SatyaGraha- Bravura performances save this film from falling apart….

I was introduced to Prakash Jha’s brand of films when I watched Gangaajal in a packed auditorium. The film suddenly catapulted Jha to my list of film makers to watch out for. And ever since, I have keenly followed his journey till Satyagraha. But I strongly believe after whipping up a terrific tale of betrayal and lies in the form of Rajneeti, he kind of lost the plot. His wishy washy tales of dirty politics are becoming repetitive and if he does not shift genres pronto, he shall turn into another Madhur Bhandarkar. But thankfully with Satyagraha, he comes full circle. Because with Satyagraha, he is back with his talisman- Ajay Devgn. And it is Devgn, Amitabh Bachchan and Manoj Bajpayee who keep you gripped for 150 odd minutes. I shudder to think what would have happened to the film in the hands of lesser actors…The answer lies quite simply in Jha’s last 2 films: Aarakshan and Chakravyuh. Jha was never really known for being subtle. He always ends up cramming up the latest headlines into a script and mixes it and serves it red hot. What made his films like Gangaajal, Apharan and Rajneeti extraordinary were the actors.

Coming to the plot, it is a no brainer really. A retired school principal and chief of a small town, fed up with the system of governance, slaps the collector of his zilla.

Dwarka Anand (Amitabh Bachchan) is a man of staunch Gandhian principles. A retired school headmaster, Dwarka inculcates the same values in his son Akhilesh (Indraneil Sengupta)  — an engineer.

When Akhilesh is killed, minister Balram Singh publicly declares a hefty amount in compensation for Akhilesh’s widow, Sumitra (Amrita Rao).

Despite this, Akhilesh’s father and his widow receive nothing. Eventually, after Sumitra is humiliated in the government office, Dwarka Anand seeks a meeting with the openly corrupt and arrogant collector, whom he ends up slapping which leads to him being put behind bars.

Akhilesh’s best friend Manav Raghavendra (Ajav Devgn), an extremely ambitious entrepreneur with capitalistic values and a man Dwarka Anand disapproves of, returns from the USA and gets the best lawyers available to ensure the release of his deceased best friend’s father.

Unable to do so through legal channels, Manav resorts to building a social campaign that spirals into a bigger protest against the system than any of them could have imagined.

As a script, it must have sounded as a dynamite of an idea but when watched on screen, it appears like leftovers from powerful films like Rajneeti and No One killed Jessica.

Nevertheless, as I said not all is lost. Amitabh Bachchan manages to breathe fire and look the part of a man on hunger strike and delivers a delicious performance. Ajay Devgn nails it with those killer eyes which seem to have a language of their own. But the trump card is Manoj Bajpayee. As the home minister, he is maniackly evil and he lights up every frame he appears in. Other stalwarts like Kareena Kapoor and Arjun Rampal have very little to do and manage to pull off that little bit well. It is Amrita Rao who has been wasted in a  two bit role which does nothing for her career.

The film has a couple of good songs and eye catching cinematography by Sachin Krishn which keep you interested in the proceedings.

But coming back to Prakash Jha, its time he channelizes his creative forces in a different direction. There is so much he is capable of and I am sure, he will be equally brilliant in a  completely new genre. Case in point- His last romantic film Dil Kya Kare. Will the real Prakash Jha stand up please????

Rating- 2.5/5



MadRas Cafe- Essential, Grippy and Good cinema is back!!!!!!

Espionage thrillers and Bollywood haven’t really gone hand in hand. R&AW is usually used in Indian films to depict a daredevil hero travelling from one country to another killing terrorists and saving the innocent. But the trend seems to be changing. We earlier had the R&AW chasing Dawood in D-Day which at the end of it all was still a pulpy saga of jingoistic patriotism. But Madras Cafe is different. And the way it goes about recounting the horrific battle for freedom which the Lankan Tamils takes your breath away. Not due to the sheer magnitude of the film, but due to the sheer ability of the film maker to grip you and transport you to that time and world. Yes,Madras Cafe is essential cinema and dont let the title mislead you. Madras Cafe seems to be given forced importance to justify the title and I believe the film which was earlier titled Jaffna would have made a better impact by retaining that title.

The film gets straight to the point where a bus full of Tamils are killed mercilessly by gunmen and that triggers off the starting point for a revolution which consumed countless human lives and the world probably witnessed one of the worst civil wars. facts have been married beautifully with fiction by Shoojit Sarkar and the film has been kept as raw as possible so that the audience gets a ringside view of the political assassination of Rajiv Gandhi.

