Sid are a couple of recent ones which come to mind), but that a youngish mother and teenage daughter are more peers than a hierarchy is wonderfully refreshing and positive. At the same time, it doesn’t hold back to show how mean (and not just ‘difficult’) kids can really be – I feel that while they can be honest and empathetic and unpolitical in a way adults can’t, they can also be really difficult and insensitive when they want to – and a part of that hit really hard in some scenes here. As a lot of people have pointed out, the fact that there’s a woman at the helm stands out in the way women are shown to be central characters and males in the background, contrasting to movie stereotypes. So Dr. Diwan’s husband is seen but hardly heard – as are most Indian men with their household help in my experience, and we’re I absolutely loved loved the fact that the fact that Chanda is a single mother is conveyed through a couple of normal, everyday anecdotes and it’s not milked for the difficulties it brings in. I generally stay away from writing about acting and performances beyond the perfunctory Level 1 analysis (see Kirk-Patrick), but in Nil Battey Sannata it’s unfair to separate the movie and the characters from the actors playing them. Swara Bhaskar and the young girl Riya Shukla have a stunning chemistry, great control over the local tongue and do really moved me in the powerful solo scenes they get as well. And no praise is enough for whom I believe is the stand-out hero of the film – Pankaj Tripathi – who does a role with quirks and eccentricities without making a mockery of it. His principle is what Boman Irani should have been in 3 Idiots, Anupam Kher & Rishi Kapoor in some other movies I can’t recall where their portrayal was simply put – insensitive.The scene in the assembly right in the beginning is perhaps one of the high points of a film which really has some incredible scenes which do stand out.

It’s also a movie which I felt keeps its distance from realism in more ways then one, taking essential cinematic liberties to what I believe the director must feel essential to ‘drive the message home’. The whole joining the same class – while explained – is a bit of a stretch, the other kids are too nice and where do the extra hours of the day suddenly come from is never explained? I also felt it veers towards trivialising and infantalising 16 year olds – surely that’s an age where love, sex and drugs lurk closer than these extremely sanitised kids. And a couple of cliches towards the end which really took the film from the ‘potentially great’ to the ‘good’ category for me – the lazy stereotype of the all-knowing, well-meaning nerd who brings about a hriday parivartan which in itself came about way too easily. And the last flash-forward, an IMO unnecessary attempt to wrap the bow neatly on top of the movie to make it picture perfect with the ‘kyunki mein bai nahin banna chahati thi (sic)’ a tad condescending.

The unfortunate part is that this is a movie (or story actually) that needs to reach a large audience. The reality is it’s likely to reach primarily multiplex and metro audiences. And it’s been packaged for this audience as well (which is why I used the word ‘story’ in the previous line) without making anything seem to dirty, or insurmountable. All said and done, the harsh realities of a lower economic class lifestyle have been romanticized and kept pretty lest it hit to hard and not be a feel-good, nice family movie. Nothing wrong with that of course, except that it gives urban metro dwellers a faux sense of ‘things are moving’.

Alas, I wish I hadn’t got into that digression. The honest review was what I tweeted after watching the movie calling it the nicest, sweetest and most touching one of the year. And despite the over-analysis, that does still remain stand. It will bring some tears to your eyes and a smile to your face that will stay.

★★★★