A father murders his new borns. A schizophrenic stepmother makes up her mind to murder her stepdaughter. A jealous mother decides to marry off her daughter to a python believing that the snake will grant her vast riches. A mother who has given birth to an elephant-apple tries to unlock the secrets behind it following her everywhere she goes. Four stories unravel by the banks of the same river Brahmaputra. Director Bhaskar Hazarika has been able to create one of the most polished, intriguing and wonderful Assameese films of recent times. Each of the tales have been taken from the famous Burhi Aiyor Xhadhu compiled by famous Assamese author and poet Lakshminath Bezbaruah. The words “compiled by” are used instead of a just “by” because these are folk tales which were handed down from generation to generation. Bezbarua mentioned in the preface of his book that these stories were taken from varied sources and even mentioned some of the source’s names.

Since the stories are folk tales, Bhaskar Hazarika had the liberty to interpret them according tokothanodi-5 his likes. He was also able to tweak and change the stories wherever he wanted. Whether that went down well or not with the masses is another story for another time. Here I would like to dwell only on the film at hand. The stories build up slowly letting the audience connects with the characters. You love some, you hate some and you are intrigued by some. The tales unfold simultaneously and yet the director ensures that you are able to follow the proceedings without any fuss. A large credit for that has to be given to the manner in which the film is edited. It also has to be taken into account that some of the stories criss-cross each other and yet there is total control in the manner in which they unfold and they make complete sense.

It has to be kept in mind that this is in no way a children’s film or a feel good film for that matter. The film is laced with brutal scenes of torture and subjugation that mostly unfolds off-screen  but has enough references  to make you nervous and unsettled. The fact that many of the principal cast members suffer and it is mostly the innocents that have to bear the brunt, leaves a bad taste in the mouth. The guilty don’t find justice and the film ends without any wish fulfillment. I really liked this characteristic of the film. Very recently I watched a Marathi film called “Court” which treads a very similar path even though the subject matters of both the films are completely different. I loved the ambiguity that the story has attached to it and the director does a brave thing by not walking the tried and tested path of complete resolution.

The next highlight of the film is the performances. Led from the front by Zerifa Wahid and Seema Biswas, both of whom are extremely hateable, every performance is perfect. While Zerifa plays the schizophrenic step mother to the innocent and lovable Tejimola, Seema Biswas is the jealous mother of Bonlotika whom she wants to be endowed with great riches like her stepsister. Wahid’s character gets crueler as the film progresses. She sees visions (or we see the vision) of a man-jackal who is shown giving her ideas. It is left undisclosed if such a character actually exists or is it only the figment of her imagination. Kopil Bora plays the father who murders his own three children one by one as they are born. He does so as his uncle, who means the world to him, asks him to do so. He is pained by what he is forced to do and that shows in his act. The resolution to his story is superb and the most uncanny of the lot. The audiences will be confused with their feelings for the man.

Urmila Mahanta plays the mother to an elephant-apple. She at first remains oblivious to finding the secret of the elephant-apple that follows her everywhere she goes but with time she grows curious too. On repeated requests of a merchant, she finally sets out to learn the secret of the elephant-apple. Another excitingly scripted piece. Urmila is natural and effective in her act. Adil Hussain has a bits and pieces role that assumes importance as we go along. His character too is very subdued and in close proximity to the real world. I have always admired Hussain and his act here is no less exciting. Special mention has to be made of Kasvi Sharma playing Tejimola. Her act extracts genuine emotions and in many ways elevates Wahid’s act. We hate Wahid more because we are so much in love with Kasvi’s innocent Tejimola.

Kothanodi boasts of sweeping cinematography. The visuals are in strong keeping with the mood and tone of the film. The surrealistic view of the Brahmaputra, the long tracking shots, the sudden close-ups, the peek behind the trees and walls all add up to give you a feeling of what it would have meant to be an invisible voyeur to the four stories. This is a better looking Assamesse film than the best of the best I have seen over the years. While the cinematography is spot on, the color correction and digital works also seem to be impeccably done. The sound is terrific. There are so many scenes where the sound design helps in instilling a sense of fear in you. While the atmospheric sounds are elevated and replaced by numerous sources, the scores too are beautifully envisioned and executed. Whatever little visual effects are there, are done with aplomb. The sequences involving the python devouring a major character, the ones which has the elephant-apple following its mother are all executed with authority. They never feel cheap or unbelievable and thus in turns hugely add to the inevitability and access of the film.

Overall, Kothanodi is a brilliant picture that can be watched and re-watched. It is not an exact recreation of the fables from yester-years but Bhaskar Hazarika’s own take on the stories. I was intrigued by what he had to offer and for all those who are willing to shun their sentimentalities for the fables and watch the film with an open mind, there is a lot to look forward to. Brilliant acting, superb techniques, terrific and captivating screenplay mark this gem of a movie. Do watch Kothanodi. It is one of those near unmissable films that keeps becoming more and more rare.

Rating : 4/5 (4 out of 5 Stars)

I would like to start this review by saying that Neeraj Pandey is one of my favorite directors in Indian cinema today. I love almost all his previous films including the Bengali film that he merely wrote and produced (Royal Bengal Tiger). M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story was supposed to be one of my favorite films of the year. It was supposed to redeem the lost pride and grandeur that films like Azhar had spoiled for the Sports/Bio-epic genre. There was little said about the film and the marketing campaign too didn’t give a lot away. There were speculations about the cast and also about the issues that the film was going to raise. However, after sitting through this 3 hour long film I can safely say that all of that and a lot more has been put to death, nail shut in a coffin that is this film.

