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Anya Kong
12 November 2015 @ 04:37 pm

Prem Ratan Dhan PayoLong live comfort zone.

Few minutes into Sooraj R Barjatya’s Prem Ratan Dhan Payo and it’s obvious where this out-dated melodrama set amidst farfetched royalty is heading.

Barjatya, the soft-spoken, immensely likeable filmmaker, isn’t looking to jab a pin in his reality-proof bubble inhabited by noble, gracious folk and its most popular citizen Prem, played by Salman Khan.

It’s not merely a name but a title exclusively held by the superstar, wherein he ceases to be the shirt-ripping Bhai and transforms into an epitome of sanskar and virtue whose gleaming eyes alone, among many other myths, are sufficient proof of his unquestionable integrity and loyalty.

Except he achieved this feat, not too long ago, more memorably than ever in and as Bajrangi Bhaijaan. Salman’s latest avatar as Prem falls pale in comparison.

But he’s not the one at fault. If anything, Salman is the dazzling star and entertainer of this archaic, tedious script that should’ve never left the ‘defunct Bollywood formulas’ file –think The Prince and the Pauper meets Kasme Vaade or Jhootha Sach where brain injuries show on the back, people change into forty costumes in four days and childhood accidents are replayed as adults too.

Be it as the sprightly nautanki star or a solemn Prince or somewhere in between after Salman goes through his My Fair Lady transition and scoffs at aristocracy with characteristic charm and spunk — its moments like these, when Prem acquires a mocking tone towards everything, including this underdeveloped drama that it truly takes off.

Mostly though PRDP is saddled with Barjatya’s penchant for throwing in one song after another. Even if resplendent to look at, there are just too many of them and barring the title track, not particularly catchy either. Speaking of music, think I caught a hint of the Game of Thrones theme performed by a wedding band in the background. Cannot imagine the genteel Barjatya is a fan of the famously violent TV series.

Back to Prem, if Salman’s presence is a boon for the movie, his enormous charisma, which receives a lion’s share of the screen space, leaves precious little for his co-stars to do. While Sonam Kapoor is luminous in Anamika Khanna’s dreamy creations, looks appropriately besotted by her hero and shows noticeable restraint in her dialogue delivery, her Maithali is so blandly written, it makes Bhagyashree’s Suman look like a vixen.

As Salman’s respective bhai and bahen, Neil Nitin Mukesh and Swara Bhaskar are limited to tearful scowls and tearful smiles whereas a smug Arman Kohli reprises his snake-man performance from Jaani Dushman: Ek Anokhi Kahani sans the costume.

Like all Barjatya movies, PRDP sticks to its beliefs on sibling affection, family values and coy courtship and takes a lengthy (nearly three hours running time) route to assert so. Yet it’s not the predictability but the lop-sided sentimentality of his narrative that hurts PRDP’s intentions the most.

Prem Ratan Dhan PayoWithout ever establishing the bonhomie, it jumps to demonstrate the bitterness and reconciliation between bickering brethren depriving the viewer of any emotional connect whatsoever.

Plainly put, phony tears. Quite a let down, given Barjatya’s greatest strength is the warmth his characters exude. Instead they’re pursuing prudish objectives, speaking clunky, soap star lines like “suhag ki raksha” and facilitating clumsy albeit blatant product placement of brands like Haldiram and Croma.

Grandeur has its limitations too. It can render photographic freshness but it’s no substitute for charm or frolic. A lot of visible effort has gone in designing Prem Ratan Dhan Payo’s opulence and scale but ultimately it’s just lacklustre, recycled fare from a man stuck on men versus women sporting contests, midnight kitchen rendezvous and the pristine aura of Prem.

The last one still holds good. Rest is just rah-rah.

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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Anya Kong
22 October 2015 @ 03:05 pm

ShaandaarWhere cheer is indispensable and cynicism is undesirable — the world is viewed through rose-coloured glasses in Vikas Bahl’s Shaandaar.

How else does a story about a dysfunctional family involving a domineering matriarch, her oppressed descendants, an adopted insomniac and a plump heiress all set to marry a gun-totting tycoon’s narcissistic brother as part of a mutually beneficial business deal spring into a visually sumptuous, deliciously whimsical fairy tale?

