Movie Reviews of 2016 – Desi edition

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The year of 2016 was a year of comebacks for me. Comeback to India after a six year stay in the USA, comeback to family and old friends and to Bollywood movies in particular. Yes! There´s somehow no escaping the fever once you step foot in India. It´s pretty much in your face whichever way you turn it towards.

Following are some quick reviews of the Hindi movies I saw this year. Let me caution you that there are a couple of spoilers in there. So, if you haven´t seen any of these movies as yet and want to remain in complete suspense, please stop right here. Else, read on!

1. Dilwale – This was the first Hindi film I watched this year on my flight back to India. I had no expectations of this movie being a masterpiece. But, I had expectations to be entertained and have a couple of laughs along the way. I thought it would be on the lines of Ra-One. Nonsensical but fun. Alas, I was thoroughly disappointed with the movie. It was both tiring and annoying to see SRK and Kajol competing with the youngsters Varun Dhawan and Kriti Sanon in their juvenility. Unless, you are hardcore fans of any of the lead cast, you will simply not be able to sit through the movie like me.

2. Tamasha – This is a movie that was dissed by almost everyone so much so that I was warned to stay far away from this insipid eccentric fare.

However, on my flight back to my homeland, India, Tamasha caught my fancy. Initially, I started watching this flick to actually check what went wrong with this Imtiaz Ali venture. I wasn’t really expecting to sit through the whole movie for sure. Surprisingly, I found myself wholly engrossed in the movie’s plot and my respect for the director’s thought and vision only grew in stature. What a shining brilliant movie!

For me, Tamasha is the ´Lamhe of the 2000s´.  Made way ahead of its time for a much more accepting and perhaps evolved audience. An audience who is not looking to get entertained or get some cheap thrills or even derive some inspiration from the social message. This movie is for an audience who is looking to get under the director´s skin literally. To understand their thought process, vision, and see the film entirely through their eyes and not from their own.

Ved, the male protagonist played effortlessly by Ranbir Kapoor is a character with multiple shades of grey. From the beginning, as a child, he is drawn towards the art of story-telling and fantasy making. He is fascinated by the tales spun by that the road-side story teller Baba. He primarily draws his energy from the idealistic notions about the make-believe world much to the embarrassment and disappointment of his father. Quite predictably, his happiness is short-lived. As an adult, he is forced to ´fit´ in with the rest of the world and not be stuck out like a sore thumb. And that´s when his miseries begin. For an idealist trying too hard to be a realist is nothing short of misery. He is not driven or motivated by the ultimate attainment of social status, often misconstrued as success by worldly standard and norms. Achievement is simply overrated according to his senses, easily however evoked and inspired by Art.

Fate brings him to Corsica where he meets his partner-in-crime Tara. Far away from the society conscious land of India, the two soulmates revel and make the best opportunity of their anonymity. They decide to step up the game by not revealing their true identities to each other and just have a great time, being comfortable in their own skins. Needless to add, the two form an instant attraction and connection with each other. But, the holiday happiness is short-lived and they go back to India and their own respective miserable lives. Ved goes back into his shell. We see him quietly suffering inwards, trying too hard to barely just about match upto the tall expectations of his father and the society, at large. Tara breaks up eventually with her current boyfriend. Years go by but the memories of Corsica and her love for Ved still remains afresh in her mind. She is hopelessly in love with Ved. They are brought together again by fate but Tara is rudely awakened with Ved´s reality. She cannot comprehend the drastic change of behaviour in the same person. While Ved tries to convince her that the Ved she fell in love with in Corsica is a mere illusion and the Ved she sees now is the real deal, Tara is not entirely convinced. She breaks off her engagement with Ved but still doesn’t stop loving the ´real´ Ved. Ved is torn between his duty as a son and love for his father who is unwilling to accept his son the way he truly is and Tara, who has accepted and loved whole-heartedly the real ´Ved´ that he has hidden far away from the world. Ved´s confusion is displayed in his random emotional outbursts both at his workplace and towards, Tara who most often is the silent victim of all his pent-up emotional frustrations. The turning point in the movie is when Ved´s father finally accepts his son and gives his consent to allow him to pursue his true calling in life. That is when, the burden of the world is lifted off Ved´s shoulders and all things finally fall into place, including his love life with Tara.