The film starts with M.S. Dhoni being born in a hospital where the doctor nearly mixes him up with a girl. The story progresses and we are introduced to a young Dhoni who is much more into football than cricket. His coach played by Rajesh Sharma inspires him to pick up the gloves but keeps him away from batting. Dhoni starts playing and in a matter of years makes it to the senior teams. His game gets bigger by the day and is soon selected to play in the elite league. Inspite of his numerous great performances, he is unable to break out into the national league. Soon something happens which makes him give up his current job and join the Railways. Joining the railways doesn’t bring him any solace either as there too he meets with little success on and off the field.

This portion of the film drags unpardonably. It’s an endless drudgery from the moment he grows up till the point he gets the Indian cap. The film feels repetitive and forced in every sequence. Dhoni meets with success. Dhoni fails. Dhoni meets with Success. Dhoni fails. The same keeps happening just with the change in the style of the wagon wheel. There are endless situations and scenes that lead nowhere. There are prolonged scenes of him going through his daily chores, his practice sessions, his not so significant matches and journeys that should have ended in a blink. If that was not boring enough, the film doesn’t show any sense of urgency or energy in these portions. The characters simply walk through their performances and so do we as the audiences. It has to be given to the director that he did a good job with the sequences in Ranchi, wherein little Dhoni is growing up. This is the only time in the film when you feel a warmth in the performances and are actually interested in the proceedings.  But whatever he gains in these sequences he loses terribly in the ones which follow, where a clearly morphed Sushant Singh Rajput portraying a younger Dhoni is shot terribly. These portions look so fake and abnormal that I couldn’t look at them.

The story continues and Dhoni leaves his job at the railways after an oddly done surreal sequence and comes back to concentrate fully on his cricket. He soon makes the cut to the national team and then the film jumps from him scoring his first big score to him falling in love, to him becoming the captain, to him losing his love, to him trying to fire the big trio, to him finding his to-be wife, to him scoring the winning runs in the World Cup Final and blipppppp. The film ends. Yes! it is that sudden. I got a feeling as though the director had got tired of teh story and wanted to just wrap it up. This half of the film is also affected by an age old cliché of Bollywood films to show its protagonist as the one and only. This whole segment is just an absurd fan-homage to Dhoni. You will feel as though there was just one cricketer in the whole team as all the victories are just attributed to him.

Real footages of matches are shown with Sushant’s face morphed over Dhoni’s. I felt cheated in these sequences primarily because now I knew that they didn’t even bother to shoot a single cricket match on their own. Atleast that’s something we got in Azhar.  Also they try to con us by showing the footage of the board meeting wherein he tries to fire the big trio in the trailer. No one ever mentions their names. These characters are never shown for real apart from the stock footage and the discussion that happens is extremely superficial. This proves that the director had the intent of going to that place but didn’t have the courage to go all the way. So he took a path half way between. That was just disgusting. Again Dhoni is shown as some sort of a messiah who single handedly won the World Cup. As far as I remember, the World Cup victory was a collective effort. All the big matches shown are for minutes and that too are stock footages with only the initial low-level matches shot on actual camera. In a film like this, we expect to have a feel and gusto that would make us roar for the protagonist. How can your blood boil when the sequences are so insipid. I have seen most of the matches shown here and I didn’t need to see the highlights of these matches again with Sushant’ face replacing Dhoni’s.

The only saving grace of this film is Sushant Singh Rajput’s spirited act. He really does well and gives you a feeling that if dealt with better, he could have been a great Dhoni. Unfortunately the poor writing, very little meat in the role in terms of twists and turn, character development and drama leaves him stranded. Anupam Kher plays his father and his is as stereotypical as one could get. Kumud Mishra has s smallish role and he shines as always. Kiara Advani and Disha Patani play his two beus and their role is too small and insignificant to pass any judgment on.

Overall, Dhoni is a mammoth disappointment for me. It had the potential to be a rousing tale as the drama, conflict, romance and sporting action was all there in the tale. It can even be sighted as India’s greatest underdog story. But what we get instead is 3 hours of pointless and under cooked fan-service of Dhoni.  It’s too lengthy, it’s too preachy and makes you think that Dhoni is Indian cricket. It’s not even bold enough to point fingers at the people that it wants to. Above all it’s just boring. M. S. Dhoni: The Untold Story neither entertains nor enlightens.

Rating : 2/5 (2 out of 5 Stars)

Raaz 4 or Raaz Reboot as it is horrendously called, is by far the weakest film of the franchise and it’s not difficult to imagine why. The name of a film is by which the audience connects with it, to start with. When you call a film Raaz Reboot, it just goes on to show how less you actually care for it. The rest of the film is just an assemblage of every tried and tested motif, character and formula that the Raaz franchise had to offer over the year. The fc*k ugly CGI crow from the first Raaz film makes a comeback. It was at this sequence, for the first time, in a horror film in my life that I burst into a laughter. The smile came back again when the pretty heroine of the film, Kriti Kharbanda twisted and elevated her hip and turned her face square as a sign of being possessed.

The story revolves around a married couple who arrive in Romania on an official assignment. The husband Gaurav Arora starts acting strange once they reach Romania. The wife, Kriti Kharbanda tries to reach out to him but he shuns her out. Kriti soon starts getting psyched about the terrorizing manifestations that lurk around every corner of the that house they are staying in. Gaurav is oblivious to her repeated complaints. Kriti’s ex-flame, Emraan, comes back to her life at this juncture and tells her that he can help her deal with the manifestations in her home. He also tells her that her husband is hiding a secret from her. Gaurav leaves on a two-day trip and by the time he comes back, Kriti is totally possessed by an unholy spirit. Now he has to find a way to save her life, free her of the evil and also rekindle their long lost love.

The director tries to play with the timeline to keep the story interesting and also to lead the audience away on a wild goose chase while the real plot is cooking someplace else. If the film had stuck to a straightforward narrative, it would have been an even bigger debacle. The back and forth in the timeline helps keep some interest in the narrative. The only other plus of the film is Gaurav Arora’s act. The man tries to play his character with gusto and is somewhat believable in his act. His performance adds some credence to a faltering film. The music too is bearable.

