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Monday, October 23, 2017

Secret Superstar

Aamir Khan's name, whether associated with acting or producing, always raises one's expectation. Going by that standard, Secret Superstar doesn't meet the anticipated bar. It is produced by Aamir Khan and directed by his manager, Advait Chandan, a debut director
Yet, there are a lot of pluses which make the film watchable.
For me, this movie is a little behind my times. We don't stifle our children's dreams like that these days, do we? Secret Superstar is a voice for all those children from middle class households where following traditions and fulfilling the expectations of the society is more important than fulfilling one's dreams.
That's the plot premise.
Okay, now what really works for the movie is Zaira Wasim's outstanding performance. After watching her in Dangal and now in Secret Superstar, it looks like she can play any role with an enviable ease.  She is also well-supported by her mother, played by Meher Vij.
The strict father's role, espoused by Raj Arun, is against his 15-year old daughter playing the guitar and her singing. He wants her to be educated just enough to make her a good prospect for a marriage and not remain uneducated like her mother. Therefore, the only way Zaira can fulfill her dream is to post her videos on You Tube wearing a burkha. Zaira's confidants in this journey are her mother, younger brother and her classmate (Tirth Sharma) .
There are some powerful yet subtly delivered messages on women empowerment and how, a woman when she discovers her inner strength, becomes indomitable..
Aamir Khan, in an extended cameo, plays an obnoxiously arrogant music director who had once touched the peaks of fame but has now slipped as he tries to adapt himself to the requirement of modern music. Later, he helps Zaira in both, her journey of music and her life journey.
What will really touch your heart is the innocent friendship between Zaira and Tirth. You feel transported to your younger days as you remember your childhood crushes.
The minuses come from the fact that the film lacks a cohesion. Beautiful parts but not stitched together seamlessly.
I will go with 3/5

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Where's the food, Chef?

Suave sophisticated, urbane, cool...this is the air Saif carries around him and these are the kind of roles that he can carry with an easy aplomb, as witnessed in Chef.
The (Airlift) director, Raja Krishna Menon, has done a brilliant casting in Saif as the Chef,  Padmapriya Janakiraman as his ex-wife, and Svar Kamble as their son.
Having seen Favreau's CHEF earlier I was a little reluctant to watch this one but I can safely state now that the story hasn't been messed with over-the-top performances.
So what works for this movie? It is not the typical hero-heroine-villain-songs formula. It is about a person (Saif) who follows his passion to be a chef instead of the engineer/doctor professions most prevalent in India. He runs away from home as a child, going to the US eventually and earning 3 Michelin stars.
Yet one fine day, he finds himself in scuffle with a customer who criticizes his food.
As a result, Saif is fired and he uses this break to be with his son who lives with his ex-wife, Padmapriya, in Cochin.
Milind Soman as Padmapriya's friend, with his chiseled body and a salt and pepper hair is a treat to the eyes. He is a business man and offers a run-down truck to Saif to conduct his food business from.
Mentionable is the driver of the truck played by Dinesh Nair who brings in the humorous flavor to the movie.
In getting the food truck ready for its journey to Delhi, is also a journey of a relationship  between Saif and his son, Svar. They together discover what it is to be a son and a father. The movie captures these moments beautifully. Credit to the two for the very cool casualness with which they handle these emotions.
Here you have a hero who is not afraid to show his shortcomings, his weaknesses and how he is willing to learn and pass these lessons to his son.
The movie, very predictably, ends with the success of the food truck and a family union.
In Chef, if you assume you will get to watch some great culinary experiences, some gastronomically delightful cooking, some tantalizing tastes and sights, you are in for a big disappointment. The movie only brushes through those much-anticipated moments fleetingly.
Also some incidents and characters are rather sketchily etched.
Despite these flaws, the movie is quite watchable and perhaps will help bring Saif that much-needed hit after the debacles in the last few years.
A 3/5 from me.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Mahanubhavudu: a fiasco

Going by the word-of-mouth propaganda, I watched this movie in a remote located cinema. The tickets were sold out in every other multiplex.
The opening song (Mahanubahuvudevera) and the trailers make you think it is some classic like 'Mithunam' or 'Rudraveena': a movie about relations and emotions. But till the end, it leaves you puzzled about what exactly it wants to convey.
Sarwanand's movies always send out mixed signals. When you go to watch his movies you don't know what to expect. It is true that he chooses his stories well and that he tries that they are different to the routine. Some of his movies are brilliant and some very run-of-the-mill types.
Therefore when I went to watch this one, and due to all the hype created with tickets sold out, I expected a lot out of the movie.
The character of Sarwanand is afflicted with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), a behavior which compels him to keep himself and his premises clean. Dirt and mess disturb him. This is established in the first half with all his reactions to situations when he encounters unclean people and surroundings.This intolerance hurts people close to him, including his mother. His brother (Vennela Kishore) just about tolerates this behavior and the only friend that Sarwanand has in his life.
He falls for Mehreen Pirzada as his first encounter is with her inclination to Swach Bharath.
Gradually the two fall in love . But his OCD makes him not even kiss her due to his fear of contamination. Eventually, this behavior creates circumstances that lead to a break up.
Yet, Sarwanand, who has managed to impress Mehreen's father (Nassar), travels to his village to take care of Nassar's health. He braces himself and tries to adjust to situations which make him face his fears many times.
The final test comes when he has to roll on the mud floor with a wrestler to restore the 'honor' of Nassar and win over the heroine. He passes out after this event due to his extreme reaction to the surroundings caused by his obsession with cleanliness.
There is nothing in the movie that makes you feel compelled to watch it.
The hero has a perpetual annoying smile throughout the movie and a more annoying hair style which makes you want to reach out and pin back that lock that keeps falling on his forehead. The heroine, as in most of the Indian movies, is ornamental.
But what was quite disconcerting was the treatment of OCD. It is not treated as a chronic disorder that it is but as something that is to be  made fun of. It might have been still okay if a character in a smaller role has this behavior and you laugh at it for the few moments that it lasts in the movie. But for this behavior in a full-length  role needs justice and a serious treatment.
Watch only if you are prepared for a typical Telugu film with a mass appeal. If you expect some brainy stuff, you are in for a big disappointment.
A 1.5/5 from me.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Jai Lava Kusa: the unexpected


