Saturday, 26 January 2019

SONI MOVIE REVIEW


This is my first review of a Netflix original film. I watched Soni 2 days ago and still can’t seem to get it out of my head for many reasons. The fact that it stayed with me for so long after watching merits a detailed review.

Putting aside the superior craft of storytelling, Soni is an important and personal film. It holds a mirror to the society we live in, its patriarchal and orthodox beliefs, the biases enjoyed by the more privileged, the helpless police department which we generally take so much pride in and unmistakable misogyny that runs deep in the veins of our system. Sure, all of the above have been discussed at length innumerable times in Bollywood but we are always given a more dramatized version of the incidents. In Soni, however, debutante director Ivan Ayr very well understands that the inherent nature of the system is so exaggerated that all he needs to do is present Delhi in its raw, vulnerable form. The film has a beautiful understated tone that doesn’t require any showy dialogues or reactions to underline the gravity of the moment in a scene. It has no plot to speak of as such, but is more of a stripped down character study that was reminiscent of Asghar Farhadi’s (who I think is one of the best filmmakers in the world) films except that the characters here aren’t as grey as the ones in his films.

Ivan skillfully taps into the energy of silence and the pauses in a scene to transport the viewer right in the middle of the action. Rarely does a film invite its audience to enter the head space of its characters and witness who they actually are and what their thought process is. Also, technically speaking, every scene is shot in a single take which enhances the viewing experience manifold. Since I’m a sucker for long, single takes, I just admired the efforts gone into conceiving each scene so seamlessly, even if there is pretty much nothing significant happening in it. The film remains grounded for most part thanks to the actors who inhabit this space. Here, you’ll find  acting of the highest order even by characters who literally appear in just one scene.

In the end, Soni is an unflinching and an ultimately disturbing film which doesn’t offer any easy answers but sure makes an effort to change the way we perceive the rampant corruption and chauvinism around us. Don’t miss it!

Friday, 5 October 2018

ANDHADHUN MOVIE REVIEW

Welcome to the world of Sriram Raghavan. It's a dark, cynical world where everything appears normal on the surface, but when the layers begin to unravel you realise this is a place where none of the characters can be taken for granted or you can be rest assured each of them is holding ulterior motives. One minute you are fed with a certain kind of information only to receive a shocker the next minute. This, my friend, is all you need to know before you walk in to watch this delicious crime drama which reinforces the fact that there's nothing more enjoyable in the world than watching an intelligent, well executed thriller.

The exceptional quality of Sriram Raghavan's films are that in order to build the suspense they do not rely as much on the whodunit aspect of the murder as they do on the whydunit or howdunit aspects and all the mayhem that ensues. Johnny Gaddar or Ek Hasina Thi may
help prove my point. But Andhadhun takes this to the next level altogether, literally playing with the minds of the audience with its twisted screenplay.

It's really hard to get into the details of the plot without revealing too much. So let's just say the makers set up a fantastic premise which takes a while to reach there, but once the main plot kicks in Raghavan, the flamboyant deceiver, milks enough thrill, shock value and wry humor out of it to keep you on the edge of your seat almost throughout the film. If I had to draw an analogy, the film is like a ticking time bomb or a race where Raghavan, aided by Amit Trivedi's original score that intensifies the sense of urgency, is always one step ahead of the audience.

It also helps that each of the actors are in terrific form. Stepping out of his comfort zone, Ayushmaan delivers a mature performance that's both vulnerable and suspenseful at the same time. Continuing the trend of outperforming herself, Tabu is pitch perfect as the sly and manipulative woman, a character I would never want to meet in person.

I'm going with 4/5 for Andhadhun, another gem added to Raghavan's handsome repertoire of films. Watch it because rarely do you come across a Bollywood film that doesn't insult your intelligence. The sound of a piano playing in the background has never been more intriguing!