Coming to the negatives, the film is not at all scary. It’s made so poorly and the tricks and scares are so redundant that at many junctures it turns out funny. The worst thing that can happen to a horror film is that it can tickle your funny bones. You connect with none of the characters and never for once feel a thing for their tragedy. That takes away the tension and also totally liquidates the drama. Once that is out of the way, the film only appears as a shallow assemblage of set pieces. The set pieces too are boring and have been done before so many times that they leave absolutely nothing for you to take notice of. Emraan Hashmi’s character is as irritating as he is a douchebag. From the very first time that he makes an appearance you know that he is up to something and being the noble helper of girls that he is, you want him to get pummeled. But that takes almost the complete runtime of the film.

Kriti Kharbanda is cute. I will give her that but that’s all about her. She is unable to extract any emotions from her audiences and her fear and acts of insanity feel totally out of place. For that, I will blame the director more than her but as an actor, she never does anything to help the matter. She is just a show piece and she remains that way all the way through. Interestingly enough, this is the first Raaz film that gets boring somewhere in between. I never found any of the previous Raaz films to be boring but this one took me by surprise when I found myself checking my watch atleast a few times throughout the screening. Every previous Raaz film had a thrilling or at least interesting story to tell that unfolded in the midst of the horror. After the screening of this one, the audiences are bound to ask themselves, “That’s it? That’s what it was all about?” Frankly speaking, I felt cheated after the “Raaz” was revealed.

I saw Raaz Reboot two days ago and I was just unable to get myself to write this review as I felt bored even to write about this terrible film. Then I thought that between me writing this review and the people who read my reviews before watching a film, many an innocent soul would fall prey to this monstrosity unless I kept my willingness aside and did something for the people who read my reviews. So here is my review for this film. Guy, if you are to take my words, please don’t watch this film. It will save some valuable time and money of your life. Watch Pink twice instead.

Rating : 1/5 (1 out of 5 Stars)

There are two distinct ways to deal with a striking cultural issue, political or social issue in Bollywood. If we are talking about courtroom dramas then you can either go “Jolly LLB” or “OMG” about it or you can go “Pink”. The latest offering from the man who brought us films like Antaheen and Buno Haansh is a striking portrayal of a stark reality that for very long has only found a voice in the social media alone. It’s a sad truth but Delhi is still the Rape Capital of this country and that is only because women here cared to report. If places, where they are subjugated and not even given a chance to report the torture, was to be unearthed maybe it would have been some other state too. Pink is an important film of our times and it is so because of a plethora of reasons.

Meenal (Taapsee Pannu), Falak (Kirti Kulhari) and Andrea (Andrea Tariang) are three women living together in Delhi. As the film begins we see them reach home with spots of blood and anxious looks. The visuals intercut with two boys carrying a friend to the hospital who has been brutally hit on the head with a bottle. We gradually learn that this boy was hit by Meenal after he tried to force himself on her. As the story gradually proceeds, the boys start tormenting the girls. They try to get them thrown out of their house, they molest Meenal after picking her up from a park and also follow Andrea. The girls fight back in their own ways and decide to book a complaint with the police but before they can do that, the boys put charges of assault and attempted murder on Meenal and get her arrested. A court case ensues in which the girls are represented by Deepak Sehgal (Amitabh Bachchan), a bipolar lawyer who was a star in his prime and knows the three girls as they live in his vicinity.

Pink is a tense affair from start to finish. The moment the story starts there is a feeling of uneasiness in the narrative. The girls hold strong for a while but you always know at the back of your mind that they are vulnerable. The assault on Meenal towards the end of the first half is like a blow to the solar plexus. The reason why this sequence is so affecting is because, from the outset, Meenal is shown as a self-sure and strong individual. Seeing her beg to be released really makes you uneasy. What follows after that is even more shocking. Post interval, the film becomes a courtroom drama and an extremely engaging one at that. The case builds up through the time and the passage of time is shown through the motifs and the changes in the men and women involved in the case.

The film maintains a very stark and realistic feel in the visuals and there is no unnecessary fluff or oomph factor in the way the story is presented. That is incidentally the best way to present an issue like this. However, what really mattered here were the performances and each and every one of them is sensational. Amitabh Bachchan as the aging lawyer breathes fire. His every dialog commands authority and even his silent gazes convey meaning and depth. He is someone in the film who has given up practice and that shows in his initial moments in the case but as he gets into the groove, his performance brings out the essence of the matter and through his expressions you can actually feel his angst and disagreement with the thought process of a big chunk of people.

Taapsee Pannu has been doing quality work of late but Pink will go down as one her toughest challenges. The manner in which Meenal acts when one of the boys threatens her, the way she fumbles when asked intimate questions and her break down feels Oh! So real. There were moments when one could actually feel her pain. The way in which she speaks her mind in the court is brilliantly done too. Kirti Kulhari’s Falak is the sanity of the three. She is calm and composed and yet displays an organic range of emotions. The most heartbreaking scene of hers is when she admits having taken money from the boys for sex. This is a pivotal scene of the film. Andrea Tariang plays a girl from the northeast and in her essay is able to flawlessly showcase a simple and sweet girl who is unjustly judged plainly on the basis of the place that she comes from. She even says that during her deposition. The bad guys are brilliant too. Vijay Verma is the pick of the lot. He is perfectly hateable. My only regret is that the film doesn’t have him getting bashed up after what he does to Meenal. Mamta Malik plays a Haryanvi cop with élan. Her final cross examination by Amitabh Bachchan is quirky to watch. Piyush Mishra is superb as he always is.