Life throws surprises and so do movies.
Jr. NTR movies are to be watched on TV only...this has been my dictum since the time he started acting. The OTT performances in his 'mass' movies aren't the kind I enjoy watching. There have been a few exceptions of late. But he still roars in one of his movies, 'class anukunnavemo, lopala mass aalage undi'.
Ok...
So, watched 'Nannaki Prematho' with the same expectation but was nicely surprised with the intelligent story and combined performances of Jagapathi Babu and NTR. Perhaps this sentiment made me watch Jai Lava Kusa (albeit reluctantly) in its first week of release.The underlying thought was how do I put up with three NTRs in one movie? It also doesn't help to know that it is directed by K. S. Ravindra, known for directing/writing for pakka mass movies.
And was I surprised when I watched this one?!
The story is of triplets who, separated in childhood, develop into three different personalities with three different shades of gray due to the environment they are brought up in. One is Lava, the gentleman, Kusa, the petty thief and Jai, the dark villainy character. This portrayal is brilliantly showcased by the best in the VFX and the prosthetics department, equally supported by remarkable performance by NTR.  He played around with the nuances of the portrayal of the three characters so well that when he gave an interview post the movie release, I was wondering about the absence of the other two NTRs! The story concludes to show how blood is thicker than water.
The heroines (Raashi Khanna and Nivetha Thomas) are ornamental but catalytic to some twists to the story. Ronit Roy in his debut role as a Telugu villain does not look as comfortable or sinister as do his contemporaries from the Hindi cinema playing villain roles in Telugu.
It is still not a class act. You still have those melodramatic dialogs, dances, action, costumes, an item number et al. Go watch it with no expectation and you will be in for a pleasant surprise.
A 3/5 from me.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Arjun Reddy

With people raving about this movie; with no tickets available over the weekend for any of its shows, I thought that writing a review about Arjun Reddy is redundant. But I write as I have a slightly different take on the movie.
Ok, at the outset I didn't understand at all why the movie is A-certified. The expectation it sets is that it has copious amounts of sex or violence or plenty of expletives but no, it doesn't really have scenes depicting nudity, nor scenes of gory violence and has just a handful of expletives. (The censor board may need a rethink as those expletives are very much a part of the narration and beeping them, despite an A certificate, hampers the narration.)
So what's it about?
The movie is about a very passionate and honest love story. Vijay Deverkonda, the hero, is passionately in love with his junior in medical college. He turns alcoholic when he loses the heroine (Shalini Pandey, in her debut role). It is an unconventional love story as it persists through all circumstances. It stands against caste, religious, regional differences.
This is exactly why it has so strongly appealed to the youth. It will appeal to the youth who feel choked because of all these restraints imposed by conservative thinking of parents and the society. The nonconformists will easily be able to take this story in their stride.
Why else will the movie attract universal audiences?
For me, because it stands by values. This movie appeals to the higher intellect. It teaches you to respect every human being. It teaches you not to objectify a woman. It teaches you to be honest and truthful to life, and more important, to yourself. It teaches you to value love and relationships. It teaches you to be passionate about life, love and living and not live like an inanimate object. It teaches you to live fearlessly, without hypocrisy. It teaches you the value of friendship that stands firmly with you through all ups and downs of life.
The director, Sandeep Reddy, has extracted the best from Vijay Deverkonda who makes a deep impact with his superlative acting skills after his brilliant 'Evade Subramaniam'. Together they bring out brutally honest emotions that we all die to display but are scared to.
The movie also boasts of slick editing and story-telling. The heroine has a presence and importance throughout. Maybe her rather plain looks has a message that looks don't matter in love.
Happened to catch a sparkling glimpse of yesteryears' Kanchana, as the hero's grandmother, who has lost none of her radiance.
This movie doesn't bank on crass comedy, punch dialogs, heroine's midriff or the hero's deification for its salability. (All these easily get by the censors).
I definitely think the movie is not just for the youth but for everyone who has forgotten to live a life.
For all the above factors, I give it a 4/5.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Fidaa