Ranbir Kapoor is simply flawless. Intense drama is his forte´and he shines brightly as a sparkling diamond in the movie.  Yeh toh asli heera hain!  Deepika Padukone looks and plays her part well. She fits into her character well without overshadowing neither the character or her costars, while at the same time holding strong her onscreen presence. Both the actors share a similar subtle style in acting without going overboard or OTT. Their onscreen chemistry has been much talked about and not without a reason. As a couple, they definitely make you sit up and notice them keenly.  But the star of the show is undoubtedly Imtiaz Ali! For me, by far, this is his best movie till date. The story conception, the direction and vision is commendable. The songs composed by A.R. Rahman are pretty good and differ in mood, tempo and style. Whether it is the vintage style playful ´Matarghashti´or the melodious and soulful Ágar sum saaath ho´ or the Bhangra tune ´Heer toh badi sad hai´ or the Sufi influenced ´Safarnama´or the Altaf Raja street style inspired ´Wat Wat´ which comes interestingly in stark contrast at the turning point in the movie!

3.  Sanam Teri Kasam – A friend recommendation! I used to have pretty long, almost daily phone calls with a Kannadiga friend while in US. During one of our chatty phone-calls, she predicted, ´There is going to be stiff competition for our Indian actresses from Pakistan. Have you seen Mawra Hocane? She is so  cute, beautiful, innocent and acts so well. Check her out in the song ´Kheech meri photo´. ´And she wouldn’t stop there! She kept gushing about the movie as well.

Well, I didn’t go out of my way to see the movie but since it was available for viewing in the transit flight, I went ahead and watched it. It is the Hindi movie equivalent of a classic Mills & Boons novel. This movie falls under those classic, traditional romance movies category. A genre that is long gone forgotten, that of a classic love story of the ultimate bad boy and the quintessential good girl. Yes, opposites attract and this movie celebrates that love union with all its cliches´. Did I enjoy the movie? Yes! I did! It helps when Harshvardhan and Mawra make a picture-perfect looking couple which sets off quite a lot of sparkles onscreen with their onscreen sizzling chemistry.  The songs are very 90ish, like the kinds belted out by Nadeem-Shravan. All in all, a must-watch for romance buffs.

4. Pink – The movie couldn’t be timed any better. Especially when India today, lies at the fulcrum point of change, a break away from the shackles of convention and the adoption of various outlooks. Did I like the movie? Cinematically, I wasn’t exactly blown away by its calibre. I did feel disengaged at times due to the film´s long length. For me, the movie per se´ was not as important as its message was. It deals with various issues and stereotypes that single Indian women have to deal with. Whether it is the question of their virginity, their questionable characters, the good vs bad girl image, their marital status, their racy fashion style and above all, the role of ´consent´ in any physical relationship. The beauty of ´Pink´lies in its intent and powerful message.

5. Ae Dil Ae Mushkil – This is interesting on so many levels that I just do not know where to begin with. But let me just start with the background of the story. A little birdie tells me this is the semi-autobiographical story of Karan Johar. Given his silence and increased careless whispers on his sexual orientation, it would be a great guessing game to figure out who is the real life Anushka and Aishwarya in Karan Johar´s life. The movie is a tribute to Karan Johar´s one sided love in real life.

Let´s start with the plot. Ayan, played by Ranbir Kapoor is a good-looking and charming guy who has a penchant for dating hot women. Whether it is Lisa played by Lisa Haydon or Saba, played by Aishwarya Rai Bachan.  However, the only girl who he truly falls in love with is Alizeh, played by Anushka Sharma. Unfortunately for him, she friend-zones him right in their first meet, after their first kiss. She decides this guy is not simply her type. But, she still likes him as platonic friend and enjoys his company. Her fondness for him only grows stronger, while Ayan falls hopelessly and madly ´head over heels´in love with Alizeh. Eventually, it´s heartbreak time for Ayan when Alizeh clears the misconception about her growing fondness and also about her ex-boyfriend, Ali, who miraculously pops into their lives the next day. Ali and Alizeh soon tie  the sacred knot, leaving Ranbir crying on the shoulders of Saba, a much older woman poetess played by Aishwarya Rai. All hell breaks loose when Ali and Alizeh get divorced, Ayan and Saba break up and when Alizeh is struck with life-threatening cancer.  While for Alizeh, she values and places their platonic lasting love far higher than any of her past romantic temporary loves, Ayan is still yearning and pining for ALL of Alizeh to himself.