Pink points a finger at two important predicaments. First is the social judgment of Women based on their lifestyle choices and the second being the use of power and reach to bypass a system that is only too willing to be bypassed. The film thunderously roars in favor of famous and now repetitive statements like “don’t judge me by my skirt’s length” or “I may be promiscuous but that doesn’t mean its ok to rape me”. Having said that, the film is still not without its flaws. The third act specially starts crumbling logically towards the end, and the climax is pure wish fulfillment ignoring the rather somber and almost realistic approach that the film takes for the rest of its runtime. However, every time it hits a roadblock, the performances rescue it. Pink is film that should be watched and hailed. It is easily one the better and realistic courtroom dramas to have come out of Bollywood (ignoring the finale). It has brilliant performances and has an important message to share. It is tense and well envisioned. What’s more! It’s highly entertaining. What more can we ask for?

Rating : 4/5 (4 out of 5 Stars)

Akira is A.R Murugadoss’ latest offering and stars Sonakshi Sinha as the titular character. The film happens to be a remake of a Tamil film which I haven’t seen and would not be able to comment on. Akira was marketed as a kickass action film which has Sonakshi throwing more punches than Bruce Willis did in the Die Hard films. Thankfully that’s not true and that is exactly why I liked this film. It is safe to say that the trailer is a sum total of all the action sequences of the film and hardly gives you an insight into what the film is really about. Let’s dwell deeper into the pros and cons of this film and as we do it let us also try to find out why this film isn’t as much of a wish fulfillment as it should have been.

Akira as a young girl witnesses an acid attack on a beautiful girl that turns her grotesquely disfigured. She is the only witness to the incident and when she identifies the culprits, she faces their ire. He father decides to train her in martial arts and make her self-sufficient to at least protect herself. Akira takes to martial arts as if her life depended on it and within minutes becomes so powerful that she beats up the guys who wronged that girl and also smears acid on one of their faces. She faces a 3-year long case to prove her innocence and has to spend the duration in children remand home.

This portion of the film, though appealing and relevant is probably the weakest. The reason for it is the half-hearted physicality that the child artist playing Akira’s younger self-brings to it. She doesn’t look the part. It never for a second feels that she can beat up those guys so comfortably and the manner in which she moves makes it look very amateurish. She is good in her expressions and but not so much in the action sequences. The fact that her father, played by Atul Kulkarni, coolly watches as she takes up such risks is another dampener. The man shows no tension which really renders the whole scene unbelievable. The cinematography doesn’t help either. When the guy has acid smeared on his face, Akira’s hand is in the line of the spill. Yet somehow she doesn’t get a drop of acid on her hands while the boy is burnt.

Akira grows up to be Sonakshi Sinha who has forcefully calmed herself down. She is studying in a college and lives with her mom. Her brother who had married and left with his wife for Mumbai comes back to take back her mother and Akira to Mumbai. She unwillingly agrees to her brother’s plea and arrives at Mumbai. Studying in the Holycross College she immediately starts getting heat from her seniors who don’t actually appreciate her free-spirited attitude. In the meanwhile, a corrupt police officer played by Anurag Kashyap lands his hands on a huge sum of money lying in the trunk of a car that met with an accident in his presence. He kills the survivor of the accident and takes the money dividing it among his three other compatriots. However, he makes a mistake talking about it on the phone in his keep’s house who films the whole thing in her camera.

The camera is then stolen from her by a student of the Holycross College who then starts blackmailing the cop. On a fateful night, when there is no one else in the hostel, Akira comes back to find a bag full of stolen items from the hostel girls in her room along with the Handycam  which  has the tape of the cop. Before she can react, two cops arrive and arrest her. On the orders of Kashyap’s character, they take her along with two others to kill her off. When they are about to pull the trigger, they realize that they had picked up the wrong girl. Situations swivels in such ways that they are forced to put Akira in a mental institution sighting the fact that she was insane. No one believes her and she is left to find a way out of the mess on her own. She has helped only from another fellow inmate.

The second act of the film is the buildup. It’s thrilling and as the story progressed I couldn’t actually see which way it was headed. I couldn’t predict how they would put the character of Akira in the midst of the mayhem. In the end how they did it was superb and totally believable. Anurag Kashyap is not only a great director but a stupendous actor. Here he single-handedly pulls the sequences that he is in with such style and swagger that you are hooked to his essay. His character is believable and hateable and I cannot praise enough of it.  One aspect of the character that went really well was the confusion and idiocrasy that it had associated with it. He may be a cop but he was vulnerable and made mistakes. He tried to cover his mistakes with acts that resulted in another mistake. His team members soon grew tired of him and that resulted in some more interesting drama. Konkana Sen Sharma plays the cop who is investigating the murder of Kashyap’s keep who he had killed in a fit of rage. As she gets closer and closer to the real culprit, Kashyap, and his men become more and more vulnerable. It’s thrilling to watch how the story progresses.

However, all the wonderful buildup in the second act really fizzles out to a large extent in the third act. I was really looking forwards to Akira going all Yakuza on the cops but what we get instead is a petered out and somewhat censor board instructed redemption which really doesn’t satisfy out appetite. The action is limited, the cops remain on top for most of the while and a knife in the butt is hardly punishment enough for all that they did. Konkana Sen Sharma’s character also proves to be strangely meek in the last act and I terribly missed some serious fireworks especially on the cops. Having said that, the escape from the Mental Institution is filmed with finesse. It’s very stylized with a great background score that would give you goosebumps.

Akira is by far, Sonakshi Sinha’s best film till date after Lootera. She can really act and the problem is she is constantly given below par roles. This here is a character that had a lot of meat and purpose and she does exceedingly well to bring it to life. She also has the kind of physicality that is required to render a part like this believable.  She looks crisp in the action sequences and does exceedingly well in the dramatic moments. It’s her and Anurag Kashyap’s performances that catapult the film to a much higher level. Technically speaking the cinematography, editing and background score are in keeping with the mood and feel of the narrative. The stunt choreography and editing deserve special kudos. I only wish there was more of it. Overall, Akira is a thrilling watch in parts. Some minor tweaks in the first act and a more “all-guns-blazing” finale would have made this film great. Still, Akira is a very worthy watch.

