Tanu Weds Manu Returns Review By Mayank Shekhar

Two queens and an ace (of a script) up their sleeve!

Tanu Weds Manu Returns

Director: Anand L Rai

Actors: Kangana Ranaut, R Madhavan

Rating: ****

Pretty much all romances or romantic comedies (rom-coms) end with the girl getting together with the boy finally. Do movies tell us what happens thereafter? The joke is they do. It’s called a porn film!

More plausibly, the Raj and Simrans of the world get married. Few years hence, like most married couples, they probably start dealing with each others’ natural idiosyncrasies as the heady fragrance of love begins to wear off. Now who the hell wants to watch that picture for escapist entertainment? Well, this movie deals with precisely that.

This sequel starts off four years after Tanu (thoroughly boisterous) wed Manu (Madhavan; gently under-stated) in the first part of this film that was a full-on desi, arranged-marriage round-robin rom-com. The couple, now settled in London, has had it with each other since. They don’t have kids, which makes things simpler.

In less conservative societies, instant separation would be an easy option. According to his father, Manu has three choices before him. He could stay on in the marriage still, as most do. He could remain alone for the rest of his life, if he likes. Or he could find another woman. But what are the chances that (second) marriage would turn out any differently? This is a common argument made against divorces in general. This film is set in small-town India—like Anand L Rai’s realistically placed, majestically picturised prequel.

Raanjhanaa (2013), the film that Rai directed after Tanu Weds Manu (2011), was equally remarkably set in Banaras. It was an excuse to bring back on screen the popular ‘80s/’90s theme of the romantic hero being the demented yet much loved stalker of the street. I found it quite hard to hajam. I’m told audiences adored Dhanush in the lead role.

This film returns to another old chestnut of popular Hindi cinema—the “double role”. And yes, since you must know, here’s the choice that the husband Manu decides to finally exercise, given that his marriage isn’t working anymore. He falls for another woman, who looks exactly like his current wife.

This new character Datto is a “sports quota” Delhi University student from a Haryanvi village. For her, men are either brothers or competition (on the sports field). Tanu on the other hand plays the field (of another kind). She is more the sensuous type. Looks apart (they even share the same mole below the jawline, which is often concealed, and sometimes not), the two lead characters are nothing like each other.

Almost like a chameleon, Kangana Ranaut plays the double role as if she was part of two separate movies. Undoubtedly she’s up for massive acclaim this time on again. Her part in Queen had touched a certain unknown raw nerve, especially among female audiences, to make it the most talked about performance of 2014. She had played a surprisingly naïve middleclass Delhi girl who goes off alone on a maiden trip to Europe.

The character Datto here is infinitely more earthy and believable. As is the film that perfectly captures the sounds and smell of north India in the winters. We travel to a Haryana village riven by caste politics, besides Chamanganj in Kanpur, where everyone pokes their nose into each others’ lives, and the idyllic campus of Delhi’s Ramjas college.

The authenticity in the writing (Himanshu Sharma) is perhaps the reason practically all the actors in the film (most notably Deepak Dobriyal) leave a mark. The wit and repartee is absolutely top class.

Is this film about post-marriage issues a mainstream escapist fantasy still? Oh yes. It’s a complete mad-cap, rom-com romp. Manu starts off being diagnosed as clinically insane.

The more real story belongs to his father, who lives in a home with his perennially nagging wife as the background score. The old man cracks husband-wife jokes. It is the most popular genre of humour in India. Observations and asides like these—and there are so many—lift this film to an altogether another level. I haven’t laughed so much in a while.

Bombay Velvet Review By Mayank Shekhar

Arrey… Just get to the (Nariman) point

Bombay Velvet

Director: Anurag Kashyap

Actors: Ranbir Kapoor, Anushka Sharma

Rating: *1/2

This over-written, over-produced film—suffering from what can only be called the ‘curse of the masterpiece’ or a ‘magnum opus complex’—spins around in so many circles at the same time, your mind boggles at the thought of what could be the point of it all.

