Dangal—The Review

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The genre of sports movies is more trope-laden than most. The come-back-from-behind victory at the end. Adversity. Perseverance.  The overcoming of personal demons. The obtaining of redemption either through one’s victory or through one’s wards. A training montage to robust background music. Dangal, inspired by wrestler Mahavir Singh Phogat and his Commonwealth-medal-winning daughters, ticks almost all those boxes, with excellent performances from the ever-reliable Aamir Khan and the actresses who play Geeta Phogat and Babita Phogat as adults, Fatima Sana Seikh and Sanya Malhotra, and those that play them as children, Zaira Wasim and Suhani Bhatnagar, suitably rousing music, some excellently choreographed wrestling sequences, and the cinematic scaffolding needed to hold it all together, taut and flabless, for two and a half hours.

And yet, Dangal, is at its weakest when it is just a sports film.

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Ae Dil Hai Mushkil–The Review

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Karan Johar is a creator of worlds. Like J K Rowling, George R R Martin and Gurmeet Ram Rahim. Even though Mr. Johar’s world is populated by what seems to be homo-sapiens, in that they live, breathe, drink, eat, attempt to fornicate and occasionally die in order to resolve a story perfectly (leaving behind letters for an over-precocious child to read), it is very obviously a reality that is not quite ours. In the Johar universe, poverty does not exist even for poets and singers, people travel in personal jets, live in chic lofts in Paris and London with designer furniture, body-fat has melted away instead of the icecaps , the government provides everyone the latest fashions to wear , people do not converse but mushaaira through life, and men and women may lose their marbles occasionally and start thumping themselves on the chest with a flower-pot, but none of that affects their perfect make-up, not an even terminal illness can do that.

There is only one source of conflict in this reality, only one problem that world has not solved.

What is love? What is friendship?

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M S Dhoni: The Untold Story—the Review

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[This WordPress tells me is my 1000th post]

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M S Dhoni. The Untold story.

So what would this “untold story” be I wondered, as I sank into my seat at AMC Barrington, in a surprisingly packed auditorium on a Sunday afternoon.

Was I expecting untold stories about Rhiti sports, cricket enthusiasts, selection room shenanigans, bags of cement and Deepika Padukone?

Of course not. A biopic of a sportsman who is not just alive but also playing the game isn’t going to lift the hood and show us the gunk in the engine.Just not going to happen. That too in India, where slapping of defamation and sentiment-hurting lawsuits is a cottage industry. And to be honest, cinematic biographies of heroes, even the most Oscars-hogging of them and I am talking Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi, rarely rise above being hagiographies, maybe not to the level of MSG Messenger of God, but pretty close.

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Azhar—the Review

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There is a scene in Azhar where Azhar has gone to watch a film with Naureen, his first wife. As Nargis Fakhri playing Sangeeta comes onto screen, her lips swollen like she walked into an Ambrose bouncer, it is Naureen who almost gets aroused, commenting to Azhar “kya khoobsoorat aankhein hai uski” and for those who have grown up in Bollywood,  we know that”aankhein”is often an euphemism for some other components of a woman’s body. While wife getting turned on by another woman is a long-standing fantasy among Indian men, and by this time you should be thinking of Khulbhushan Kharbanda’s spontaneous eruption in front of bottles of “Crush”  after stumbling upon his wife Shabana Azmi writing sensuously with Nandita Das in Fire, Azhar is immensely distraught by the licentiousness of the dance, and looks uncomfortably from side to side, like he did when the ball was bouncing near his head on fast tracks.

Yes that’s how innocent and honorable Azhar is, in his approved eponymous hagiography. Why did he take money from bookies? So that he bankrupts them, and prevents them from offering the same money to other players. Yes. You read that right. That’s the final reveal. Why was his career finished? Because some player suspiciously called “Manoj”, himself suspect in his loyalties, resented Azhar being the boss, and carried a grudge of having been seen nude in the dressing room. Why the extramarital affair? Because the first wife was unavailable, and how do we know that? Azhar sits down to a dinner with Naureen, asks her about the biriyani, she says “it’s good”, and Azhar asks “What about it is good? The rice? The spices? The flavor?” and Naureen says “It’s all good”, and Azhar loses his cool because no husband likes a wife who can’t deconstruct biriyani and the next thing you know he is in the arms of his mistress. Not convinced that he is an amazing person? Here is more. Azhar wants to tell his wife the marriage is over, but there are people at the house, so what can the poor man do except announce it on TV, leaving his wife not just heartbroken but also embarrassed?