In most ways, Shaandaar is dramatically different from Bahl’s breakthrough directorial debut, Queen. Yet, much like the Kangana Ranaut starrer, it too encourages the quality of finding courage to move away from social pressures and follow one’s inner conviction. Also, it takes a pretty compelling stand on body shaming.

Except, there’s much fancy and enchantment in Shaandaar’s universe to trifle in intense stuff like reality and convention. If life’s moments were but an endless session of think out loud and each scene a comic book panel expressed in stickers and speech balloons where trouble is at worst a smiley wearing a frown.

It’s the kind of experience that thrives not on story but telling. Shaandaar’s charm lies in Bahl’s treatment, employing SFX and animation in abundance, which is perfectly timed and enhances ordinary seconds into attractive ones.

ShaandaarBe it the prologue about a Pixar-faced cutie and her caretaker, all those numerous plane-themed dreams doodled by a daddy for his sleepless baby or the daintily embroidered dragonflies on Alia Bhatt’s top spurting into life in her introduction scene to capture the impression she’s made on Shahid Kapoor at first sight, there are frequent such moments of wonder and drollery.

Amidst a destination wedding hosted at a majestic Yorkshire castle, the lavish program menu dishes out breakfast under a canopy of yellow wisteria, black and white ball dance, mehendi with Karan Johar and a funky, one-of-a-kind bachelor party for the bride. While we’re on the topic of revelry, loved how Bahl seamlessly introduces all the Amit Tridevi compositions into the narrative as well as their creative, kinetic choreography (Bosco-Caesar).

The purpose of this stylish shaadi (shot by Anil Mehta) is to bring Shahid’s dishy wedding planner close to Alia’s geeky sister of the bride, explore her reel dad Pankaj Kapoor’s apprehension over the same as well as expose the glaring lack of compatibility between his elder daughter (reel and real) Sanah (graceful, natural, promising) and son-in-law-to-be Vikas Verma (nails it as the misogynist moron) around a pack of daffy relatives on either side.

Because (and not despite) of these obviously gimmicky elements, there’s an eternally sunny vibe to Shaandaar, which contains the oddities of its kooky characters from going overboard. A huge credit for it goes to its winning ensemble of actors and the sprightly chemistry they generate on celluloid.

Alia and Shahid convey a brand of exuberance that’s unaffected by the ensuing grandeur, they’re both a bohemian product of melancholy concealed in madness. Alia translates it in her wardrobe too. At some point, she’s sporting a kitschy jacket sewn with utensils from a kitchen play-set.

Sushma Seth, with her glowering eyes and ruby red lips, is a scream. The ever-reliable Pankaj Kapoor finds the right balance for Shaandaar’s wit and warmth. But Sanjay Kapoor’s blingy flamboyance isn’t comic enough, even if some of the Sindhi jokes are, to shine against so much finesse.

ShaandaarAnvita Dutt’s zingy eloquence — every character speaks a tongue markedly distinct from another (OMG/FTB coexists alongside Badhiro ka samachar) – contributes to Shaandaar’s gaiety.

As one of the characters quizzes, why must we do every thing out of necessity, why can’t few things done for the fun of it, Shaandaar is simply fun, fun, fun and frothy enough to pull it off.

The review was first published on rediff.com.


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Anya Kong

JazbaaAishwarya Rai Bachchan is a grim woman on a mission. She’s back on screen portraying the pains of motherhood after a five-year hiatus to enjoy its pleasures, off it.

In Sanjay Gupta’s remake of 2007 South Korean flick, Seven Days, the star, credited as one of Jazbaa’s many producers, plays the devil’s advocate to rescue her kidnapped daughter from unidentified blackmailers.

Aiding her is scruffy school pal and suspended cop Irrfan Khan as they go about town in their gleaming transport and all-black wardrobe gathering evidence that’ll prove her client not guilty -not something any character inhabiting this story can boast of. Like Aishwarya’s legal eagle defends evil because only they can afford her hefty fee and allow her the luxury of round-cut solitaires and Gucci totes.