Incidentally the point of this period piece is Nariman Point. It’s the business district coming up in the southern tip of Bombay in 1969. The land has been reclaimed from sea. Crony capitalists eye the expensive real estate. They have blood in their hands. I suppose we’re meant to follow the trail of blood all the way to the throne. If only…

This picture on the other hand is at once a rustic bromance, an idealistic romance, a personal saga… It is part history, part conspiracy theory, a running social commentary, a robust musical, a journalistic drama, noir-thriller, fanboy homage to movies itself, besides a massive tent-pole enterprise starring Ranbir Kapoor in the lead. What could be wrong with that?

Ranbir plays a cage fighter called Johnny Balraj. Now I’ve never been to an underground cage fight in Bombay, where men take on men for money over a blood-sport that has very few rules and where all gloves are off. We’ve always seen them in the movies though (Sunny Deol’s Ghayal comes to mind). Johnny in this picture looks a bit like Al Pacino from Brian De Palma’s Scarface (1983). There are equally obvious traces of Robert De Niro from Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull (1980).

Johnny finds himself a more respectable job as a ‘suited-booted’ manager of the city’s top jazz club, although we see him as a cage-fighter in subsequent scenes. The club Johnny manages is called Bombay Velvet. He is besotted by its lead singer (Anushka Sharma). A Parsee capitalist don, one Kaizad Khambatta, owns Bombay Velvet. Johnny is also his chief henchman. Karan Johar plays that Mob boss’s role. Whether you like it or not, Johar’s reputation as a genial, gossipy television host precedes him. It’s hard to take him seriously as a murderous, conniving gay robber baron in this film. But that’s absolutely the least of the problems you’re likely to have.

The issue is quite simply this. We’re being put through far too many plots and sub-plots for us to even bear in mind the plot of land that’s recently freed up in Bombay. You watch a lot. You feel nothing. None of the scenes, barring a couple of them, jump at you from the screen, while we breathlessly flit from an unnecessary murder to its investigation to a jazz number in between. You never quite get drawn to any of the stories, let alone the sundry characters. This isn’t to say that this cardboard Mob opera doesn’t look great. Oh sure it does.

Lighting is splendid. So is the camerawork. Sets are stunning. Performances are fairly first-rate. Basically the posturing is complete. You know the place: Bombay. The filmmakers are more than aware of the period—Prohibition era (1949 and ’69)—to drown themselves in endless detail. Gyan Prakash’s non-fiction must-read Mumbai Fables is a fascinating account of the period captured in this film, when mill owners of central Bombay were turning into competing builders to slowly take over the city of gold. Some surnames you hear in this film can easily be identified as popular addresses in Mumbai over five decades hence — Mittal (Towers or Chambers, in Nariman Point), Kukreja (ugly building, practically everywhere)… You can sense this film’s backstory. What about the story itself? Gyan, a historian by profession, is one of the writers of this script that basically reinterprets the age-old writing rule, “Show, don’t tell” to mean, “Show-off, don’t tell!”

For a moment if you disregard this pic’s massive budget, it does not even count as director Anurag Kashyap’s most ambitious work. The inter-generational saga Gangs of Wasseypur (2012) was—both in its scope and scale. A strong voice-narration (often perceived as lazy writing) wonderfully helped piece together that 320-minute film. There is none of it here. It probably looks messy as a result. God knows it’s tough to keep it simple.

Which brings me to the Rs 100 crore question. Should you watch this film? By all means do, if you must. You may well have to watch it twice to make perfect sense of it. Now, wouldn’t the producers just love for that to happen!

Piku Review By Mayank Shekhar

Big B as big Bong at his best…

Piku

Director: Shoojit Sircar

Actors: Amitabh Bachchan, Deepika Padukone, Irrfan

Rating: ****

This is what you’d essentially call a comedy about a dysfunctional family. America has a full sub-genre dedicated to such kind of subversive humour. You would’ve seen and loved films like Little Miss Sunshine or My Big Fat Greek Wedding in the past.