The film follows Vikram’s (John Abraham) journey when he is sent to lead the peace operations in Jaffna. Once in war zone, Vikram reports to his superior Bala (Prakash Belawadi) and bumps into London-based war correspondent Jaya (Nargis Fakhri) before channeling his energy to track down the activities of LTA boss Anna Bhaskaran (Ajay Ratnam) and lure his political ally Shri (Kannan Arunachalam) to go against the former.

What follows is Vikram’s close encounter with gun-toting extremists who view themselves as revolutionaries and determining the dangerous conspiracy to kill an important Indian leader with a human bomb.

The film ends befittingly, but it is not a faultless affair. Siddharth Basu as R& AW chief Robin Dutt gives a completely theatrical performance and after a while his mere screen presence started irritating me. And then the constant ex PM reference gets on your nerves. I understand it was done to stay clear of political bans, but then why not take the easy way out and give him a fictitious name? Another jarring aspect are the subtitles which appear on screen whenever nargis fakhri speaks. Although she speaks her dialogues in English, John always responds back in Hindi, so the basic reason to have an English speaking war journalist was lost on me.

Coming to the performances, John Abraham shines in a performance which needed him to flex his acting chops more than his bare torso and oh boy, does he deliver! Nargis Fakhri returns after 2 years and thankfully, this time her voice hasn’t been dubbed. Her role doesnt demand any histrionics and she just about pulls it off. Cant say the same about Rashi Khanna (John Abraham’s wife) who gets no scope to perform. Prakash Balewadi as Bala is terrific and Ajay Ratnam as Anna is serviceable. The actor playing the ex PM gives a good account of himself in a brief role.

The camera work by Kamaljeet Negi is terrific and the liberal use of stills along with the cinema footage comes across as justifiable. Visually, it is well done with the locations appearing as authentic as possible. The background score by Shantanu Moitra seems to be heavily inspired from Hans Zimmer but in a film like this, it works. The dialogues are just apt and Juhi Chaturvedi after Vicky Donor again delives crisp dialogues. The script written by Somnath Dey and Shubendu bhattacharya is terrific and they surely deserve brownie points. The film did remind me of Blood Diamond in a few places and I am saying that in a good way.

All said and done, Madras Cafe is an important film and deserves an audience who crave for sensible cinema. Take your brains along and you will not be disappointed. Just don’t expect to be spoon-fed and you will love this film.

Rating- 3.5/5


The Curious Case of the Indian Film Audience….

Times have changed, and with time so have films. What worked in the 90’s may not necessarily work now, or wait…What worked in the 90’s still works. And not just works, it is making a killing. Branding a film as a south remake or a slapstick entertainer or a mindless potboiler are some ways by which we define our distaste for such films. We are among-st the first ones who would end up watching the recent blockbuster, but we wait for the word of mouth to emerge. Once the mass verdict is out, we take a stand on the film.

Calling a spade a spade has existed since time immemorial, but bashing films just because it stars an XYZ Khan or a XYZ Kumar is becoming the norm now. Just because our favorite superstar did not manage to break a coveted box office record, we tend to put other films down which have managed to do so. The talk then no longer remains on the numbers the film has raked up. Then we start analyzing the film to prove how the film starring your favorite superstar was so high on content, or story-line or music and ll that jazz.

The war seems to have just begun and in the age where every penny a film earns is splashed on numerous websites for public scrutiny, the star wars (with due respect to Mr.Lucas) will only intensify every year. Earlier, our definition of a hit or a flop film was restricted to our likeness for the film. If we did not like a film, we quickly branded it a flop and no one challenged our word. But nowadays, if you brand a film like Bodyguard a flop only beacuse it tested your patience, there will be 10 people who will tell you how much money it has earned over the weekend and how it is the biggest blockbuster ever.

So, where does that leave middle of the road films? This year alone, we have seen the birth and rise of 2 very important independent films, namely Ship of Theseus and B.A Pass. Another promising film ‘Lunchbox’ is up for release. People like Anurag Kashyap and Gurmeet monga are supporting the cause of independent films, short films by giving them a backing which never existed until now. This backing helps it reach the masses.

But the question is are we ready for such films? Clearly not. The fact again lies in the numbers. A terribly hackneyed film like Chennai Express is all set to become the biggest blockbuster ever, whereas an achingly beautiful film like Lootera struggles to even recover its investment. I am in no way saying bad films are accepted wholeheartedly and good films are rejected on the day of their release. Speculations fell flat when the highly anticipated Policegiri or for that matter Himmatwala disappeared from theaters within a week of its release. Another example is last week’s release Once upon a Time in Mumbai Dobara released among st  much fanfare, this was a film which was supposed to give tough competition to Chennai Express. Alas, it was rejected as soon as it released and the negative word of mouth has killed the film.