The movie is actually pretty sad and intense in undertone but its treatment is extremely light and frivolous. All the characters, despite their personal emotional struggles are seen happily frolicking around town, sharing their woes with someone and laughing their troubles away. Be it the woes of coming from a broken family or a broken heart or a divorce or struck with cancer that is bound to kill you in a couple of months. Ranbir does decently well, especially after he transforms into the heart-broken one-sided lover. Anushka, while totally uninhibited in front of the camera, lacks that something in the acting department. Maybe its showing some subtlety, restraint and getting completely into the skin of the character. For me, Anushka Sharma, the actor overpowered Alizeh, the character. Honestly, I didn’t much care for Aishwarya Rai in the movie. While she looked good, the fact is despite all the efforts, she still looked aged and jaded. She seemed to be cast in the character only due to her looks and nothing else. For me, the character of Saba fitted in naturally well with the real life persona of Sushmita Sen. An elegant, vivacious and mature woman who is unafraid of her sexuality and its basic instincts. Aishwarya Rai as Saba seemed fake or plastic on the whole.  Lisa Haydon was funny as the bird-brained Diva.  The songs fit into the story well and there´s a bit of everything in there for everyone. Whether it is a sad romantic song, to a happy celebration song to a disco number to a wedding number etc.

The song ´Cutie Pie´especially sums up the relationship between Ayan and Alizeh. They have a playful yet a genuine meaningful bond between them. Ayan is insanely attracted to all of Alizeh´s being. Alizeh is fiercely protective of Ayan and their relationship to the extent she doesn´t want to jinx it by taking it to the next level. Alizeh can be herself with Ayan and that´s sacred to her. Ayan hasn’t met any woman quite like Alizeh. There are various ways one can dissect the character of Alizeh. At times, I have wondered if she´s playing mind games with Ayan. Knowing pretty well in the past, how quickly full-blown passionate love affairs can snuff out on its own flame, Alizeh may be purposely putting Ayan on his pins, always pining for her love, right till the end of time. It´s a clever option of ´having your cake and eating it too´. Except in this case, not literally eating it.

6. Dear Zindagi – When compared to Gauri Shinde´s debut ´English Vinglish´, this movie falls short in entertaining as well as engaging the audience. There is a certain eery similarity in the two lead characters, Shashi and Kaira in both the movies. Both Shashi and Kaira are struggling with their own incapabilities. For Shashi, it is the lack of knowledge of English while living in the US, which is a source of great disappointment and embarrassment for her as well as her family. And for Kaira, it is her incapability of holding on and sustaining intimate romantic relationships. Intimacy scares her and brings out all her insecurities to the forefront. And despite being a very talented and good looking photographer who has many a suitor chasing her, she is inadept at handling all this male interest and attention. Shashi finds her inspiration in Amitabh Bachan who plays a cameo in the movie, motivating her to come out of her comfort zone and be courageous. The same happens in Dear Zindagi where Jug, a life coach played by Shahrukh Khan, helps Kaira heal her wounds, slowly but surely. With gentle prodding, they both come to the root problem. Kaira´s fractured relationship with her mother from her childhood is the root cause for all her relationship problems in adulthood.

Alia Bhatt as Kaira is a revelation. The scene in which she breaks down in front of Jug is so natural that it is terrifying. It is easy to see that acting is in her genes and this is what she is born for. My favourite part of the movie was when Jug tells her to look at her parents with forgiving eyes. ´Do not forget that they are humans at the end of the day and they make mistakes just like the rest of us. ´, he tells Kaira.

7. Dangal –  Since this one released only a week back, I will not divulge much and play a spoilsport. Never a dull minute! The only drawback or letdown would be that it gets a bit too filmy or unreal in a couple of scenes. Like the scene before the final match, Mahavir Phoghat, gives his daughter a motivational speech telling her that the final match is not just a fight against the opponent but against the whole Indian patriarchal society.  Yeh toh too much hogaya na, Sirji!

This is one of Aamir Khan´s  finest and most natural performances ever. His madness, passion and intelligence simply shines through his magnetic eyes. As Mahavir Phogat, he gets completely involved in the character,both physically and emotionally. He plays the role of the ´Haanikaarak Bapu´ or Tiger Dad to perfection. Phogat tries to relive his lost glorious days as a wrestler and lost opportunity to win a gold medal for the country in his two daughters. While, some may argue that it is not correct for a parent to enforce their dreams onto their children, the fact is he never considered his daughters initially fit for the wrestling world. Until one day, the two girls punched the daylights out of the boys in their village! That is when he saw the spark and the natural flair the girls had for wrestling just like him. So, all he did was identify their strengths and natural flair early on in their childhood and be their guide. Haanikaarak may be, but with nobel intentions. The onscreen daughters are truly Dhaakad and extremely adorable despite their rugged professional calling. They spark up the screen with their million dollar watt smiles, touch your hearts with their innocence and inspire you with their grit. This is a must-watch movie that can be enjoyed with the whole family.

 

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