Rating: 3.5/5 (3.5 out of 5 Stars)

In the 2006 film Click, a workaholic architect played by Adam Sandler finds a universal remote that allows him to fast-forward and rewind to different parts of his life. Complications arise when the remote starts to overrule his choices based on the decisions he made in the past. This was an intelligently scripted and fun film with the trademark Adam Sandler humor. Baar Baar Dekho has an uncanny resemblance to Click with Sidharth Malhotra playing a Mathematics Professor instead of an architect and Katrina Kaif playing an art-person with the screenplay going exactly the same way as Click. There is, however, no remote here and it’s just the “dhaga” (thread) that the panditji tied which does all that happens to Sidharth. Panditji has his own reasons for doing what he did as Sidharth questions the sense of all the holy rituals and that surely pisses him off as that’s his bread and butter right?

Sidharth downs a bottle of champagne after having a serious fight with Katrina over marital woes and how he doesn’t want to get married even though he was complying up till that point with her. Kat is distraught and leaves him saying that she will never come back again. Sidharth downs the champagne and dozes off. When he wakes up he finds himself already married to Kat and enjoying a honeymoon in Thailand. He sleeps that night and wakes up again the next day to find that 2 years have passed and he is now a father to be. The next jump is even longer and this time, he flashes forward 10 years in life. Then he meets the Panditji again who sort of explains the predicament. Sidharth understands but we the audience don’t. Then he travels back in time. Then again he moves forward. Then again he revisits time to fix everything. Blah! Blah! Blah!

That is what the problem is with this film. It is not coherent. The story was unbelievable to start with but that doesn’t mean that the makers wouldn’t even try to make it believable. While Click maintained coherence and had the remote to lay back to for everything, Baar Baar Dekho has no explanations for the time jumps apart from the “dhaga” which frankly speaking doesn’t serve the purpose. A lot is attributed to the divine, who seems to be teaching Sidharth the importance of relationship and how it’s not always about you but balance. The portions of the timeline where Sidharth arrives feels randomly chosen and why only those parts you ask yourself? If that was not enough, the revisiting of the timelines is plain inexplicable and stupid. That’s where the film lost me completely. They could have easily followed a chronological order of the events, had something in the narrative that would explain the time travel but they don’t do that here. The result is a narrative that is exhausting, confused and tries to do too many things but ends up unconvincing and confusing.

Sidharth plays the protagonist sincerely. He looks the part and tries hard to keep the emotional scenes from crumbling. The good news is for a large portion, he is able to just that. But the problem with the character is that it’s too close to what he played in Hasee Toh Phasee. There are multiple scenes where memories of that film are revisited even though it’s a different character with different motives. It still strange feels right up the same alley. The makeup towards the end when he has to play an old man ruins the show further. It’s uproariously funny. Katrina Kaif plays what she plays every time, Katrina Kaif! This time, they give her an English mother to justify her accent. It has to be agreed that dubbing for her own voice helps her cause as her character feel a tad bit better in her own voice. She comes out okay in the initial emotional scenes but as the film progress, her character gets more and more annoying. The annoyance level is the highest in the scenes where she is shown pregnant.  The terrible makeup towards the end makes her as laughable as Sidharth.

On the brighter side, the film is well shot and has some terrific locales to please your eyes. The music is good and interestingly the songs though forced don’t seem that much of a torture. I loved the “Nach De Ne Saare” track which was both well-timed and well scored. The film could have done better in the editing department. It goes beyond saying that it is probably 20 minutes too long. It could have been edited tighter with a shorter runtime to make it more tolerable. Some of the supporting acts are good too. Ram Kapoor as the father-in-law having an uncanny resemblance to Vijay Mallya is funny in many scenes. Rajit Kapur in a special appearance as the panditji is good.

If you choose not to watch Baar Baar Dekho this week, you will not miss anything. However, if you really want to see it, I would advise you to watch Click instead which is much more coherent, funny and effective. Interestingly Click gets the marital issues dealt with much better than Baar Baar Dekho. That’s a sham if you ask me considering the fact that we Indians have a lot more meat as compared to our western counterparts in terms of marriage and its importance in our life and society.

Rating : 2/5 (2 out of 5 Stars)

I have a colleague in my office who is known for his poor jokes (PJs). It all started with very few actually understanding them and many ridiculing the sheer insanity of the jokes. But with time we came to adore his PJs and as of now they make us laugh almost every day. Freaky Ali is like those PJs that we have come to love. It’s insane, it’s over the top and it is stupid but there is something in its core that will definitely make you laugh. The performances by almost the entire cast are so endearing that the loopholes in the narrative, of which there are innumerable, are somewhat covered up. What is left is two hours of quirky family entertainment that is an absolutely harmless watch.

The story revolves around a lad Ali (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) who is down on his luck. He needs money to survive and his friend Maksud (Arbaaz Khan) takes him under his wings and down to the underworld to earn a decent living. However, a chance encounter with a golf coach turns his life around. Ali realizes that he has the potential to be a pro-golfer and goes all out to achieve this goal. Standing in his way is Vikram Rathore (Jas Arora), a five times national champion who looks down on him terribly and has a unique animosity with him. However, he has the support of Megha (Amy Jackson) who falls for his simplicity and quirky charms.

