Babumoshaai Bandookbaaz hits the right target

Ever wondered how much the contract killers are paid for pressing that glorified trigger? Do they discuss appraisal and career growth among themselves? Do they have their idols and targets, apart from the target? Welcome to the world of Kushan Nandi, the director of Babumoshai Bandookbaaz, where taking lives is just another way of earning a living, double-crossing is second nature to almost everyone, and love is just another word for lust.

Set in a fictitious city, Babumoshai Bandookbaaz is a perfect jugalbandi of Nawazuddin Siddiqui and debutant Jatin Goswami, who is quite a find. After all matching scales with someone like Nawazuddin isn’t a cakewalk and this actor does a remarkable job here, making his mark on the audience and sometimes even toppling over his onscreen mentor.

 The other jugalbandi, albeit of a different kind, worth admiring here is between Nawazuddin Siddiqui and debutant Bidita Bag. The actress beautifully strikes a balance between being risqué and sensual, almost teasing the audience, but never titillating. Any other actress in her place would have made her character look vulgar but when Bidita, as the cobbler girl attacks her predators with a nail, you know she means business.

 The character of Phulwa is of a strong woman who has been raped by two henchmen of the film’s antagonist and uses Babu, the contract killer to avenge for her. Mind you, this one’s no revenge saga and this plot never takes the centre stage. Nor does the rivalry between Nawazuddin and Jatin, his protégé, and not even the antagonist Anil George and Divya Dutta.

The film centres around the character of Babumoshai Bandookbaaz, i.e. Nawazuddin. In a way, the film is from this character’s point of view and his naïve perception about the world around him. The double crossing, love, revenge, betrayal, bromance, etc. become part of his perception, but never the film’s plot. At the risk of sounding blasphemous, Babumoshai Bandookbaaz is one is one of those rare character-based films like Mrinal Sen’s Bhuvan Shome or Saeed Mirza’s ‘Saleem Langde Pe Mat Ro’, which make an impact without being a plot-based film.

Films of such genre can only be appreciated if you connect with the central character. In Babumoshai Bandookbaaz, we have varied ‘distractions’ in splendid performances by Bidita Bag, Jatin Goswami, Divya Dutta and a brilliant actor playing the role of a cop who doubles up as a henchman for Divya Dutta’s character of a local politician. Despite such distractions, the writer, Ghalib Asad Bhopali ensures that the film doesn’t lose focus from its central character.

 This film won’t leave you awestruck like the Gangs of Wasseypur series and won’t even shock you like Satya. But after walking out of the auditorium, you’d know the character of Babumoshai Bandookbaaz so well that you’d find yourself secretly hoping to see Nawazuddin reprise this role in a sequel. We are already waiting.

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Bareilly Ki Barfi is a clean and toothsome indulgence

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We are living in times when the concept of independent women and feminism has been largely misinterpreted. The problem with every female-oriented film, be it NH 10, Pink, Angry Indian Goddesses or the recent Lipstick Under My Burkha, is that they portray their male counterparts as dumb, fickle or lusty creatures. Thanks to Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari for coming up with a film that depicts its female lead as an independent woman minus the usual trappings of ‘feminist films’.

Bareilly Ki Barfi revolves around a small-town girl Bitti, played to perfection by Kriti Sanon. The male characters of this film, i.e. Chirag Dubey (Ayushmann Khurana) and Pritam Vidrohi (Rajkummar Rao) have their own set of attributes as well as flaws, which make them more endearing and humane. This is a kind of love triangle where you’d stay invested so much in the lead characters that it would be difficult to root for any of the two prospective grooms.

Loosely based on H. Bruce Humberstone’s ‘Happy Go Lucky’, a British Musical Comedy of the 50s, which inspired many a film like Sajan, Sapnay, Ghajini, to name a few, Bareilly Ki Barfi takes the story a notch above the mistaken identities. It lends an Indian charm to what transpires after the obligatory ‘adlaa-badli’ of the author who penned a flop book, Bareilly Ki Barfi. Now who’s the author and who’s the imposter and who ultimately wins the girl are things best left for you to discover in the auditorium.