This picture turns on its head what you’d imagine to be a typically upper middleclass, educated bhadralok type Bangali home, or any similar Indian family for that matter. The ones we see on the screen are, albeit, probashis (migrants), living in the traditional Bong neighbourhood Chittaranjan Park in South Delhi.

The proud but clingy dad would much prefer that his daughter, aged 30, never got married, although his reasons seem overtly selfish. He just wants her to be with him. He in fact aggressively cock-blocks potential boyfriends by announcing that she’s not a “vaargeen” (virgin) anymore. The mother has passed away. This fact is only made light of rather than actively mourned at any moment. The extended retinue of uncles and aunts and family friends display a set of peculiarities of their own.

Since you must know, this film is named after the daughter. Yeah, that pretty young thing (Deepika Padukone) is called Piku, in public. This is not a surprise. Bengalis, like Punjabis, are known to attach horrendous “pet names” (Poopy, Babla, Kinkini etc.) to their little ones at birth. Those strange names remain stuck with them for life.

The other well-known Bengali oddity this film looks at closely is their strange obsession with bowel movements. I’m told this obsession can be attributed to the British who love making equally long and serious conversations about how they passed wind and much thereafter every morning in the privacy of the loo. For sure, several Bengalis are confirmed Anglophiles. That toilet humour remains central to this film, even while it goes a little overboard on that front sometimes. This is because the quality of motion passed (or not) through the day is central to the life of the father in this film, who is a constipated hypochondriac.

The other problem the old man has is that he can’t travel by flight or train. He pines for his hometown Kolkata. The only way he can reach there then is the road. This is therefore also a road movie, set in the swanky, relatively under-explored national highways of shining India as the family travels 1500 kilometres between Delhi and Kolkata. Suffering along with the dad, or mainly suffering the old man in fact, is the daughter, their house-help, and the taxi-driver, or actually the owner of that taxi company (Irrfan), who has no clue what he’s got himself into.

The last time I watched a bunch of characters on screen take a road trip for the love of nostalgia for an old man was in Homi Adajania’s fantastic Finding Fanny (2014), with Naseeruddin Shah in the lead, and which also starred Deepika in one of the main roles.

That film was in English. This one, which should have well been in Bengali, is still a very different kind of film, although it captures just as well the simple quirks and joys of life, seeking delight in the mundane. The writing (Juhi Chaturvedi: this is her first script after the clever comedy about another type of body fluids, Vickky Donor) is absolutely first-rate. An equal amount of credit must of course go to Shoojit Sircar’s unpretentious, unobtrusive direction. Being obviously so strong on craft, he lets the story and his characters do all the talking. This is Sircar’s fourth feature as director—after Yahaan (on Kashmir insurgency), Viccky Donor, and Madras Café (terrific political thriller based on Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination). This picture firmly establishes Sircar’s cred as a robustly eclectic filmmaker.

Ah, and I haven’t even got there yet: Amitabh Bachchan plays the lead character, the old man Bhaskor, in this film. His last work was the thoroughly original and sadly under-rated, R Balki’s Shamitabh. At 72, he continues to be at the most creative phase of his career, which is my only issue with this film. The man of roughly the same age that he plays on screen, although haggard and pot-bellied, appears so senile, frail and needy. 70 is the new 50. Bachchan is the prime exemplar of that. Bhaskor should have been written in as a much older man.

Bhaskar incidentally was also the name of the Bengali character Bachchan played in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s timeless, under-stated Anand (1971). More recently he played another Bengali’s role—of a crabby, Shakespearean has-been actor, which I’m told, was roughly modeled on Utpal Dutt—in Rituparno Ghosh’s The Last Lear (2007). Now that slightly theatrical, over-the-top performance was hardly satisfying, given the standards set by Bachchan himself.