As you read this premise you must be thinking of the thousands of other such similar films that you might have seen over the years. We like to call them underdog stories here in Bollywood. You would be right in judging it to be one but what you will not be able to judge from this premise or the trailer is the amount of fun that this film exudes through its many set pieces. Just imagine a girl asking you “are you sick?” after you have passed a lewd comment on her and you reply, “no I am Muslim”. That’s the level of jokes in this film and frankly speaking, it’s not going to appeal to one and all. You have the choice of deciding whether it is your type or not? If it is, then you will have a rip roaring time with this film. If not then you will probably not last an hour.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui is great as always. People say that he is getting typecast. Maybe he is. But as long as he freaky-ali-1is giving such terrific performances in roles that may be similar, I am not going to complain. His comic timing is impeccable. There was a line where Arbaaz Khan’s character tells a person referring to his age that “you were a boy when Amir Khan wore his trousers up on his chest” (a direct reference to the dressing sense of the 90s). I found this line hilarious and the manner in which it is delivered is, even more fun. The film is peppered with numerous such references that will find takers only among the Indian masses. Nawaz shares a great chemistry with Arbaaz Khan who is actually good in this film. The role suits him wonderfully and he does well to render the character believable and likable. Amy Jackson is the only sore thumb. Firstly she has nothing to do and secondly she is done in by some terrible voiceover which feels utterly fake and almost pasted on the visuals. Jas Arora is an able baddy and does what he needs to do. Seema Biswas is overtly melodramatic and unnecessarily loud. I never liked her in any other film except “Bandit Queen” and I still don’t like her.

On the flip side, apart from being stupid, done to death and extremely predictable and corny, the film also has absolutely no surprises coming your way. The subject matter is approached in the most generic way possible and with absolutely no swagger whatsoever. It is only rescued by the gags and the performances of Nawaz and Arbaaz. The music is a stickler as always and pops up at many junctures bringing the screenplay to a screeching halt. This was a film which should have been ideally ninety minutes long. That way the proceedings would have been tighter and much lighter on the senses. That is not the case.  Overall, Freaky Ali is an entertaining one-time watch for those who enjoy the kind humor I have discussed above. Get into it knowing what this film is and chances are, you might just come out entertained.

Rating : 3/5 (3 out of 5 Stars)

Alfred Hitchcock is known as the master of suspense. But to me, he is more than that. His films exude the kind of charm that we seldom enjoy these days in thrillers. There are practically very few thrillers that would merit a second view after we know the plot. Contrary to this current scenario, Hitchcock made thrillers like “Dial M For Murder” that I have seen at least a dozen times knowing every dialog, every sequence and where the story was headed next. What was it that brought me back to this film? It was the film’s indelible charm and the wonderfully nuanced performances. But more than anything else, it was Hitchcock’s deft direction that made a masterpiece out of films like this that in lesser hands would have ended up short of greatness. This is a film that has inspired thrillers all across the globe. Even India’s very own Abbas-Mustan made it into the crappy Humraaz. However, even with such bad rip-offs and the sands of time, Dial M For Murder hasn’t lost its charm one bit.

Tony Wendice (Ray Milland) was an ace tennis player who lets go of his passion to be a better husband to hisdial-m-for-murder-3 wife Margot (Grace Kelly) after, he comes to know of an affair that she is having with a writer Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings). He knows that a broken relationship will result in him losing the fortunes that his wife has and would incapacitate his rather luxurious life style. But he still harbors hatred for her and starts planning to murder her. He soon meets an old friend Legate from his college days who has secrets of his own. Tony successfully lures and blackmails him into murdering his wife. He plans the episode meticulously and Lesgate almost succeeds but as luck would have it, Margot overpowers and kills him trying to save her own self. When Tony comes to know of this, he intelligently restructures his plan to fit the current scenario and have his wife hanged for premeditated murder of Lesgate. He almost gets through with it.

If you look at this film closely, it’s just a few men talking among themselves. There isn’t much of action. There isn’t that much of drama either. The film mostly unfolds inside a few rooms. Whatever little shots of the outside world are there look shockingly fake and manufactured. But the manner in which the screenplay is written, the dialogs among the men and the acting of the entire cast, is just spellbinding. You as the viewer know from the very beginning who the guilty party is and yet somehow the film maintains an incredible control on your interest and senses. I found myself cheering for Tony, for a rather large portion of the film. Even though he is doing something wrong but his wife was wrong too in having an affair and he somehow extracts my sympathy and support for himself. That has a lot to do with the way Milland portrays the character.

He is so very likeable that I can almost guarantee that anyone and everyone who will see this film will be forced to like his character even if it is for the initial parts. The strongest scenes that he has are the ones he shares with the character of Lesgate, earlier on and then towards the end with Halliday when Halliday interestingly asks him to take the fall for Margot (who is about to be hanged) telling the police exactly the same story that was actually the case. Halliday’s character assumes significance towards the end even though initially he has little to do. Anthony Dawson plays Lesgate with conviction. The manner in which he engages in a give and take with Milland is wonderful to watch. It sets up the mood for the rest of the film. The only complain that I have from his character is the manner in which he dies. Even though that was not his call but of the director, but the way he falls and gets up again and then falls again is just too dramatic for the situation. His body movements where somewhat funny.  Grace Kelly is beautiful and she plays the wife torn between a fast changing husband and a flame perfectly. She not only looks the part but extracts emotions for her character which really works well for the film. John Williams plays the investigating inspector and his essay though limited is absolutely charming.

