Wednesday, 11 May 2016


Directed by: Ram Madhavi
Starring: Sonam Kapoor, Shabana Azmi
Released: 2016
My rating: destroy every copy – horrible – bad – whatever – flawed but enjoyable - good – great – amazing

I have never heard the name Neerja Bhanot before this movie was announced and brought to my attention all those months ago. Learning the story of this brave, brave young woman moved me greatly, and today I wouldn´t hesitate to list her among the few people in history that we should indeed be inspired by and remember. The tricky thing with biographical movies is that they mostly rise and fall with the abilities of their cast. The name of Sonam Kapoor did not fill me with hope. But I was wrong. So go ahead and read below why I have no qualms admitting it.

The greatest weapon and strength of Neerja is not the direction, the performances, music or camera work. It is the underlying fact of the events actually happening in reality. This knowledge is with the viewer from the first moment to the last, perhaps because of that, because one knows how this ends, small details shown about Neerja are more poignant and touching than perhaps they would be with a fictional character. There is little to complain about when it comes to the technical aspects of the film, everything seems apt and well executed. Things like winding the tape with a pen, as well as Rajesh Khanna´s posters on the closet doors are beautifully evoking the mood of the 80s.

What to say about Sonam Kapoor as Neerja? I have so many reservations towards the girl as an actress! And I am not going to praise her as "great" in this film either. Because she wasn´t great. She literally became Neerja on the screen. There wasn´t a single moment, a single scene or second in which I would see Sonam Kapoor as herself (something she does on regular basis in most of her other movies). There wasn´t any dark, intense brooding, which so often accompanies "great" performances of male actors, nor was there any passionate speech on the injustice of the society (which marks "great" female performances most of the time). Everything Sonam did as Neerja felt natural, never over the top. Perhaps that is why her performance felt real - with Neerja she was not creating a new, unknown character who is made up. She could research an actual person, listen to and read what others had to say. And she managed to slip into all that seemingly effortlessly. She did a beautiful job, and I hope she continues to surprise me. Her rapport with other actors, especially Shabana Azmi, was delightful.

Neerja´s failure of a marriage back story is very well edited into the main plot, showing how previous experience has probably helped to shape her character and influenced her decisions. From what I had managed to gather the film is fairly accurate and that makes it even more painful. Perhaps my only criticism would be about the movie´s length. When the chaotic climax came I realized there was still over twenty minutes of the footage left! And even though the scenes following seemed important from the human point of view, I wouldn´t be as tolerant of them had it, again, not been a true story. The effect of Neerja´s violent death and deep horror and sorrow I felt over it was dilluted bit by bit by everything that followed, including the Shabana Azmi speech. I understand that was to be the actresses´ big moment in the film, yet by the time she could wipe her tear I have lost my own. (Do I seem heartless now?)

As a movie it works very well. I guess it wouldn´t be too exciting for casual movie goers craving a good thriller. But as a tribute it works wonderfully. And everyone should know who Neerja Bhanot was.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Ghayal Once Again

Directed by: Sunny Deol
Starring: Sunny Deol, Soha Ali Khan, Narendra Jha, Om Puri
Released: 2016
My rating: destroy every copy – horrible – bad – whatever – flawed but enjoyable - good – great – amazing

I freely admit I was surprised.... or better to say SHOCKED at how much I enjoyed this one and how good it was. Funny thing is I remember liking Ghayal, but before I watched the new film I had to re-read my old review and watch several scene on youtube, for I admit the film did not stay in mind too much. With memories refreshed and the mood set, I dared to follow Sunny Deol down the path he so often trips on....

What I liked about the movie was that it truly was a sequel: drawing the basics from the original, not erasing them, not altering them and most importantly not rehashing them. Ajay Mehra has the same anger that drove him through the first Ghayal for his Filmfare trophy back in 1991, he gets emotional over his family and he has also not come out of his previous ordeal unscathed or healed. Not wearing the load of troubles on his own, Sunny Deol is ably helped by four young protagonists. These young ones manage a difficult task of winning you over in a very short time and without much of an introduction. What truly made me sit with my eyes glued to the screen was everything in between the start of the mad chase through the shopping mall practically to the big "characters are related" twist. Revelation of one of the girls being Ajay´s daughter was fine with me, no matter how filmy.

However right after that there was the CGI helicopter doing very un-helicopter-y things and shit, and it nearly completely destroyed any believability factor. But truly, Ghayal Once Again is fast-paced, straightforward and thrilling. Since none of the four young people is a "hero" or "heroine", you cannot predict whether or not they will die/be captured, and the scene in which they are desperately running from the bad guys, getting injured and severely hurt in the process, taxed my nerves quite a bit. Their pain also seemed so real I kept shedding tears from scene to scene, an occurrence quite rare in "let´s beat the shit out of the evil ones" kind of films. Even Ajay Mehra himself is not above pain and injuries. It was good to see flashbacks to the original films, including the lovely Meenakshi Sheshadri, and I had to wonder why the makers did not take enough trouble to even get her to redub that one dialog which is used.

