M S Dhoni: The Untold Story—the Review


[This WordPress tells me is my 1000th post]


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



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



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



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



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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Baahubali The Beginning–The Review



Once upon a time, there lived a lad.

Looking up at the mountain of water towards the misty horizon, he felt inside an indomitable mysterious force, calling him upwards and over. So he enrolled in Physics and Maths coaching classes in Class eight, to get an early start, then Ramaiyya classes at five in the morning to get an even earlier start and correspondence courses to get problem-sets he could crack while on the loo. He would try, one problem after another in Irodov, and then the sequence of solved problems would be broken and he would come tumbling down back to Exercise one. It would have broken lesser men, that fall, but he merely smiled, dusted away his failure, and went back to Newton’s Laws.

His mother (or the one he knew to be his) asked the Gods what they were doing wrong, because the neighbor hood kids were doing just fine. It had become an obsession, this wanting to scale the wall of water, and his muscles grew, till he was moving smoothly through Khanna and Khanna, but still the mountain stood, untamed and proud, and our boy toiled away.

Till one day, in his hand, fell a torn picture.

It had fluttered in from somewhere up the mountain of the water, washed away and grainy, but distinguishable only as a female face.  Our lad would keep the face on a piece of paper, and then lovingly, with his protractor and compass draw boobs around it, of different diameters, for he know not the dimensions of this lovely lass. There was no female in his life, and together with the need to scale the wall of water, attaining the girl in the picture became the focus of his life.

Till one day, while scaling the wall of water, he saw her.

Water-droplets cascading down her perfect spine, there she was, looking at him with come-hither eyes, in a bikini that revealed beauties grander than he could have imagined. In the throes of great passion, he danced up the wall of water, swallowing semesters in epic gravity-defying leaps, while she flitted ahead, through his books, and exam papers, and his programming assignments, turning her head ever so a little, as blue butterflies flew around, or neelachalachitram as he called them,  till one day he did it, he scaled the wall.

And found himself in the United States of America. But where was that bikini-clad goddess of beauty who had inspired him? She was not there.

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Of Potty and Parenthood and Piku




[Has spoilers]

Piku is a good film. No this is not me trying to damn with faint praise. Piku *is* good. Even more than good, I would say it is courageous. In a world of  cookie-cutter behemoths , to invest in a film that is paced slow, driven by characters, and set in a non-Oye-Oye-Shava-Shava socio-cultural milieu, requires commercial cojones, and props to everyone associated with Piku, from the big B and the Choice P to the director to the guys who actually put money behind it, for providing us with something that I would not hesitate to use the term ‘risky” to characterize.

However it is not great. But it could so very well have been. It comes  very close, several times as a matter of fact, to touching something that is deeper and darker and universal, but almost, whether intentionally or not I cannot say for sure, it draws back into a comforting, crowd-pleasing but ultimately unsatisfying green zone.

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