Comparatively here he gets the tone and manner of a frustrated old Bengali bhadralok gent almost pat on. His exaggerated hypochondriac behaviour contrasts supremely well against his calm co-stars—Deepika, Irrfan—for whom less is more, and who speak more or less with their eyes.

Speaking of which, as an audience, Deepika had me with the toothpaste foam around her lips and toothbrush in her hand as she opens the door at midnight for Irrfan, a man who still finds her intriguing, if not irresistibly attractive. You have to see that scene to know what I’m talking about.

Yes, of course, you must watch the film. More than anything else this comedy got me slightly emotional thinking about how distracted we get by life in general that we often begin to take our old folks—parents, grand parents—for granted. We get far too edgy and impatient sometimes dealing with their old-age idiosyncrasies. God knows, at some point, they will be no more. And we will miss them forever…

Gabbar Is Back Review By Mayank Shekhar

Gobar is back

Gabbar Is Back

Director: Krish

Actors: Akshay Kumar, Shruti Hasan

Rating: *1/2

This is a super hero film. Like all Bollywood super-star actioners are. The hero is expected to make a dozen men fly and eat dust with one stroke of his arm. That fauladi arm, as you know, belongs to Akki man. This means, as you might have also guessed: The presence of no one else matters on the screen. The female lead (Shruti Hasan) has about three or four lines, each one starting with, “According to Google,” followed by some popat statistic or the other. Kareena walks in for a special song. The unlikely Chitrangada Singh does an ‘item’ track… You get the drift.

The French filmmaker Francois Truffaut first coined the term ‘one man industry’ for Amitabh Bachchan in the ‘70s. If only Truffaut had lived to check out the unstoppable Akshay Kumar over the last two decades and half, he would’ve been equally impressed by the relentless output.

Akshay Kumar is a major corporate firm of his own, who delivers quarterly results for Bollywood with a new release every couple of months or so. To be fair, my theatre on a May Day weekend was half full, which is a rather uncommon sight for a Friday noon show. I was more interested in observing the audience rather than this film that is aimed at the aam janta’s frustration with the corruption they have to deal with on any given day in the life of India. Corruption became a hip, hot urban topic owing much to Anna Hazare’s movement in 2011.

Karan Johar tried to cash in on the rage with the film Ungli. This is a Sanjay Leela Bhansali reproduction. The corrupt in society are essentially seen as greedy aliens who’ve landed on earth and must be systematically weeded out to make the world a better place. I look at the crowd somewhat cheering behind me to check if everyone is corrupt in some form or the other themselves. Many of them even bribe gods to get their work done. But this minor hypocrisy mustn’t get in the way of a film that tries to deliver divine justice in exchange of a cinema ticket.

Akki man as Gabbar, with the help of some students, abducts corrupt bureaucrats. He hangs to death a tehsildar and thereafter an IAS officer. His final target is a builder. The cops are helpless, mainly because all they do is sit in a room and stare at a poster of a silhouette of a man with a question mark on his face. Gabbar meanwhile is setting the world on fire. I feel wired.

The last super-hero film that Indian audiences from Puri to Purnea went berserk over was Avengers: Age of Ultron, which made more money than any Hindi film of late. This was after Fast and Furious 7 became the first film in the country to touch 100 crore revenue. Given the changing desi palette, these Bollywood super-star, super hero stuff really seem so much like regional language potboilers in comparison.

Margarita With A Straw Review By Mayank Shekhar

You’ve got me on my knees Layla!

Margarita With A Straw

Director: Shonali Bose

Actors: Kalki Koechlin, Revathy

Rating: ***

Members of a film festival jury (if I’m not mistaken it was at Melbourne) that awarded Kalki Koechlin the best female actor prize, I’m told, believed that the filmmaker had actually hand-picked a person suffering from cerebral palsy to play the lead part in this film. This gives you a sense of how convincing Kalki’s portrayal of the physically challenged lead character Laila must be.