If only the courtroom scenes weren’t so embarrassingly executed. All she has to do is to put her best ‘pretty please’ face to ‘Your Honor’ and the man’s putty; while the not-so-privileged opposition’s (Atul Kulkarni) objections fall on deaf ears. At one point, she proudly beams, “the police is on my side” like some proud classroom monitor whose back just got patted by the schoolteacher.

I wasn’t impressed by the original, which I found alternately dull and jumbled-up in its objective and treatment. Jazbaa doesn’t retain the gore but is just as sketchy and cardboard in its characterizations.

Except a superficial attempt to root its crime around the growing percentage of rape in the country and the anger it elicits, it’s near identical to Seven Days’ screenplay. Also South Koreans don’t spew weary life philosophy like Irrfan Khan and Shabana Azmi (playing the deceased’s mother) are made to in Jazbaa.

Luckily, these two are master artists and can say a lot many lousy lines without making us cringe. Although I found Azmi a tad distracted, Khan is potent even when lurking in the background doing nothing of particular consequence.

JazbaaAishwarya is not as exaggerated as she is carried away at the prospect of conveying a mother’s anguish. This is a role she understands if not entirely identifies with. Under better direction, her enthusiasm wouldn’t get the better of her and those blood-shot eyes and shrieking frustration would find a better expression.

A mostly watchable thriller marred by its director Sanjay Gupta’s penchant for excesses — a greenish yellow filter that renders the frames more sickly than stylish unless it’s some sort of bizarre metaphor for Ash’s light eyes brimming in agony, a pounding background score that’s so commonplace it serves little purpose and terribly reckless use of slow-motion.

Technology’s purpose is to enhance the language of cinema not overwhelm or mock its character’s emotions like Gupta does. He used to be better at this, whiz kid they called him, but now he’s just a kid who’s bought all the add-on packs of a cool video app and is in a crazy rush to try out everything at once.

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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Anya Kong

Singh is BliingAs conflicting as it sounds, a lousy movie can say a lot about an actor’s capabilities. Like for how long Akshay Kumar covers up the absence of plot in Singh is Bliing on the strength of his comic charisma.

It’s not enough, ultimately. But for what its worth, the star’s frisky zeal is laudable throughout the scatter-brained script whose quirky possibilities are never realised by its formulaic filmmaker.

Except rhyming with Anees Bazmee’s Singh is Kiing and Akshay playing a Sikh character, the two have nothing in common. It’s neither a follow-up, nor a franchise. So I don’t have to tell you I rather enjoyed Singh is Kiing or make comparisons.

Directed by Prabhudeva, Singh is Bliing is for most part a series of juvenile gags and at the centre of them is a flaky, literal-minded Sardar named Raftaar Singh (Akshay Kumar).

He’s the sort of jolly symbol of loafing, Bollywood loves to portray in a ridiculously loving light. An obligatory culture song of the lungi-clad man frolicking about a picturesque village of Punjab underscores this in colourful detail.

Singh doesn’t understand a word of English but his super chic wardrobe could coin terms like village couture in fashion nomenclature. If Prabhudeva had any imagination, Akshay would head to Mumbai to become the next Manish Arora.

Except as it happens to every second filmi overgrown bum, Singh’s father (Yograj Singh) angrily urges him to find a job or marry an overweight girl of his choice. His fleeting humiliation is swallowed in mom (Rati Agnihotri)-made parathas and jalebis. Only the sight of AK and Agnihotri winking at one another every time the other is fibbing is more disturbing than droll.

Singh is BliingFollowing a bungled-up stint as zoo security in South Africa masquerading as Punjab da gaon, Singh heads to Goa for employment along with his two nondescript flunky friends. Ever seen training wheels on a kiddie bicycle –that’s them.

Meanwhile, Singh is hired by a family acquaintance, a mafia guy running a holiday resort as some sort of cover up. The latter may or may not be true but I made up a whole lot of things in my head to sit through this stinker.