As for the rest of the cast, the ever reliable Om Puri returns, and Soha Ali Khan reminds us she exists. I was relieved that any romantic angle between her and Sunny remained unexplored, indeed the relationship is presented in a way they may truly be just very good friends. If there is anything Sunny needs to stay clear off it´s romancing anyone under the age of 45 (I Love NY still gives me creeps and nightmares). Narendra Jha as the main villain is cool, ruthless and calculative, yet not above fear and other human emotions. He does a commendable job.

I am not a huge fan of Sunny Deol, but once in a while he comes up with stuff that makes me believe he is greatly underrated today. I had little to none faith in this project, but Sunny pulled it off more than well. Ghayal Once Again easily ranks among the better, if not the best, sequels Bollywood has churned out in past ten years.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Bajirao Mastani

Directed by: Sanjay Leela Bhansali
Starring: Ranveer Singh, Deepika Padukone, Priyanka Chopra
Released: 2015
My rating: destroy every copy – horrible – bad – whatever – flawed but enjoyable - good  great – amazing

Khamoshi – The Musical made me cry my eyes out. Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam was just too well made. Devdas is forever engraved in my memory as one of the most powerful cinematic experiences of my life. Black was intriguing. Saawariya magical. Then game the bleak period of Bhansali films with what I felt was pretentious and half-baked Guzaarish and over-sexed and nonsensical Ram Leela. With Bajirao Mastani the director with a fetish for bling and drama returned to the path I would be happy to follow as a viewer. Bajirao Mastani is a culmination of many dreams and efforts, and certainly a story worth telling. Bhansali did not create anyone´s biography or accurate historical epic. He captured the parts of the real history that are etched in human memory as legends and myths, those parts that we can understand in spite of the ever growing time gap. Perhaps we no longer understand the politics, that is a mere background setting for something much more intimate, but we will always understand love.

Bhansali reaches for inspiration to Mughal-E-Azam and does not try to hide it. The mirror hall and the garden where Mastani performs her dances may as well be those in which Madhubala as Anarkali twirled elegantly some sixty years ago. And the theme of overwhelming, all-consuming love leading to ruin and madness had always been something the director has been into. The characters and the actors are well blended, the roles wonderfully executed, yet the writing leaves space for improvement. It is not difficult for me to believe Mastani loved used metaphors and poetry often, but in the film every line from her lips is a complex artistic composition with hidden meaning. That, I believe, is why some people found Deepika Padukone lacking in perfection in the role. In my view she was very, very good, but the writing made her speech seem artificial. 

Finally, Deepika is not the best actress in India, yet for the role she was well suited. Convincing in fight scenes (if only she had been in more!), subtle and dreamy when in love, graceful (though not technically perfect) while dancing, with fire in her eyes when confronted, she also possesses that certain air of being the Ultimate woman in the story. It was not difficult for me to see why would Bajirao forget the lovely, faithful and docile Kashi for the fascinating Mastani who better matched his own personality. I liked how Mastani strove to get what she wanted and believed to be hers. But why did Mastani came to Bajirao´s home with only one servant and did so little to let Bajirao know about her being present at all? This bit made little sense to me.

Ranveer Singh washed away all the excess oil from Ram Leela and Gunday (thank God), and gives his best performance yet. The energy and force seem to surge through him, there is a slight hint of arrogance and later his desperation over the whole situation he created makes him both frightful and pitiful. The interaction between the two leads is more mature in Ram Leela, and even without crawling over each other in every moment available they come off much more in love here. Few happy moments for them would have been nice, but probably stretching the movie would not have been a good idea. Priyanka Chopra as Chandramukhi Kashi, the „other“ woman, is as fine as she can be. The hurt, the disbelief, the denial, the acceptance and silent suffering, everything is mirrored clearly in her expressions. From the supporting cast Tanvi Azmi as Bajirao´s mother impressed me the most.

I think my only major complaints would be a) lack of Mastani action in the second half b) non-memorable music with the exception of Deewani Mastani and c) the lack of closure to the story. No matter how passionate and overwhelming, the love affair of Bajirao and Mastani was not their own matter and the whole mess it created encompassed many other people. Even after the lovers die the story has loose ends and Bhansali leaves them hanging without a thought. In the very least what thereafter happened to Kashi and to Mastani´s child should have been mentioned. In Devdas the abrupt end and fade to black felt right, but even though the director was aiming for the same escalation of the momentum here, with Bajirao putting the last of his strength into a fight with demons only visible to him, the effect, though felt, is not of the same level. And I also hoped Mastani would die of something more palpable than a broken heart. Perhaps I have grown old and cynical?

In the end I can only say this is a movie I will certainly watch again. There are not many films like that, certainly not in Bollywood. Mughal-E-Azam it´s not. But deserving appreciation and some love it is.