The icing on the cake is Javed Akhtar’s voiceover as the film’s witty sutradhaar, which is reminiscent of Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s ‘Baawarchi’. For a change, this sutradhaar doesn’t appear only at the film’s beginning and the end, but stays with you throughout, often taking pot-shots at the film’s characters and situations. It’s time we bring this old-fashioned narration back to our films.

In hindsight, this is the right time to rediscover the roots of Indian films, taking a leaf from stalwarts like Bimal Roy, Satyajit Ray, Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Basu Chatterjee and reintroduce their style to the current generation, rather than relying on those DVDs of Korean films.

There’s no doubt Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari is already championing this cause with her films like Nil Battey Sannata and Bareilly Ki Barfi. Her experience in advertising is evident in the brevity of scenes and putting a message across without lingering over the issue for a long time.

The film’s writing is top-notch. Kudos to writers Nitesh Tiwari (Director of Dangal and the director’s husband), Shreyas Jain, and Rajat Nonia. The songs, ‘Sweety Tera Drama’ by Tanishk Bagchi and ‘Nazm Nazm’ by Arko Pravo Mukherjee are sure to stay on your playlist for a long time. Gavemic U Ary, the cinematographer captures the beauty of a small town without distracting the audience with ‘beautiful’ shots.

Among the actors, Kriti Sanon is spot-on as Bitti. In fact, she will now be remembered as Bitti rather than Kriti. The actress internalizes her character so well that her eyes reflect the angst as well as joy of Bitti. The equation that she shares with her father, played by the gem of an actor, Pankaj Tripathi, is quite rare in our films. Devoid of an iota of melodrama, the father-daughter scenes touch you to the core, which are further well-contrasted with the mother-daughter kich-kich. Seema Pahwa is a delight to watch here and so is the one-sided conversation of Pankaj Tripathi facing the ceiling fan.

Ayushmann Khurana delivers an earnest performance and ably portrays the grey shades of his character without going overboard. All said and done, it is undoubtedly Rajkummar Rao who steals the show, not just because he’s a talented actor, but also because of his author-backed role. The role of Pritam Vidrohi is written so well that the actor laps it up and clearly revels in each scene. Pritam Vidrohi is a character you’ll carry with you home after watching Bareilly Ki Barfi.

The film’s director once quoted in an interview: “I am not saying independent means being feminist. I am not saying independent means not listening to your parents. It is about finding your space and finding your identity, which is a huge thing in our country.” Thanks, Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari for setting the record straight, teaching us the true meaning of women being independent and feminist, especially in the times when words like these have been hugely misconstrued in our films and literature. Folks, indulge yourself in this clean and toothsome delicacy that leaves a sweet aftertaste even after days of watching it.

A hate note for Bare Bones

I hate you Bare Bones. I really hate do. Since the time I have watched your series of short plays at Vasvik Auditorium, Vadodara, I haven’t been able to forget the invaluable lessons your characters taught to my subconscious mind. Whenever I doubt my abilities, a voice invokes hope and mutes the whispers of negativity that haunted my mind.

Whenever I decide to buy something, a voice tells me that possessing something can only offer me easy access to it and shall add no value to it. Whenever I glance at the Christ’s image, Joshua kneels in front of me, reminding of the last words of the hermit, compelling me easily forgive those who wronged me.

Whenever I decide to get drunk with a friend, a voice tells me that the ‘knight’ in me just might show up, revealing well-guarded secrets and exposing the real person lurking behind this facade. Whenever I decide to explore the world and worry about economic crisis, a village bumpkin laughs at me, asking if the crisis would stop the sun from shining, the breeze from blowing and flowers from blooming.

Whenever I decide to follow my mind rather than heart, your character, heart speaks to me in her lilting voice, “I want to meet you without any reason” and keeps staring at me until I turn away from her in discomfiture. Whenever I decide to kill some time by doing nothing, your restless character of Time makes an appearance and urges me to rather make it stop for a while through meditation rather than killing it mercilessly.  

Whenever I decide to weave stories set amid rich ambience and golden lights shimmering through glittering backgrounds, your director Kamlesh Acharya convinces the writer in me that it’s possible to offer thrills minus the frills, sans those elaborate costumes, lavish sets, indulgent lightings, make-believe makeups, and overzealous actors wearing loud expressions spouting profanities for the ‘real’ effect.