Just when you are accommodating to Singh is Bliing’s hare-brained tone, it exhibits the personality of multiple ad films at once –Amy Jackson’s slo-mo horse riding introduction looks straight out of a shampoo commercial, a dapper desi gangster operating from Romania could well be selling suit fabrics. Wait a minute, isn’t that Kunal “Shashi” Kapoor? It sure is. I can’t tell how you random and (unintentionally) rib tickling his presence is.

There’s also a theatrical Kay Kay Menon wearing a uniformly loony smirk and saying his lines as though he was auditioning for Sadashiv Amrapurkar’s part in a Sadak remake.

Speaking of oddballs, Lara Dutta does her best Rajendra Nath impression as the bumbling, blundering interpreter between Akshay and Amy (looks good, moves fast, can’t act). Her somnambulism aims to draw a few cheap laughs like only a Prabhudeva film can.

Determined to go nowhere, Singh is Bliing travels to and fro between Goa, Punjab and Romania squeezing in trivial sentimentality that occupies its entire soppy, sluggish second half.

No scarcity of effort from Akshay though. He’s alternately bubbly, adorable and airheaded. And so are his comic-book antics, especially the more spontaneous strips of funny — the ones where he hastily departs in the middle of a command like a certain nutty manservant in Tinkle comics.

Mostly though, it’s high on pedestrian humour where people shriek in pain after being knocked down by a car or coconut and absconding lions send humans in a tizzy.

Singh is Bliing

It’s the kind of laughable progressive where Akshay first elicits women empowerment (a forced afterthought in too many movies lately), gleefully watches his feisty heroine batter a bunch of baddies into pulp only to be downgraded into a powerless spectator watching her hero take down more men then Sunny Deol must have tackled in Gadar: Ek Prem Katha through its over-the-top, prolonged climax.

When they announced Singh is Bliing, I was most curious about its peculiar title and kitschy poster. I don’t know why they called it that. What I do know is all that glitters is not gold.

This review was first published on rediff.com. 

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Anya Kong

Kis Kisko Pyaar KaroonIn Abbas-Mustan’s Kis Kisko Pyaar Karoon, getting married is not just a life goal but also the solution to any problem. Be it guy dumps you at the altar, guy doesn’t elope as promised or death bed-bound father sees a guy holding your hand, it all boils down to shaadi, shaadi, shaadi.

Because every single woman in this film is a jobless, gullible dodo, it happens sooner than you blink.

Making his screen debut as a man engaged in proliferating polygamy, Comedy Nights With Kapil Sharma’s eponymous host has a field day playing office; he refers to his three accidental wives (Manjari Fadnis, Simran Kaur Mundi, Sai Lokur) as Head/Branch/Area office respectively.

On his lawyer pal’s (Varun Sharma) suggestion, he puts them up in the same building on different floors and is all set to tie the knot for the fourth time to yet another hottie (Eli Avram).

What a cad, right? Kis Kisko Pyaar Karoon disagrees. It’s not the same, it insists. On previous three occasions, he was only being a Good Samaritan, this one’s out of love. Trust Bollywood to see a messiah in a philanderer. Bhagwan, aisa pati sabko de, is the most frequently heard dialogue in the movie. Oh my god, he’s even named Shiv, Ram and Kishen, you get the drift?

The Abbas-Mustan farce is in the same mental space as David Dhawan comedies, Saajan Chale Sasural and Gharwali Baharwali, except Kapil is nowhere in the same league as the sprightly Govinda or foxy Anil Kapoor. His poker-face humour and lukewarm screen presence has little impact in the absence of a laugh track.

A foolhardy premise to begin that only gets tedious with the onslaught of worn-out tropes, offensive philosophy, drab songs and escalating confusion in the form of Kapil’s cagey father-in-law to-be (Manoj Joshi), hard of hearing, gangster brother-in-law (Arbaaz Khan), surly maid and super filmi parents (Sharat Saxena, Supriya Pathak). Miraculously enough, the actors don’t adopt the hammy tone of this baloney.

Indeed, the few jokes that do work in this illogical, tardy drivel have more to do with how idiotic they are then amusing. But mostly you cringe at the sight of Kapil posing next to the full moon from a multi-storey’s terrace whilst his starry-eyed wives conduct the Karva Chauth ritual for the four-timing half’s long life. Or, who knows, potential harem?

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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