While researching for this review, I found something interesting about this film. Even though it’s hard to believe but Dial M For Murder was made by Hitchcock keeping in mind the 3D format in which the film was supposed to be shown. It was a format which was a craze at that time and Hitch thought why not to use the same in a setting that was not actually a calling for a third dimension. But as you watch the film closely, you find that the film was shot keeping in mind the format. Special mention can be made of the scene where Margot is struggling with Legate to save herself and she outstretches her hand, the scene where Hubbard reveals the key and we get a close-up of it and many more. I immediately searched for the 3D version of the film online. I couldn’t find any but there were some scenes in 3D on YouTube. After watching these scenes I can safely say that what the 3D does for this film is create some interesting visual chemistry between the characters and how they are shot considering the fact that the film unfolds primarily in one room. In doing so the screenplay and the 3rd dimension lets the audience be a part of the search and mystery behaving like an invisible man hidden in the very same room behind tables, chairs, vases etc. and getting a first person perspective on the things happening in the room. The distances between the objects and the characters extracts this illusion perfectly and helps you immerse better in the proceedings.

The film uses very little music and fanfare and that in many ways effects the film positively. The audience’s attention is dawn only to the performances and the structure of the screenplay rather than music and frills. The cinematography is top notch. Even though the film plays out in a single room, the camera angles, the art design and the manner in which the scenes play out keep things interesting. Not to mention the emphasis of the visuals on the performances. There are just about enough close-ups and mid-range shots to put you in the best possible place to see and judge the feelings of the players. Dial M For Murder is one of the best films of Hitchcock. It is also one of the most endlessly re-watchable films of the man. I have seen it before and I will be watching it many times more. Even though it is adapted directly from a play, it is candidly cinematic in its representation of the subject matter. The 3D would, in fact, give you a very similar feeling to watching a play thanks to the depth of field and the distances between the objects that the format conveys so very well.  If you are a lover of the genre and Hitchcock’s work, this is a must watch. Even if you are not, it’s still a very desirable watch.

Rating : 4/5 (4 out of 5 Stars)

Nicholas Winding Refn has this unique ability to make films that you may love or hate, but you simply cannot ignore. I still haven’t been able to sit through “Only God Forgives”, but I keep hearing and reading about it even today, years after its release. The Neon Demon is his latest offering and it is easily one of the most polarizing and thought provoking films of the year. There are many who are finding its crazy third act too much to fathom while there are also those who are going all ga ga about it. I fall somewhere in the middle of those two categories as I neither hated nor actually drooled over the choices that Refn makes towards the end. In this review I would dwell deep into the film with lots of spoilers. So for all those who haven’t seen it before, I urge you all to watch the film first and then come back to this review.

The story stars with our protagonist Jesse (Elle Fanning) undertaking a photo-shoot. The film lingers long enough on the shoot to give us a The Neon Demonproper look at the art. Jesse is covered in blood and lying still on a chair with the photographer Dean (Karl Glusman), who also happens to be an associate of her, that we come to know later, taking her picture. He seems to be a creepy guy by the way he looks at her. After the photo-shoot, we are introduced to Ruby (Jena Malone), who happens to be a makeup artist. She is overly sweet to Jesse and the two immediately strike off a friendship. Ruby introduces Jesse to two more top models. While one of them loves the way she looks and compliments her, the other looks at her with some contempt. Jesse doesn’t help the matter by passing some displeasing remarks on one of them. The four then immerse themselves in a show which is highly cerebral in nature.

Following the night-out, Jesse meets the head of a top modeling agency, who is smitten by her beauty right away. Jesse confesses to being sixteen years old to which the head tells her to always tell others that she was nineteen years old and not an year older. Jesse is quickly called for a test photo-shoot with a top of the line photographer. On the day of the shoot, Jesse has to strip down completely as the creepy photographer shoots her in gold. As she completes the photo-shoot and comes out, Jesse meets Ruby who asks her to be careful of the men in the industry and asks her to give her a call whenever she needs. Jesse tastes unprecedented success. She is soon selected by one of the top designers to be the show stopper for his collection. This doesn’t go well with Sarah (Abbey Lee), one of the two models she met in the show earlier. In the washroom, after the selections, Sarah assaults Jesse. She somehow escapes and finds solace in the company of Dean at her own house.

Even at her own home she is somehow harassed by Hank (Keanu Reeves), the owner of the house that she rents. In a bizarre episode, Jesse finds a leopard in her room one night when she returns from her date with Dean. Hank goes to the extent of making her boyfriend Dean pay for the damages caused by the leopard, which he believes could enter the room only because, Jesse kept the door open. However on the professional front, Jesse excels. She soon meets Gigi (Bella Heathcote), the second of the two models she met earlier at the show with Ruby. Gigi is a pro and has been in the industry for a very long time. Jesse, however, in a last moment change by the designer, gets to be the show stopper. This hurts Gigi badly.

Post the show, Jesse’s attitude changes completely. She shuns Dean out of her life and gets obsessed with herself. She overhears what she believes to be a savage episode involving Hank and another tenant of his. She calls up Ruby and asks to spend the night with her. Ruby obliges. While in her house, Ruby makes sexual advances on her which she refuses. Ruby, as we already know is a makeup artist who also helps transitioning the dead in their final passage. She is also into necrophilia as we see in a brief but shattering sequence. Jesse, by now has completely become obsessed about herself. There is a sequence which inter-cuts between Ruby having a sexual innuendo with a corpse and Jesse touching herself which shows us the two sides of the same coin. While Jesse is completely immersed in herself which happens to be her obsession, Ruby has sex with a corpse which is her obsession.

Following that sequence, the two meet by the empty swimming pool for a while where Jesse boasts a final time about her natural beauty. She is all dressed up. Following this sequence, she is attacked by Ruby, Gigi and Sarah and the three end up eating her. They then take a bath cleansing her blood that was on them. This sequence resembles a coven of witches doing their will on a moonlight night. They go about their daily routines the next day. While Gigi and Sarah join the same hotshot photographer, who made Jesse’s first professional portfolio, for a new and coveted assignment, now that Jesse was out of the way, Ruby unleashes her woman hood under a moonlit sky. Gigi is however unable to accept what she had done to Sarah and commits suicide trying to take out Jesse from her Body but not before regurgitating a partly digested eye ball. Sarah, on the contrary is totally cool about the episode and lives on comfortably.

