Category Archives: Entertainment

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High Jack movie review: Sumeet Vyas’s comic timing is the best thing about this doomed hijack drama

A DJ whose career is in the doldrums agrees to carry a package on a flight without knowing what it is. He is travelling by an airline that is about to shut down, and as it happens, he chooses to fly on a day when the plane is hijacked by a bunch of disgruntled employees. The ensuing chaos spirals further when drugged passengers enter the mix. The title of course is a play on “hijack” and a drug-induced “high”.

An accomplished director of comedy could have turned Adhir Bhat’s story for High Jack into a rib-tickling affair. Sadly for this film and some of its gifted cast members, Akarsh Khurana seems not to be that person. Khurana, who was a co-writer on the screenplays of Krrish and Krrish 3, has written this screenplay too in addition to helming the project. Despite brimming with potentially hilarious situations and boasting of some razor-sharp actors, High Jack crash-lands not long after it takes off.

High Jack promo poster. Image via Twitter

Films like Raazi merely amplify India’s Pakistan obsession — making us seem smaller than we are

indian popular films are virtually incapable of mixing basic emotions. A film is either patriotic or about love and when a film is about both, as in Manoj Kumar’s Upkar (1967), the two lovers must be patriotic together; love of the nation brings them close. Meghna Gulzar’s Raazi tries to do the impossible, bring the conflicting emotions together but with doubtful results. Raazi is a spy story set just before the 1971 war with Pakistan. It claims to be based on a true story but ‘true stories’ of historical situations — even when ‘true’, are embellished or distorted to serve ends other than historical accuracy.

[Spoilers ahead.]

In the film Sehmat Khan (Alia Bhatt) is married off at her father’s instance to a Pakistani army officer Iqbal Syed (Vicky Kaushal). Her father Hidayat Khan (Rajit Kapur) was a friend of Brigadier Parvez Syed even while doing intelligence work for India and since he is dying of cancer, he wants his daughter to marry a Pakistani and carry on his espionage work for India. Sehmat is studying in Delhi but she is from a Kashmiri family. Having the woman protagonist of a popular film marry a good man because he belongs to an enemy country she wishes harm to, is a tricky moral position. If he is a good man he cannot but also do his duty; so how does an upright woman who marries someone from an enemy country reconcile the love she must feel for her husband with the great harm she intends doing him and his country? Whether this is reconcilable or not, one must admit that Raazi raises questions about personal and political ethics, but many more than it intends to since it is positioned as a patriotic film.

Rajit Kapur and Alia Bhatt in a still from Raazi

When Sehmat crosses over she has to interact with several people, her father-in-law, her husband and her husband’s older brother Mehboob Syed. The film takes two liberties here but neither does it much credit. In the first place can people be appointed as spies so casually by Indian intelligence without wondering about the suitability of recruits? It must surely be recognized by all spy recruiters that a person required to marry and spy upon her own family will be beset upon by conflicting emotions. If she has conflicting emotions and then comes under suspicion from the enemy, what is to prevent the enemy side from recruiting her as a double agent to pass on misinformation to her home country?  Anyone who has read a spy novel knows that information elicited must be checked for reliability.

The second issue is a moral one: if her husband’s family does not suspect her, does it not show that they trust her and would not conducting herself treacherously make her doings a betrayal of trust? If the member of a family is suspected of being a spy, so will the other members; they would all risk the heaviest punishment, and Sehmat is thus endangering all of those who have treated her well. There is a key question of personal and political ethics here: is it justifiable for a person to conduct himself/herself dishonourably in his/her personal life for ‘correct’ political reasons? People were encouraged under Hitler and Stalin to spy upon their families and friends — leading to their executions; Raazi is similarly suggesting that people’s love of the nation is reason enough for them to betray their loved ones.

These are questions that might have been explored but only by a director who had done some thinking. Where Sehmat Khan deserves to be judged morally for her acts, Meghna Gulzar prejudges her as ‘patriotic’ and plays down her family relationships in Pakistan. Sehmat’s in-laws are all ‘good’ but there is an element of emotionlessness in family behaviour; there are, for instance, no demonstrations of affection. Sehmat’s love for her husband is also not much in evidence and when conjugality is introduced — hesitantly — the camera dwells on the sex without the romance needed to signify ‘love’. Sehmat is under no suspicion within the family at all except from a cook and when he catches her transmitting messages she kills him by running him over. Here again, the sequence is handled in a sterile manner: the vehicle might have had bloodstains on it but she does nothing to check. Washing off the bloodstains of an innocent servant doing his duty might have seemed too coldblooded. This is, essentially, insincerity on the film’s part, making it appear that Sehmat’s acts awaken few moral questions. Later on, she kills her brother-in-law when he becomes suspicious. But there are no scenes of the family — and her widowed sister-in-law — grieving; the camera catches only the military funeral.