So this again brings us to the question, what does the Indian audience want? It rejects beautiful films starring credible actors and laps up incredibly silly films starring the Khans. The stars in their defense claim that this is what the audience wanted and this is what we have given them. Look at the numbers. And true to their words, numbers tell the true story.And today, 100 crores has become the benchmark for separating the best from the rest.

But then with the changing times, the magic of instant classics are lost and films running for months is an unheard of a phenomenon. The recall factor is also lost on the viewer as we are bombarded with films, week after week.

So the question remains— What kind of films do we want? And the answer my friend is as simple as the question…We shall only get the films we deserve…..Food for Thought!!!!!


Once Upon ay Time in Mumbaai Dobara: Too much Style, Zero Substance.

I am extremely miffed. A terrific first instalment although I had my reservations about the film being called Once upon a Time in Mumbai even then. But once i watched the film, the claptrap dialogues, the set design, the look and feel of the actors and the film and the absolutely terrfic performances from Ajay, Emraan and Randeep simply won me over. An instant gangsta classic, it is a film I watch even today every time it has a rerun on the tube. Which brings me to the second instalment. The same team with a different star-cast. I was expecting magic Dobara. Alas, what I got was a half baked film which seemed to be stitched up from the leftovers of the first part.

One of the things which worked for the first film was its spot on casting and that is the major flaw of this film. More on that later. The plot is about Shoib (Akshay) and Aslam (Imran) who end up falling for the same girl Jasmine (Sonakshi). How the pavitra heroine prefers the devil’s advocate over the devil as her soul-mate forms the rest of the story. Anything new? Naah. Anything remotely new? Absolutely Naah.

Now a harebrained plot like this would require a dumb blond kinda girl to bring sense into this nonsense. And who better than Sonakshi Sinha? All the good work, all the praise she earned for Lootera comes undone here. I for one thought that the girl has got hold of her mojo and would now look out for films which would require her to act. Oh, so wrong i was. Her character in this film is for lack of a better word stupid. Talking of Imran Khan, this guy is so talented. I mean he has like 3 expressions which he can keep using for 3 hours and that my friends is sheer talent. And casting him as a street side ruffian is stretching it a wee bit too much. And as usual, he tries earnestly, even coming up with a 4th expression at times but playing poor is not just his thing.

Which brings me to Akshay Kumar. The STAR of this film. With flaring nostrils and a constant grin on his face, he seems to be acting in a totally different film. Although its fun to watch Akshay playing bad, but then I have always believed that there should a method to madness. Constantly comparing himself to Bambayii or talking crap to Sonakshi is all he gets to do in this film. He claims to be the Villain of the film but gets nothing even remotely villainous to do.

The support cast is led by Mahesh Manjrekar and Pitobhash Trpathy. Both fine actors,but with a role of this calibre there was only this much they could do. Kader Khan’s son Sarfaraz Khan returns after a hiatus as a sidekick to Akshay and does his usual bit. But it was Sonali Bendre in those 3 and a 1/2 scenes who took my breath away. She should consider a return to big screen in a full fledged role pronto.

The music which again was terrific in the first part is an absolute let down here. Except for the tuneful ‘Yeh Tune Kya Kiya’, rest of the other songs are nothing to write home about and I believe Pritam was caught in a bad mood while composing for this film. The cinematography is amazing and Ayanaka Bose gets the mood of the film bang on. Milan Luthria after delivering two blockbusters back to back, disappoints big time as a director and I hope he forgets this as a bad dream. The dialogues which added so much gravitas to the earlier film, fall flat here as every character seems to talk in punchlines and that kinda irritates you after a while.

There were some serious expectations I had from the film. Alas, too many punches spoil a film. Bambayi can do without an ode for some time.

Rating- 1/5


Chennai Express – This One chugs along on the power of the common KHAN!!!!!

Before I talk about the film, let me put my biases on the table. Shahrukh Khan is my favourite star and watching him on screen is for me is the ultimate high. And when a film of his releases, the kind of excitement I feel is unmatchable. His every style, every role, every character is engraved in my memory.

Now coming to the film, Chennai Express is a one trick pony which hangs on just one joke throughout the first half and honestly speaking, it left me quite disappointed midway into the film. But unlike other films which decide to go down the drain in the second half, this one resurrects itself and dishes out a terrific second half. And that alone gives me my money’s worth.