The research has clearly paid off. The character is admittedly modeled on Malini Chib, a South Bombay resident, and brother of the popular city chef Nikhil Chib. A role such as this is in any case written to sweep awards, if the film is sensitive enough, which this is; and if the performer is up to the mark—that there is no doubt about. Despite such serious competition in 2014, for instance, there was little doubt in most heads that the best actor Oscar would go to Eddie Redmayne for pulling off Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything.

Anyway let’s not obsess over awards here too much. The film is far more important. And if were talking about performances in the first place, Revathy as the warm, upper middleclass Delhi mom in this film, is equally first rate.

Margarita With A Straw is named after the first alcoholic drink that young Laila ever sips at a bar in her life. She needs the straw because cerebral palsy, we learn, is a physical condition that affects motor movements while the brain is absolutely normal. She’s a fine lyricist. A normal brain would exhibit the most natural desires—the primary one at her age being sexual, of course.

The first time she’s snubbed while acting upon her sexual attraction obviously leaves a huge impact on her psyche. That scene seems quite hurriedly executed. I suspect the Indian Censor Board had something to do with the botch-up.

Laila’s first crush is an Assamese boy. Her father is Sikh. Her mom is South Indian. When she moves to New York, she discovers her homosexual side and draws ever closer to a blind girl of Pakistani and Bangladeshi parentage. You can tell an interesting cast of characters from ethnicity alone.

Most audiences prefer to stay away from films where the lead character is disabled in some way, assuming that the picture then must be far too grim rather than escapist enough for their entertainment. If one were to really to ascribe a genre, this picture might actually qualify more as an LGBT/Queer film.

I happened to judge a Queer film festival once. Only after I signed up for the gig did I start hyperventilating over how many movies on the same theme could one possibly watch over a whole week.

Incidentally I had a ball. The movies were just as diverse as you’d find at any other festival. Nobody is really 100 per cent queer, lesbian, heterosexual, physically disabled or mentally unhappy for that state to define their whole life or day altogether.

The stories eventually boil down to common emotions. As does this film’s. Yes, there is a lot of pathos. But there is much joy. And enough empathy. By the end of it you want to go get a margarita with Laila. How does it matter if she drinks it with a straw? She’s just as much fun. Yes, so is this picture.

Nanak Shah Fakir Review By Mayank Shekhar

So worth spreading the message

Nanak Shah Fakir

Director: Sartaj Singh Pannu

Actors: Arif Zakaria, Tom Alter

Rating: ***

I know as much about religion as you know about this film (assuming that you haven’t seen it already). I’m told Sikhism, like Islam, forbids the use of a human form to depict its founder. This diktat, like so much about religions in general, is debatable. But that’s another matter.

I suspect the logic behind not allowing an actor to portray Guru Nanak is that it might mess with the image that comes to the believer’s mind when they worship the great saint. A lot of us, to give you a totally unrelated example, naturally visualise Ben Kinglsey when we think of Mahatma Gandhi.

The restriction mentioned above puts the filmmakers here in a uniquely tight spot. They have to pull off a biopic where you don’t actually get to see the protagonist at all. Guru Nanak, on whose life this film is based, appears like a hologram, radiating light from the outlines of his body and robe. The camera hardly ever peers in his direction. Most of the talking and zooming in for reactions happen through the great saint’s Man Friday, fellow traveller, and the film’s narrator, Mardaana—a rabab player, played by Arif Zakaria.

At one level, this film is a beautifully picturised, ambitious travelogue, recalling the parts of India that Guru Nanak went in search for footprints of the finest sages and philosophers of his time. The camera pans across Varanasi, Kamrup (in Assam), Tibet, Jagannath Puri… This allows the film the kind of natural scale that may have been impossible if it was only relaying an important sermon.