Sunday, 16 September 2018

MANMARZIYAN MOVIE REVIEW

Love stories are not completely alien to Anurag Kashyap. Whether it was the period romance of Ranbir and Anushka in Bombay Velvet (regardless of the debacle it turned out to be) or the small town but big heart romance between a boxer and a mute lady at the center of his boxing drama Mukkabaaz, Kashyap has betrayed a smattering of penchant for conventional love told in an unconventional style. It is then unfair that Manmarziyan, his latest affair with unorthodox filmmaking, is being projected as a first of its kind for Kashyap. The truth is, Manmarziyan is like any other Anurag Kashyap film minus the violence and beheading; it is a series of misadventures just without any bloodshed.

The first half of the film is zany. Enormously benefiting from writer Kanika Dhillon's razor sharp dialogue & quirky characters, Amit Trivedi's music (more on this in the next paragraph) and consistently terrific performances, the film races across till intermission only to culminate in a rather underwhelming second half. Kashyap lends his trademark directorial touches that separate the film from your average romance flick. For instance, take the two sisters who show up in the background in every song sequence symbolic of the dichotomy the characters face in the film. The characters in the film are impulsive, irresponsible and messy and Kashyap treats it with the right amount of wackiness that keeps the film itself from turning messy. In the second half, however, there is a sudden dip in pace and energy. The makers, from here on, don't quite seem to know how to take the story forward, so they end it in the most unconvincing way possible.

But the real hero of the film, you guessed it right, is music magician Amit Trivedi. His intoxicating soundtrack is the driving force of the film, enlivening even the most dull portions. The album is a winning combination of brazenly original sound arrangements and simple but unforgettable tunes that may be venerated for years to come.

I'm going with 3/5 for Manmarziyan. It's a pity that the film is come undone by its daunting length and a disappointing end, but I still recommend a watch because it seamlessly blends the different departments of cinema to good effect. 

Friday, 29 June 2018

SANJU MOVIE REVIEW

Sanjay Dutt's life has been a string of inspiring but mostly traumatic events that influenced not just him but almost everyone associated with him. Right from the phase of drug addiction to the charges of terrorism and his eventual imprisonment, it is conspicuous why Hirani and co-writer Abhijat Joshi found his story worthy of a cinematic translation, notwithstanding the fact that Dutt was, hitherto, a part of every film of Hirani (except 3 idiots). It surely isn't an easy story to tell and the makers do a fine job of not ultimately portraying the character as a victim of circumstances, but instead very categorically delving into the controversial aspects of his life like his drug addiction and the possession of arms just to name a few.

But make no mistake, the film has the Hirani stamp all over it. Opting for a more light hearted tone, the focus is on reinforcing the importance of human relationships and values over anything else. Starting on a rather uneven note, the film finds its ground at around half an hour into it and it is these portions where Hirani reveals his magical skills in getting the audience deeply involved in his screenplay as we see Sanju's life fall apart like a pack of cards. In fact, I was so emotionally charged at this point that I wished the film didn't have an intermission break.

Alas, like most of his previous films, the break doesn't bode well for the second half. From here on, despite interesting ideas about superficial journalism and revealing insights into his life post charges of terrorism, I was never fully invested in the screenplay and its formulaic approach. The characterization becomes sketchy, conflicts are too conveniently resolved and the climax is a bit of let down.

Despite the shortcomings, the film is balanced by a career-best performance by Ranbir Kapoor, who not merely imitates but lives the life of Sanjay Dutt through his empathetic portrayal. Never appearing caricaturish or seeming to go off track, his catches the pulse of the character with perfection. Also, Vicky Kaushal deserves special mention for making his presence felt throughout the film with a pretty solid performance.

Much like Dutt's life, the film has many highs and lows, but it deserves a watch for the terrific first half and the gifted Ranbir Kapoor.

Saturday, 14 April 2018

OCTOBER MOVIE REVIEW

Adding yet another feather to their extraordinary cap of films, Shoojit Sircar and Juhi Chaturvedhi deliver yet another winner in October, a slow burning and piercing drama (slow being the operative word) that will leave you questioning your understanding of love, faith and suffering.