The story of Chennai Express (This is one of the few Rohit Shetty films which has a story) is about a 40 year old guy called Rahul who sets off on vacation and intends to drop his grandfather’s ashes along the way. That leads to him meeting Deepika Padukone and the familiar boy meets girl template is on display.

But where the film differs is Khan’s charisma and Deepika’s terrific screen presence. Both the lead actors share a sizzling chemistry and keep the entertainment quotient high throughout. And Deepika’s accent which I hated in the trailers is surprisingly genuine and after a while you tend to ignore that.

But what you cannot ignore is Shahrukh Khan mouthing a line 50 times…(Don’t underestimate the power of a common man) seemingly telling us that do not underestimate the power of this common KHAN.

Well, analysing the film isn’t very difficult but this time I decided to look around myself and saw the audience laughing uncontrollably. And that brought a smile on my face because I realized this does work, and works for mostly 95% of the audience. Like the DDLJ spoof made my day and Khan spoofs himself a lot of his films throughout.

Rohit Shetty is his usual self blowing cars and presenting achingly colorful frames. Vishal Shekhar’s music works big time and I am perplexed that the first half hardly boasted of one song which kind of further slowed down the momentum.

But at the end of the day it is a Shahrukh Khan vehicle and he is in top form here, bringing back memories of Baadshah where he had to tackle Thangabelly’s dad (Niketan Dheer’s dad Pankaj Dheer). Deepika has transformed into a terrific actress and I thoroughly enjoyed her performance.

For someone looking for unabashed entertainment, this would be the film to watch. For people looking for intellectual cinema, if Shahrukh isnt your favorite, I warn you to stay away instead of badmouthing the film later on.

Rating- 3.5/5


BA Pass- A deliciously Taut Film….Simply Outstanding!!!!! & a MUSt WATCh!!!

Erotica is an art. And Ajay Bahl (director & cinematographer of BA Pass) is a true artist. He takes an average short story called ‘The Railway Aunty’ by Mohan Sikka and turns it into one of the most brilliant films of the year. The film sucks you into the protagonist’s world from the first frame and doesn’t let go till the film ends. It maintains a sense of tense urgency throughout and leaves us asking for more.

Noir as a genre is rarely explored in our films, and more often than not, an attempt at this genre leaves us unsatisfied. The last film I can remember which excelled at this genre was the Abhay Deol starrer ‘Manorama Six feet Under’ and that was a good 5-6 years back.So,coming back yo my point,this is that rare genre where tautness and suspense go hand in hand only if the balance is perfect.

Talking about the plot, it is about a boy who loses his parents to an accident and situations force him to live in his aunt’s house and the lifestyle he leads there, is no more than a domestic help. One day he bumps into Sarika, one of his aunt’s friends and this sets about a chain of events where firstly the boy is seduced by Sarika and is taught the principles of love and when he masters the art, he is sent to service different clients (read unsatisfied housewives). This goes on smoothly till one day, Sarika’s husband catches them in the act and results in the boy being thrown out of his aunt’s house. The desperation that follows in the pursuit of recovering his money from Sarika to the point where he realizes that life has knocked him out forms the rest of the story culminating in a finale which is believably real.

This is a film which could have gone horribly wrong. We saw what mindless erotica results to in last week’s Nasha. But Ajay Bahl is in complete control of his script and knows just what his viewers want. An indie film in the true blue sense of the word, Bahl surely knows a thing or two about maximising his investment.

The acting is genuinely fantastic. Shadab Kamal as the boy never puts a foot wrong and you truly believe in his angst. Shilpa Shukla as the manipulative Sarika Aunty is coldness personified. Her act is the mainstay of the film. Other actors who make the film what it is namely Dibyendu Bhattacharya and Rajesh Sharma have been terrific over the years, and are no different here.

Talking about the technicalities would be just patting Ajay Bahl on the back one more time. It is truly a one man show. His direction which is brilliant is supplemented by his eye for details as he lenses the film in a light which creates just the right mood. In fact Delhi’s Paharganj has never been lensed more beautifully, and yes I mean it beats DevD hands down.

A film like BA PASS which is quite similar in nature to the recently released Ship of Theseus (both are indie productions which were bought by corporate houses based on their performance at film festivals) should be watched not because it offers the front bencher value for money but solely because it offers the thinking audience a genuine food for thought. Sex is used just to take the story forward and Bahl’s focus is always on the characters and their dilemmas.

I am truly in love with this film and if you as an audience have been waiting for a game changing film, then rush to a thetre near you and witness the CHANGED face of Indian cinema. Hurry, you only have a week before Chennai Express would derail this out of cinemas. All for fART’s sake.

My Rating- 6/5 (Oops, i wish i could go beyond 5)