The film uses the color palette and editing to highlight important aspects of the characters of the film. While the first half uses neon and bluish hues a lot, the second half uses reds as a sign of the demon. It must also be noted that scenes involving the leopard and the final unleashing of the bodily fluids of Ruby are not only metaphorical expressions of the sense that the director wants to convey but also finds a real life manifestation implying the arrival of the demon in the life of Jesse in the first instance and the high that Ruby experiences eating her in the second. The men in the film are portrayed as strange and creepy and they are in-fact the only ones who are good. While Dean in the best of the lot who actually wants to save Jesse, even Hank is never shown doing any harm to Jesse apart from the dream sequence which is totally her mental manifestation. However, the women, who try to be nice and comforting to her end up eating her.

The eating up of Jesse is as much a physical act as it is a symbol of consuming her beauty. Jesse was beautiful and nothing else. She had nothing but her beauty and that in the end proved to be her biggest enemy. The matter is made worse by her vanity and a feeling of pride that she acquires as she goes ahead in the industry. The film makes it a point to nail down the fact that Jesse is nothing more than a ravishing beauty. At many junctures we find her sense of humor and even her sense of talking what’s right, to be very dumb. She hasn’t completed high school and shuns her only friend and the one who did her first portfolio in a matter of seconds. Thus it is proved that she is not only dumb but very selfish as well. It also shows us that the world has tendency of taking away the most intimate of your possessions, characterized here by physical beauty. It’s interesting to see Jesse dump Dean in a moment when he was in a verbal duel with someone to highlight that Jesse has inert goodness which attracted him more than her external beauty.

The Neon demon is one twisted film that you need to see multiple times to actually grasp the thoughts that went into making this film. It’s really tough to get it in the first go but on multiple views, things start getting clearer. On the question whether or not it is good, the answer is not simple. This is a film that will be hated by the people who are in for the simpler fair. On the contrary it will be loved by those who live and breathe by art-films. It is open to varied interpretations and outlooks, which makes it a film that has a lot of re-see value. The material on display is not exactly entertaining or for family audiences, which will take away a lot of viewers. This here is a film which will cater to a niche audience and my rating is in keeping with that niche audience. If this is not the kind of film you like, then just don’t get into it. However if you do, chances are you might just adopt an acquired taste.

Rating : 3.5/5 (3.5 out of 5 Stars)

Don’t Breathe is the kind of nightmare that you wake up crying for your mama. It is a wildly scary and edge-of-the-seat thriller that works on varied levels. The film is relentless from start to finish and even after it reaches a point where you think that all is done, it just keeps coming at you from different angles. I heard great things about this film from one and all who had seen this film. So naturally, my expectations of the film were high. That’s not always a good thing as it might sometimes make the film lesser as your expectations soars. That was not the case here as the film literally blew me away.

A group of small-time thieves Rocky, Alex and Money get into the house of a blind Iraq-war veteran getting a tip that he might be having a stash of cash that he received as compensation. Little do they know that the man is a fearsome killer who would stop at nothing to protect something else that he has hidden which is not exactly the cash that the team came after. One of the team members gets killed straight away and as soon as the man realizes that there are two more in his house, the remaining two have to fight for their lives as the man and his equally dangerous dog comes all guns blazing against the remaining two.

The film unfolds in a claustrophobic setting and yet somehow there are enough surprises round the corner to catch you off guard. It gives you a kind of feeling of getting a massive open world scenario inside the bounds of a house. The sound designing and the lighting is perfect which really make you feel that you are inside the house of a blind man. The director does well to keep the proceedings utterly believable. There is a few lapse of composure here and there but that can be pardoned as the film is so very relentless. The action too is kept highly organic and believable.

Stephen Lang plays the blind man with gusto. He is brilliant and scary at the same place. His mannerisms are in strong keeping with the character and the physicality that he brings to the role is overwhelming. I didn’t know whether to root for him or hate him. At least for the first hour or so, I was rooting for him as he was the man who was being wronged but after the interval, there comes an expose which proves that he is a monster of a different class. Post that expose the film trades a path that many didn’t like but I felt that it ended as best as it could have.

Jane Levy, the girl from the most recent Evil Dead film does great. She has her own reasons for getting into the robbery and time and again her need makes her take steps that put her in deeper and deeper danger. Her acting is spot on here. I just loved the way she deals with the terror that her character faces as she witnesses her boyfriend being shot in the face and is unable to make even a sound. As the story progresses she is subjected to some more terrifying situations and you can feel her fear and anger through Levy’s essay. The climax, however, takes the cake. The final showdown with the dog and the blind man will make you curl into a ball. Dylan Minnette has a longer role here and he doesn’t disappoint. He feels the part that he essays and playing the friend zoned dude who sacrifices it all for the girl he loves will find takers among many.

Don’t Breathe has its share of jump scares. They are not the cheap kind but are apt and work perfectly well in the situations where they are extracted. I loved the first sequence when the group realizes the power of the man they are up against. The sequence in the basement and the ones involving the dog are utterly fearsome. I keep mentioning the dog because, for a long time, I haven’t been frightened by one in the manner in which this one did. You must watch this film to understand what I mean exactly. Once you have done so, I believe you will agree with me. Another huge plus for the film is its eerie setting and the dramatic spates of violence that pop up every now and then.

Overall, Don’t Breathe is a superb thriller that works well in every department. Its antagonist, if you may call the blind man so, turns it into an almost horror film. If you don’t have the stomach for films involving bloodshed, jump scares, gross violations and fearsome figures, steer clear of this one. For all those who enjoy this kind of fares, this is one of the most rollicking films of the year.

Rating : 4.5/5 (4.5 out of 5 Stars)

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