Guru Nanak was a relentless traveller, testing the bounds of human endurance. The film faithfully captures a lot of the legends and miracles attributed to him. His followers would have probably known about these anyway. But the beauty of the world’s youngest religion is that it bears strong resonance to a relatively contemporary history as well. We watch the rise of the Mughals with the help of cannons in India in the early 1500s, which coincides with the fall of the Turks. The battle scenes in the film do fair justice to this turning point in the history of both Punjab and the Indian sub-continent. It goes beyond mythology.

The art direction is simply first rate. Tom Alter, bloated up to a point that you can’t recognise him anymore, plays the king, Daulat Khan. Guru Nanak’s first job was in the government’s ration shop in Sultanpur where he would distribute free grains without affecting the supplies at all.

The film effectively charts the journey of a fakir who goes on to spread the message of oneness of God and equality among men, debunking myths surrounding warring religions and caste.

As I said, I know very little about religion. Much less is discussed in popular culture for fear of offending some over-sensitive devotee or the other. Followers of religions (and cults), like agnostics and atheists, usually preach to the converted.

This film is a notable exception. I hear a ban has nonetheless been imposed against it in Punjab. The last time I heard such news was over another movie called MSG, starring Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh jI Insan. Now, many who had seen that film have hardly recovered from it yet.

The press show for this picture had not more than a dozen reviewers inside a massive hall. The expectations, at least mine, were rather low. Every once in a while though, as a viewer, you’re pleasantly surprised while making a discovery such as this film. It’s sensibly made; for the most part deeply engaging; and therefore universal in its appeal. I think you should catch it on television, if it’s sadly not playing at a theatre near you.

Mr. X Review By Mayank Shekhar

Mr ‘X-creta!

Mr X

Director: Vikram Bhatt

Actors: Emran Hashmi, Amyra Dastur, Arunoday Singh

Rating: *

Surely we’ve seen several films where the central character, inspired by HG Wells’ Invisible Man, vanishes into the proverbial thin air—much like Hollow Man (2000). Audiences are aware of this movie genre.

But the leading lady in this picture is a movie-buff of another kind. She is so used to the idea of a guy going invisible that when she first encounters her fiancé, who only the night before had died, having been blown up in a blast in a godown, she doesn’t wonder how he’s come back, or why is he invisible in the first place. She isn’t gobsmacked by the thought of a person being in perfect shape after being burnt dead, let alone that he is now visible under sunlight and neon blue light, and then disappears altogether. This miracle, if you must know, has been sponsored by Lord Krishna.

It’s all in a day’s work for the pretty young thing though. All she wants to do is point her pistol and arrest her man, because he’s assassinated the state’s chief minister.

The heroine, like the invisible hero, are employees of Mumbai’s Anti-terrorism Department (ATD). Her father too used to work for the same department of the police force. But he’s just got out of jail. He was involved in fake encounter killings. I can see why the filmmakers refer to this special cop cell as ATD rather than its actual name ATS (Anti-terrorism Squad). Mumbai police would have sued them for showing them in such poor light!

The boss of the ATD (Arunoday Singh) and his core team has hatched the plot to kill the chief minister. They’re a serious threat to the nation. The missing hero, Mr X (Emraan Hashmi), was only forced to execute the killing.

A thoroughly pointless cat and mouse chase, which is the point of this pic (if you may), essentially involves Mr X and his girlfriend (Amyra Dastur), who’s out to prove that she’s a good cop, even as she knows, as do we, that he was never a bad cop either.

This is a Mahesh/Mukesh Bhatt production. It looks slightly low-budget, given the genre. It also marks the return of their protégé Emraan Hashmi into the enterprise. Nanabhai Bhatt, Mahesh Bhatt’s father, incidentally used to make mythologicals and fantasy films back in the day. Mr X (in 1957) was one of them.

I don’t know if this 3D picture has anything to do with that. But we do know what a rollicking affair a film about an invisible man can be. Shekhar Kapur’s Mr India is one of the very few Hindi films to survive public memory from the ‘80s. This one has a decent climax sequence. But you have to wait all the way until the end for that. Sadly I wanted to disappear from the theatre within the first half hour.