I hate Harsh Shodhan, who articulates his emotions through the timbre of a voice so well-pitched that he speaks volumes even in muted conversation, rendering all those dubbing technology as mere gimmicks. I hate Denisha Ghumara, who wears her heart up her sleeves and never needs to ‘act’ on the stage. She becomes the character she portrays and does it with such effortless ease that would put the so-called ‘big actresses’ to shame.  

I hate Kamlesh Acharya, who triples up as a writer, director and actor with such a chameleonisque way that makes one seriously doubt his production, Bare Bones just a six-show old toddler. He makes me question all those beliefs that a guy in Ahmedabad can never write flawless English and people of Gujarat will never accept English plays. I have stopped waiting for that elusive producer to help me share my stories.

Bare Bones, you have no idea how much I hate you because your short plays have made me incapable of hating anyone. 

Toilet: Ek Prem Katha is endearing

Beyond the jacuzzies and bidets, there’s another India where people have an easy access to 4G network, but toilets remain a pipe dream. A nation of paradoxes and a land of jugaad, India must perhaps be the only country to inspire a love story revolving around toilet. Director Shree Narayan Singh’s film, Toilet – Ek Prem Katha encapsulates jugaad and toilet in a heart-warming love story, along with an important message peppered with generous dose of humour.

Akshay Kumar’s Keshav is jugaad personified, which is an image that suits him to the T, case in point, Khiladi, Aflatoon, Garam Masala, Hera Pheri series, Tees Maar Khan, Housefull series, Entertainment to Jolly LLB 2 (Phew! That’s almost his filmography). The character of Keshav is someone for whom jugaad is a way of life and is a solution-based guy who doesn’t shy asking his cousin to elope with the guy she loves. On the other hand, Bhoomi Pednekar’s Jaya is a well-educated girl with an unmistakable feminist streak.

Director Shree Narayan Singh concocts his love story around these two disparate characters and the villain, for a change is the ‘soch’, not ‘shauch’. The ‘soch’ is personified by Keshav’s father, brilliantly played by Sudhir Pandey. Topics on toilet have the trappings of either being replete with toilet humour or being too preachy. Toilet-Ek Prem Katha, unfortunately gives in to the temptation of creating awareness, albeit with restraint.

In hindsight, one feels that the film knows its audience well and articulates its message to them in the language they understand. A morning ritual which is something we seldom bother about, unless there’s a water scarcity or bowel issue, is magnified here to create the urgency the issue deserves.

The recent cases of rape and molestation of women defecating in the open and especially the lynching of a man who tried stopping the government officials from clicking pictures of women squatting behind bushes is saddening and films like these need to be made so as to change the mindset of rural populace.

Akshay Kumar shines here with a performance that ranges from comedy, dejection and anger with effortless ease, especially in the scene towards the film’s end. Divyendhu Sharma is fantastic as the chota bhai wala role and makes his presence felt amid the veterans. Bhoomi Pednekar, despite sharing the right chemistry with Akshay Kumar, falls short of nuanced performance, which becomes quite clear in the intense scenes.

Anshuman Mahaley seems to know the rural landscapes well and his frames take you to the labyrinthine lanes of the village, capture the Lathmaar scenes beautifully without inspiring an awe of ‘look how brilliant the camerawork is!’ Right from Hrishikesh Mukherjee to Rajkumar Hirani, editors turning into directors have an edge over others through their inherent quality of brevity. Director Shree Narayan Singh doubles up as an editor here and knows where to cut a scene and where to begin the next transition, thanks to his hands-on experience as an editor of films like A Wednesday, Rustom, MS Dhoni, etc. 

To sum it up, Toilet Ek Prem Katha is an endearing love story and this toilet surely deserves a visit. Unfortunately, such films will always be branded as propaganda films. Sigh.

 

‘Chor Bani Thangat Kare’ will steal your heart 

A day of dreams brimming with reality. A day of hopes finding happiness. A day of sweat on the brow shining against the sun of fame. A day of darkness bowing to the arc lights. A day of confidence. A day of goosebumps. A day of bouquets. A day of brickbats. The day of Chor Bani Thangat Kare’s release isn’t just another day for someone like Rahul Bhole, a Vadodara-based filmmaker who started out with short films.