October is unlike any film Bollywood has churned out in recent times. It doesn't rely on loud histrionics and background music to drive home it's point, but instead weaves together the complexities associated with human relationships when put through testing situations with the simplicity of the everydayness in a common man's life. Despite its leisurely pace and melancholic tone, the film never feels like a slog thanks to the intuitive and keenly observed writing and sharp, focused direction. Never spoon feeding the audience with easy answers, Juhi and Shoojit develop characters with ambiguous qualities, reminiscent of the Asghar Farhadi school of films. They also extract terrific performances from each of the actors, especially Varun Dhawan, Banita Sandhu and Gitanjali Rao.

I'm going with 4/5 for October. Some may complain about the slow pacing, abrupt ending and the lack of plot. But they all are a part of the calculated move by the writer-director duo to create a rich cinematic experience. Drop everything else you're doing this weekend and go in with dollops of patience to watch October. This is minimalistic filmmaking at its best.

Friday, 6 April 2018

BLACKMAIL MOVIE REVIEW

Blackmail is exactly the kind of fun film you'd like to watch on a lazy weekend with nothing much else to do. It has all the elements of the quirky oddball comedy; idiosyncratic characters put through outrageous situations, large helpings of laugh out loud humor and solid performances; but despite an original screenplay and a distinctively unconventional treatment, the film suffers from serious pacing issues. And that's never a good thing for films of this genre!

I won't get into the details of the cobweb of the script smartly written by Parvez Sheikh and Pradhyuman Singh Mall (a lot of which, sadly, is given away by the trailer), but the first half of the film has moments that are a serious test of patience. It takes a while before the actual plot kicks in and even once the unending series of blackmail calls begins, it's not always consistent until intermission. Post-intermission however, the chaos is intensified which results in humor that could leave you in splits, the major chunk of which is delivered by Arunodhay Singh, Divya Dutta and the witty dialogue.

Talking about performances, Irrfan Khan is in good form, though here he appears a little uninspired and holds himself back from giving us another winning performance and rising above the films shortcomings. The other supporting cast comprising Kirti Kulhari, Pradhyuman Singh, newcomer Anuja Sathe get some moments to shine and showcase their active participation in this land of absurdity. The real star of Blackmail, hands down, is Arunodhay Singh. Skillfully combining physical humor with a colorful palette of expressions, Singh makes the most of the meaty part that never lets predictability completely take over the film.

I'm going with 3/5 for Blackmail. Director Abhinay Deo falls short of delivering another Delhi Belly. The film has many strengths, but consistency is definitely not one of them. Still worth a watch!

Saturday, 27 January 2018

PADMAAVAT MOVIE REVIEW

While the rave reviews extolling Ranveer Singh's extraordinary performance are categorically justified, the other less-talked about but significant aspect of Padmaavat is that director Sanjay Leela Bhansali is in solid form. And by solid I mean this is possibly his least indulgent and most accessible film in a decade.

Pick up any of his recent films, say Ram Leela, Guzaarish, Saawariya, and you'll notice that all of them suffered from a misplaced sense of self-adulation and vanity that took away much of the sheen from all the grandeur at display. Even his penultimate film Bajirao Mastani, which I agree was marginally better than the ones I mentioned so far, could not completely absolve him of succumbing to "style over substance", a crime plenty of Indian filmmakers are frequent accused of committing.

This does not go to say that Padmaavat possesses a flavor or aura anything markedly different from his previous films, but amidst all the lavish set pieces and ostentatious costumes, the story-telling remains sure-footed. He stages impressive war sequences, the dialogues pack a punch and the script throws in enough twists to keep you engaged for most part of the film. It is only the last 30 minutes or so where things take a predictable turn and the already thin plot is stretched to the point of turning the film into a slog.

Shahid Kapoor and Deepika Padukone's sincere and commendable renditions are likely to go largely unnoticed with Ranveer Singh practically stealing every scene he is in. In his third successive film with Ranveer, Bhansali skillfully directs all of Ranveer's innate eccentricity to create a character that is deliciously menacing & repugnant and the actor sinks his teeth completely into the role to deliver a performance that is riveting, to say the least.

I'm going with 3.5/5 for Padmaavat. It's hard to comprehend the drama surrounding the release of the film, which incidentally seems more than the drama in the entire film itself, but be prepared to get Ranveer's Khilji ingrained in your memory.