Dharam Sankat Mein Review By Mayank Shekhar

A brave and important film…

Dharam Sankat Mein

Director: Fuwad Khan

Actors: Paresh Rawal, Annu Kapoor, Naseeruddin Shah

Rating: ***

This is a film about inter-religious compassion or empathy. I don’t use religious “tolerance” because I find that word revolting. Who the hell gives anyone the right to tolerate or not tolerate someone else’s personal faith? Be that as it may, we could still do with some religious tolerance.

The lead character in this film lives in Ahmedabad—that locals tend to call Amdavad—which 13 years ago had witnessed the worst communal riots in recent history. This meat-eating, whisky loving, Hindu Brahmin man, Dharampal, although hardly religious himself, holds prejudices against Muslims.

Dharampalji, an enterprising Gujarati businessman, reveals his preconceived notions while bantering with his Muslim lawyer neighbor. He would in fact much prefer that his Muslim neighbour lived in a ‘Muslim neighbourhood’ instead.

This kind of religious segregation or ghettoisation, so common even in big Indian cities, inevitably breeds distrust between communities. There is going to be much less empathy for the other, when there is even less human contact.

As fate would have it, Dharampal turns out to be a born Muslim. In his fifties, he realises that he’s actually an adopted child. His biological father follows Islam. He must learn the basic tenets and rituals of the religion in order to meet his dad. His Muslim neighbor gives him a crash course on Islam. As an audience, I learn as well.

Likewise, poor ping-pong ball Dharmpal goes through a similar routine with Hinduism, for the sake of his son, whose girlfriend’s family is what you might call the ‘dharmik’ types. Of course Hinduism has far too strands and beliefs and texts for it to be even considered a singular religion. Its rituals change depending on regions or the Gods you choose to worship.

Dharampal is meant to follow a particular god-man. Naseeruddin Shah (rather over-the-top) plays this high-strung Hindu baba, leading an army of followers and fanatics. Annu Kapoor is the Muslim lawyer. He pulls off that endearing part with the inimitable ease that only Annu Kapoor can. Paresh Rawal, a BJP MP now, has participated in a thematically similar film, Oh My God, before. He’s far more competent and restrained as the lead character Dharampal here, pretty much stealing the show.

From a production point of view, the film appears relatively amateurish. During the final few minutes, writers resort to lazy preaching when the film has already driven home its point. You don’t mind any of this very much still, as you watch the three hand-picked top actors here, carry off an absolutely first-rate script to achieve both its noble intents, which is to enlighten and entertain, and hope to make the audiences look inwards and think.

Dharam Sankat Mein (Religion in danger) is a rather apt title for this picture. The false notion that your faith is under threat is often used to group together masses against an imagined ‘other’.

God know the sort of prejudices Dharampal harbours is far more common among middle class Indians that most would have earlier admitted to. Only in the past couple of years, you may have noticed, some of these prejudices have morphed into shameless bigotry, openly expressed in social media in particular. Divisive politicians gain from such mistrust.

Popular entertainment, or a lively, mass-oriented film such as this, is perhaps our most potent counter to a frightening intolerance. That fact alone makes this a very important and brave film. I suggest you head to the ticket counter for sure.

Ek Paheli Leela Review By Mayank Shekhar

Sunny side up!

Ek Paheli Leela

Director: Bobby Khan

Actors: Sunny Leone, Jay Bhanushali

Rating: *1/2

This is a gigantically mounted, major budget film centred on Sunny Leone alone. The heroine is surrounded by a line-up of male actors who are, relatively speaking, serious ‘sideys’, really. The sets are palatial. The lighting is stunning. Even the sex sequences, although too far and few between, are aesthetically picturised with a background score in the sand dunes of Thar desert. The other songs, mostly Rajasthani folk that you’ve heard in movies before—‘Dhol baje dhol’, ‘Kesariya balam’—are shot with hundreds of turbaned extras.