Before we proceed with the review, a digression here: There are around 100 Gujarati films currently being made and the average cost including marketing and release per film is about two crores. With almost one or two Gujarati films releasing every weekend, the industry is growing exponentially to be reckoned as a 200-crore industry and still growing. Despite such encouraging figures and films like Kevi Rite Jaish, Bey Yaar and Wrong Side Raju (All from the same stable of CineMan films) already set higher benchmarks, Gujarati films seldom draw the audience to the theatre.

What keeps them away from Gujarati films is perhaps the kind of clones being churned out every Friday with films revolving around a group of friends (With toilet sense of humour), a girl (Wearing an expression of ‘what am I doing here?’), bootlegger (Dry-sigh state), jugaad for money (After all, Gujarat is a business-centric state so no films can be made without money being the core theme), and of course, Garba (Drone shots. Masked dancers’ shots. Flirting shots. Check.).

This is where Chor Bani Thangat Kare scores. It steers clear of all the clichés associated with Gujarati films and even if it does touch the ‘daaru’ aspect, it makes sure that the scene is an integral part of the film’s narrative, rather than just another dry state gag. What really works here is the engaging screenplay peppered by hilarious dialogues and a cast that essays characters you’d root for, despite the predictability.

Rajkumar Trivedi, aka Robin suffers from kleptomania, a psychological disorder that makes him a compulsive thief without him realizing it. The biggest obstacle this character must brave through is the ability to make people around him understand the fact that he is not a chor i.e. thief. Amit Mistry plays Robin with a gleeful ease, so much so that he might be christened as Robin after this film. This gem of an actor literally ‘stole’ the show in the second half of Bey Yaar and choosing him to play Robin is the best casting decision of the filmmaker.

Well, as karma would have it, here another actor steals the show from Amit Mistry (not that he would mind, as he is a character you’d never forget after watching the film), who is none other than Ojas Rawal. An actor who began with a rather serious role in Tejas Padiaa’s Gujarati film debut, Polampol, goes for a complete spin here by playing two hilarious characters, one being a local chor and the other as a lookalike of Baba Ramdev. Ojas is a sheer delight to watch and each time he appears on the screen, you’re already hoping for an encore.

Bijal Joshi, as the actress does a decent job playing a character which seems to be written in haste. Despite being a pivot to the film’s plot, she fails to leave an impact, blame it on the passive treatment her character is lent. There isn’t a single moment in the film where she is assertive and comes on her own and is always pushed to action by someone, either the lead actor or her grandma. Even the old Nokia and backstory is reminiscent of Kareena’s character in 3 Idiots and doesn’t add anything to the narration, except the predictable utility of her phone in the film’s end.

Prem Gadhvi impresses with his character of Lenti, a friend who is always by the side of Robin through every thick and thin. The actor has grown with each film, to become an essential part of every Gujarati film and already has a large fan following, which is evident when the audience cheers for him during his entry scene.

Manan Desai, an ex-RJ turned stand-up comedian and curator for India’s best talents in comedy, makes an interesting cameo as a terrorist with an ability to make the cops apologize for hitting him. No matter how farfetched this may sound, but the actor does it with a conviction that will leave you in splits. Chirayu Mistry, a popular stand-up comedian of Vadodara plays an interesting role of an instalment collection executive carrying a saw. These are one of those rare cameos that go on to prove that the length of an actor’s role doesn’t matter, if it has been written and portrayed well. Other stand-up comedians like Aariz Saiyed and Preeti Das show up as news anchors too.

The music by Sachin-Jigar is soothing and lends the film a much-needed breather (how long can you keep laughing continuously?). Speaking of songs, this is a film where the songs are seamlessly woven into the narrative. ‘Bhuli jau chhe’ and ‘Mauj-E-Dariya’ (Benny Dayal’s first Gujarati song) are tracks you’d look up on iTunes and listen on a loop.