Because you see Azhar did nothing wrong. Absolutely nothing. Everyone around him was bad, a resentful “Manoj”, a philandering “Ravi”, a difficult “Navjot”. And if throwing mud at everyone else in order to make him look good isn’t bad enough, there are bare-faced lies. Matches Azhar was accused of having fixed, are mixed with other matches, like the one in Bangalore where he got a bad decision, so that unless you lived through the Azhar era or read Cricinfo while others go to Pornhub, you would not realize that the game that started was not the one that finished.

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The Hateful Eight–the Review

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The “program” handed out at special roadshow engagement that I attended

The word “self indulgent” is often used to describe Tarantino, and whether that “fuck you I will do movies the way I want” is actually Quentin or a carefully-cultivated counter-culture-pandering persona I know not, because I have heard compelling arguments on both sides. I am a big fan of QT myself, because high art or not, his movies are always enormously enjoyable in the most unconventional of ways(I mean who would ever think that a conversation about “Royale with cheese” would be that memorable?) and though he has spawned an army of followers and me-toos (some of them in our Hindi film industry), he has remained pretty much un-inimitable.

I correct that. He is now imitated. By himself. The Hateful Eight, which I was fortunate to watch in 70mm as part of the limited release “roadshow”, is like a greatest hits of Quentin Tarantino recorded on bad-quality tape. You have seen everything in this film before, from Quentin Tarantino himself. Except he has done it better before. The exact same sequences. In order to keep this review spoiler-free, I am deliberately not going into the details, but for any QT fan, you can almost take every significant sequence and theme and narrative “trick” of the Hateful Eight and map it back to a previous QT film, and every time you would feel (at least I did) that it was done way better before. The quirks are all there, and the sudden surprises, and the bursts of action, interspersed with deliberation, but this being the eighth Tarantino(a point he announces in his trademark grandiloquent manner straight at the beginning),  the extreme-shock devices, both dialog and action, have been blunted through over-use. Even the politics, and Hateful Eight often has the subtlety of a propaganda video, is regurgitated from “Django Unchained” and, even there, Django does a better, more entertaining job, of getting the point across.

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Star Wars The Force Awakens—The Review

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When you are given the responsibility of re-energizing one of the world’s most famous movie franchises, they aren’t going to be happy with something that just makes millions at the box office. No. They want you to set the foundation of something much bigger, much more long-term. They want you to engineer a perpetual motion cash-cow that can be milked for a series of million and billion grossers, and then even more revenue through sale of T-shirts and toys and video games and official cheese snacks and theme-park-rides.

It’s easy for very smart people, and JJ is one of the smartest people in the industry today, to get this wrong. I might eat my words later and I hope I do but he and his team have taken the Star Trek franchise, particularly after that horrendous second installment, in the wrong direction. In trying to make Star Trek reach out to a global audience that goes beyond nerds who live in their parent’s bedrooms, they have put in a lot of explosions and space-battles, and, for some strange reason, lens flairs. That has ruined the experience for older fans like me, who cannot get over the abandonment of the deep themes that were the hallmark of the original series, the lack of chemistry between the protagonists, and, worst of all, the canon-busting re-imaginings of iconic characters. It is like someone taking a dump on my childhood, watching Spock and Uhura kiss on the bridge of the Enterprise. To the generation of movie-goers not connected with the original lore to the extent we are this might seem quite cool, but the problem for them is that Star Trek is not sufficiently differentiated from the Avengers, Transformers or any of the other similar franchises that pack movie screens during the summer.

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Bajrangi Bhaijaan—A Comment

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Bajrangi Bhaijaan is the best-Bhai vehicle ever but that’s like saying that the seventeen Venkatesh Prasad scored in Cuttack was his best batting performance. It’s not a high bar.

The cinematic quality is of course not really what held me in awe.

It was something else.

Bajrangi Bhaijaan is a stupendous exercise of image-engineering,one from which everyone, from PR gurus to husbands who have been caught sexting by their wives may draw lessons.

Bhai is a golden-hearted Hindu fundamentalist, the kind of half-man half-child that Aamir Khan plays in every film (no wonder he carried a towel to cry in, this should have been him), someone who never lies no matter what the consequences, so pure that he makes Yudhishtir look like Suresh Kalmadi. This portrayal of an orthodox Hindu as a saint, novel as it is in the annals of mainstream Hindi moviedom, is a marvelous way to placate the group that has traditionally not been his hottest demographic, and this is not just because he needs their business.

No that’s not the main reason.

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