At the centre of it all are two Sunny Leones for the price of one. This must obviously be novel for Leone’s fans, unless she’s ever made love to her body-double on the computer screen before! The first Leone is from London, with the ‘jaata haai, kaarta haai, aacha hauga’ twang—her original accent I presume. She falls in love with a modern Rajput prince. The other Leone is a rustic. Rajasthani belle, who falls for a commoner.

The theme of this film is unrequited love and reincarnation. The main characters, Rajput prince types, have basically been reborn to take revenge on one another. If the budgets were a few fractions less, this picture, aimed at the ‘single screens’, would resemble a second-rate spoof of Karan Arjun (1993) and Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s ‘90s pics.

I’m actually stunned by the reincarnation of Ms Leone, or Karenjit Vohra, ex-pornstar of Punjabi descent, herself. She’s come a long way, baby. If you needed any further proof that she is really a bona fide, solo Bollywood star, it doesn’t get any bigger than this. Does one need to sit through a whole mumbo-jumbo picture to appreciate that? No.

Detective Byomkesh Bakshy Review By Mayank Shekhar

A bit of art, too much artifice

Detective Byomkesh Bakshy

Director: Dibakar Bannerjee

Actors: Sushant Singh Rajput, Neeraj Kabi

Rating: **

How moody and at times even pretentious could you possibly get with a genre as simply entertaining and lively as detective fiction? A lot, if you ask me—going by the 150 minutes spent watching Detective Byomkesh Bakshi.

The production design of this noir, period film is exquisite no doubt, although certain parts of a decaying Calcutta could very well pass off as belonging to 1943 even now. There is constant play of light and shadow throughout the picture. Each moment is consciously crafted. Very often some of the main characters being introduced in a scene remain off the screen. The camera equally enjoys the sight of human legs flung in the air, filling up the frame. The background score sometimes over slow motion shots is modern heavy metal. The pacing is so sluggish still. You wish they had injected some more life and energy into certain portions. So you know this is an over-stylised picture then.

What could be wrong with that? Except that the purpose behind all of it, which is the story itself, is such an over-boiled egg. There are far too many scenes, and characters of various descent—Chinese, Japanese, poor me. You run the risk of losing the thread, if you aren’t alert enough. Some of the complications in the plot could border on the absolute ridiculous, even if it wasn’t held together by a competent director.

The central character of course is Byomkesh Bakshi, adapted from the series of books written by Saradindu Bandhopadhyay. That’s the reason to be excited in the first place. Viewers of my vintage will remember this detective from the popular serial on Wednesday night Doordarshan. Needless to add, that tempered, no-frill, storyteller’s dream show has absolutely nothing to do with this film. Low on both soul and swagger Sushant Singh Rajput under-plays Byomkesh to a point that the audiences are likely to be mesmerized far more by Neeraj Kabi, one of the other main characters, who can be calm and feisty at the same time.

Here’s what we know about Byomkesh through clues in this film. He is 24. He was born in Munger (Bihar) and moved to Calcutta when he was 15. He’s a detective alright, but he clearly hasn’t made a name for himself yet. Even the cops don’t know who he is. He’s just rented a room in a hostel to solve the case of a tenant who’s gone missing from the same place. Every once in a while Byomkesh has eureka moments when he hears a stray remark that leads him closer to cracking the case that initially involves a suspected murder. Gradually the plot expands to include not just opium trade at a grand scale but battle between nations in WWII. Eventually, the young Byomkesh’s ambitions, let alone the filmmakers’, start seeming slightly misplaced.

This is Dibakar Bannerjee’s fifth feature. He probably enjoys the most flawless filmography among contemporary Bollywood directors: Khosla Ka Ghosla, Oye Lucky Lucky Oye, LSD, Shanghai. The promo of this pic held immense promise. As does the basic concept. If you’ve read this review so far, I guess you would have already toned down your expectations from this film, as one must with most things in life. Sadly I didn’t enjoy that luxury. So yeah, for all you know, you might just like it more than I did.