Like any other film made on a limited budget (the production values are top-notch, mind you), few scenes do stick out as sore thumb, especially the yoga session that is supposed to have 3000 participants, while what barely hundred show up and the terrorists keep insisting that they are 3000. But thanks to Ojas Rawal, whose performance as the Ramdev Baba lookalike prevents you from noticing such slipups. Even the terrorists are replete with stereotypes (Why are the walls of their rooms always green?).

The film’s basic premise of a reluctant thief itself gives way to multiple possibilities, which the writer-director Rahul Bhole explores to the hilt, thankfully, without going overboard. The smartest thing that he does with the plot is to focus on one story and throw in an ensemble of madcap characters. It wouldn’t be surprising if Rahul Bhole comes up with a sequel of Chor Bani Thangat Kare. We’re already waiting.

Jagga Jasoos revives the art of storytelling and brings out the child in you

A film that kicks off by doffing hat to the legendary showman, Raj Kapoor (Gardish mein taare rahenge sadaa) goes on to establish his grandson as the tramp of our times. It goes without saying that if Raj Kapoor’s biopic were to be made, Ranbir Kapoor could play the lead with a veteran’s ease. Watching Jagga Jasoos makes one believe that Barfi! was the initial process of laying foundation for this helluva rollercoaster ride.

Musicals, though unexplored in our films (Let’s forget Shirish Kunder ever made Jaaneman. If you’re wondering which film was this, you’re indeed blessed). Hum Aapke Hain Kaun had songs for every occasion, but was far from a musical narrative. The Indian films find their roots in the Ramleelas, which were no less than musicals and later graduated to melodrama after Parsi theatre took the centerstage. So, it’s quite strange we never got this genre right, despite belonging to the land of Ramayana and Mahabharata, the epics which were ‘recited’ rather than being ‘read out’. Well, better late than never.

If AR Rahman made a breakthrough in the broadway musical with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Bombay Dreams, Anurag Basu cracks the Indian musical code with Jagga Jasoos. The film plays out as a narration from a children’s book and handholds us to a whole new world of love & loss, innocence & acceptance, curiosity & simplicity.

The film solely rests on two wonderful characters, Jagga (Ranbir Kapoor) and his foster father Tuti Phooti (The brilliant Saswata Chatterjee). The ‘taal-mel’ of these two actors is splendidly ‘aww-inspiring’. Such chemistry isn’t found even in the lead pairs or any lead pairs of late, for that matter. Both actors (or rather all three actors, if one were to include the child actor who is equally brilliant as the lil’ Jagga) complement each other. Think of it as a three-hour mime act underlined by seamlessly mellifluous music and punctuated by soulfully simple lyrics. The dialogues don’t matter. They have never mattered in any film with a strong screenplay. 

Ranbir Kapoor gives it all to his character and shines across every frame, becoming Jagga, the diffident yet determined, the stammering yet articulate, and the lonely yet lovable character reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes and Satyajit Ray’s Feluda. In fact, the journey that he embarks upon with Katrina’s character Shruti Sengupta (The worst Bengali we have seen on screen, who doesn’t even bother to pretend being remotely connected to Bengal) is imbued with fantasy flavours of Ray’s Goopi Gyne Bagha Byne and Heerak Rajar Deshe.  This is quite a welcome change, where our filmmakers are looking within (read country) rather than seeking inspiration elsewhere.

Katrina may have got the Bengali thing wrong here but is nonetheless adorable as a narrator surrounded by kids. Supporting actors like the easygoing ex-IB officer played by Saurabh Shukla and Rajatwa Dutta as the cop surrounded by multiple hued landline phones make their presence felt with their nuanced performances. Saswata Chatterjee steals your heart as Tooti Phooti or Bad-luck Bakshi. One just can’t get enough of this gem of an actor. Having said that, Ranbir Kapoor makes his character endearing, as well as memorable. Once the credits roll, you find yourself already waiting for the sequel. When did you last feel that way, except for the ‘Katappa query’?

Jagga Jasoos is perhaps one of those few films where the music director Pritam and lyricist Amitabh Bhattacharya play the lead role without even appearing in a single frame. Right from the news anchors breaking into a song to the investigation scenes and the confrontation scene of Ranbir and Saurabh Shukla, each situation is unbelievably translated into gripping narrative through music and lyrics. Ravi Varman paints the silver screen with Disney hues and Ajay Sharma deftly edits each scene to perfection.