Going by its non-Telugu title I hadn't cared much about watching Fidaa until I discovered it was directed by Sekhar Kammula.
The opening scene is very interesting and very different from the routine star entry of heroes in Telugu films. It has three orphaned brothers and their early-morning routine in the US with the hero cooking.Yes, this Telugu hero does the unthinkable! There is a disparity in age as the youngest is a late adoption.
One day, they decide that Raju, the eldest should get married so that the family is complete. Towards this, they travel to India. There they meet Sharanya whom they together select to be Raju's bride..
But it is the naughty sister of Sharanya, Sai Pallavi, who soon becomes the center of the story.
Varun Tej, the second brother and Pallavi are drawn to each other. Yet, a misunderstanding separates the two, with Varun returning to the US with his brother and the newly-wed bride.
But after returning, Varun understands that he isn't able to overcome his feelings for Pallavi and messages his proposal to her. Pallavi not only rejects the proposal but also goes on to get engaged to someone else. Heart-broken, Varun tries to forget her, in vain.
Later, Pallavi comes to the US to visit her sister. This allows the two to meet once again and realize their feelings for one another.
When Pallavi returns to India, her father convinces her to marry for love and no other reason.
The story line maybe thin but what makes the movie a run-away success is its execution.
One, as is his wont, Kammula knows how to direct his movies towards a youth appeal. The very bubbly and energetic acting by the female lead in combination with Kammula's known focus on women characters helps too. A big and bold move by the director is relying on Telangana flavor for his movie. He tells the story in this backdrop without making a mockery of either the region or the language. Third, is the way Kammula has kept his movie so devoid of all theatrics and close to everyday life. That village life doesn't equate to backwardness is illustrated well.
Sai Chand as Sharanya and Pallavi's father,  Geetha Bhaskar as their aunt, Aryan as Varun's younger brother have added great value to the movie.
I did not watch Varun Tej's movies earlier, wary as I am of the OTT performances from the Konidela stable. But Varun in the role of a quiet, educated and dignified NRI has done a very decent job.The giant personality also seems so apt for the role. Full marks to Kammula for a great casting in the movie.
Of course, there are a few weak links too. Sharanya looks like a wannabe in trying to fit into the western style and her acting seems a little forced. Pallavi's sudden transformation in the way she dresses in the US is inexplicable.The end, where Varun decides to stay back in India also doesn't look convincing. It isn't that easy to chuck one's dreams, no?
Pallavi is definitely NOT a looker. In fact, her very first scene has her running and screaming her gut out. I was hoping that this was not the female lead. Yet, she is the main draw. Kudos to a non-Telugu girl in learning Telugu and pull off the Telangana accent so well.
The movie is a smooth, light hearted love story which will appeal more to the youth in their 20s.
My rating 3/5. You will not be bored, for sure.

Friday, July 21, 2017

A disaster called Jagga Jasoos

I have managed, so far, to avoid going to watch movies with Katrina Kaif in it. It is like watching it with one half of the lead cast missing. Her presence/absence with the jarring accent makes no impact whatsoever on the movie.
Well, Jagga Jassos is about how Ranbir Kapoor sets out to trace his missing father (played by Saswata Chatterjee).
Ranbir's father leaves for some undisclosed destination after admitting him to a boarding school in his childhood. But he makes sure he greets his son on his birthday through a video tape he sends every year. One year, when the tape doesn't arrive, Ranbir sets out to look for his father. The story is supposedly based on the infamous Purulia Arms drop case in the 90s. Saswata discovers the conspiracy and is then forced to be a fugitive as his life is threatened. Katirna is also a detective of sorts in international crime and helps Ranbir find his father. There is also another weird logic because of which Ranbir is sure Katrina could help find his father. But wait! Why bother...
The director, Anurag Basu, invests about an hour of 'Interstellar'isque kind of plot combined with a 'Sound of Music' one... resulting in a musically confounding movie which does justice to neither. Whether the move is to be a mystery, a musical, an adventure or a romantic comedy...Basu remains undecided till the end. Ranbir's Tintin-like curl in hair and how it helps the story is also as unfathomable as its story.
Any reason to watch Jagga Jasoos? Hard to find. Yet...
The bright spots in the movie are all the wonderful locales that it takes you through in the quest of Ranbir's father. Second, very decent job by Saswata Chatterjee. Third, Ranbir's brilliant performance through all his idiosyncratic behavior, namely that of a child-adult with a stammer. Following his father's advice, he sings his way through his stammer to be able to converse. This jars after a while in this non-musical movie.
The execution of the plot is poorly handled. I am sure Basu finds no help from the break-up between the lead pair in real life. As it is, getting Kaif to emote is an elephantine task and a miffed Kaif is so plastic, a touch and she would smash into smithereens. Finding an excuse for her accent in every movie is an unenviable task for each of her directors. Nawazuddin Siddique in a 10-second appearance packs more punch.
You can still survive the ordeal, maybe, if you ask someone to wake you up in the second half of the movie.
A 1.5/5 for the movie from me.