Through Jagga Jasoos, director Anurag Basu reminds us the long-forgotten art of storytelling. Watch this film and you just might stumble upon the child in you. Well, I just did. 

 

Mom is too much of melodrama and too little of story

Despite all its noble intentions of amplifying the crime against women, director Ravi Udyawar’s Mom reiterates the stereotypes associated with rape. A youngster keen on going to a Valentine’s Day party at a farmhouse is a premise that goes on to state: Girls shouldn’t party till late, else they can be sexually assaulted.

The parent, i.e. the mom (step-mom, to be precise) of this young girl in question takes every precaution to ensure her daughter’s safety. For instance, right from the usual checklist questions like ‘whom are you going with?’, ‘who is going to drive?’ ‘is there a male member with you?’, ‘call me as soon as you are about to leave’, etc.

Needless to mention, this ‘safety checklist’ doesn’t stop the inevitable from taking place. The second half is your usual ‘Zakhmi Aurat’, ‘Phool bane angaarey’, ‘Mardaani’ and ‘Maatr’ fare. Speaking of Maatr, the film steered clear of the usual ‘girl goes to party and gets assaulted’ or ‘couple go out in the dead of the night and the woman gets raped’ and showed an ordinary situation of being late from an award function and taking the wrong road, which eventually proves to be fatal for the mother and daughter. Pink went on to break the clutter and stand out with its realistic treatment of getting inside the criminal’s mind, as well as the victim’s emotions. The screenplay written by Girish Kohli heads south. What could have been a smart cat-and-mouse game ends up becoming a yawningly predictable affair.

The key focus of Mom remains on Sri Devi, who makes a comeback after English Vinglish (2012), understandably so, owing to the fact that it’s her 300th film. The emotional graph of her character is portrayed with a veteran’s ease, which is indeed worth an applause. The other actors worth a mention are Sajal Ali as the daughter (An unmistakable look-alike of Kareena Kapoor), Adnan Siddiqui as the cool and composed dad who is quite a find, and Vikas Verma as one of the baddies, who in a brief role, leaves an impression that he is here to stay.

Mom oscillates between ‘Stepmom’ and ‘Maatr’ and while the film is at it, we are introduced to some fascinating characters like Dayashankar Kappor aka DK (Ably played by the ‘unrecognizable’ Nawazuddin Siddiqui) and Mathew Francis (Akshaye Khanna in a terrific form). DK is a failed detective frantically looking for work and often doubles up as a matchmaker. Nawazuddin seems to be uncomfortable in the odd get-up and yet shines out with witty one-liners delivered in his inimitable style. On the other side, Akshaye Khanna’s Mathew Francis is an aggressive cop with a rich repository of informants yet is bogged down by bureaucracy and corruption.

These traits of DK and Mathew Francis, though hinted at the outset, remain unexplored throughout the film. There’s a scene where Mathew Francis is interrogating DK and breaks into an impromptu grin, which is the second-most powerful scene of the film. The scene will fascinate you even after reading this criminal of a spoiler. Cinematographer Anay Goswamy, take a bow.

Second-best, because the only scene from Mom that will stay with you even after leaving the auditorium will surely be the one where rape is being depicted without showing anything gory. The scene catches you unaware and forces you to imagine the unimaginable by deploying a bird’s eye view camera angle and a haunting background score by AR Rahman.

Speaking of music, the songs of Mom, especially ‘Be nazaara’ and ‘Muafi mushkil’ are gems that remain hidden in the film as mere background scores and leitmotifs. Thankfully, the song, ‘O sona’ is the only one to survive the editor’s (Monisha R. Baldawa) merciless snips, but by the time you watch this song, you have already given up on the film, blame it on truckloads of melodrama thrown at you.

To sum it up, Mom is too much of Sri Devi and too little of Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Akshaye Khanna. Too much of AR Rahman’s background score and too little of his brilliant songs. Too much of melodrama and too little of a story. Too much of promise and too little of delivery.

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