At the climax of the film Sehmat is fleeing but she has a general’s child in her car — a hostage. Iqbal Syed has come to know of her doings and is in pursuit. Sehmat visits her contact in the town even as Indian agents are trying to rescue her. As luck will have it, another woman dresses in Sehmat’s burqa and the Indian agents fling a grenade, killing both the woman and Sehmat’s husband.  Sehmat is extricated and brought back to India, where she is in hospital, and in tears — till her superior tells her that such acts happen in war, and it quietens her. The issue here is whether exploding a grenade in a market place among civilians is not a terrorist act, and if the act is not being justified because it is on behalf of India? Could not Ajmal Qasab’s handlers have used a similar argument with him when they sent him out to Mumbai? Terrorism is dastardly because its kills innocents, not because Indians are the victims. The moral demands a state can make of its citizens depends on its image among the public, and one doubts that the Indian state has the moral authority to make demands of the kind made on Sehmat.

Meghna Gulzar last made waves with Talvar (2015) and in that film she showed law enforcement as inept and prejudiced and the judiciary as incapable of delivering justice. In Raazi she shows the intelligence wing as full of highly competent dedicated persons, who only do what is right and make no mistakes. One cannot help wondering, since the failure of state machinery is indicative of a weak or corrupt state, how the work of the intelligence wing can be so impeccable — both in terms of efficiency and morally. Are not the employees being recruited, trained and put into service by the same corrupt, weak state?

Sehmat relays information about the plans of the submarine Ghazi to attack INS Vikrant at Vishakapatnam port and this ties the film to The Ghazi Attack (2017), another patriotic anti-Pakistani film. To conclude this essay with general reflection on the portrayal of Pakistan in Hindi films, let us begin by looking at India’s global ambitions. Unlike in the earlier regimes where ‘foreign policy’ meant issuing statements when Indian students were attacked in Australia, there is a concerted attempt to make India seem a global/regional power now. The Prime Minister meets Putin and Xi where the earlier regimes left it to the External Affairs Minister or undersecretaries in the foreign ministry to talk to their counterparts. It is no small achievement for a country’s leader to meet his counterparts in countries not known to be friendly (like China) and, if anything, it shows India’s ambitions in the world, its intention of becoming influential.

At the same time, in political speeches Pakistan is repeatedly mentioned and made to seem most important. The shrill anti-Pakistani rhetoric in the public space makes Pakistan the average person’s chief political concern and the recent controversy over Jinnah is a symptom of how public energy is wasted on it. Often it seems that the Pakistani establishment is actually much more casual about India than vice versa. If among the general public Pakistan is seen as India’s biggest rival, how does rivalry with a fourth-rate power tie in with India’s global self-image? Is there not a case to be made for Indians to forget Pakistan — at least as the reason for their worst nightmares? There is no knowing what perfidy will come across the border but being vigilant is not the same as being obsessed. If anything, films like Raazi merely amplify the obsession.  The obsession with Pakistan makes us look smaller than we are.

MK Raghavendra is a film scholar and author of seven books including The Oxford India Short Introduction to Bollywood (2016). He is deeply interested in social, political and cultural issues in India, an interest that informs his books on film.

Ali Fazal and Richa Chadha to play lead roles in upcoming rom-com, an indie project set in India and the US

Ali Fazal and Richa Chadha, who have been dating in real life, are all set to star opposite each other on the big screen in an upcoming project, according to a report by DNA.

The two actors have been roped in to play the lead roles in an upcoming romantic-comedy movie which will be directed by an LA-based filmmaker, according to the report in DNA. The discussions for Ali Fazal and Richa Chadha to star in the as-of-yet untitled project were going on for sometime, but the project was finalised last week when both the actors were holidaying in Switzerland.

Ali Fazal and Richa Chadha/Image from Twitter.

Ali Fazal and Richa Chadha have shared screen space before in Fukrey and Fukrey Returns, but this will be the first time that the two will be paired opposite each other. A source is quoted by DNA saying, “Richa and Ali met the filmmaker in Geneva last week and locked all the details. A romantic-dramedy, it’s an indie project set in India and the US. The shooting of the yet-to-be-titled film will start in September.”

The DNA report also mentions that the two actors started dating last year in September during the making of Fukrey Returns. Since then, the two have gone on several holidays together, and early this year Ali Fazal was accompanied by Richa Chadha to Venice for the world premiere of his Hollywood film Victoria & Abdul.

Amoli: Kamal Haasan, Vidya Balan, Rajkummar Rao lend voice to documentary on sexual exploitation

Actors Kamal Haasan, Vidya Balan, Rajkummar Rao, Puneeth Rajkumar and Jisshu Sengupta have lent their voice to Amoli: Priceless, a digital documentary on commercial sexual exploitation of children.

Produced by Culture Machine, the documentary on the deep-seated and well-organised criminal industry will release on Monday in seven languages on YouTube and Facebook. It spotlights different forms of exploitation and the constant need that feeds the demand for this business.

A promo for Amoli: Priceless. Image via Twitter

The film is narrated in four chapters — Mol (price), Maya (illusion), Manthan (internal conflict) and Mukti (liberation).

“Fundamentally, the objective is to dissuade men from buying sex from children,” Sameer Pitalwalla, CEO and Co-Founder, Culture Machine Media Pvt Ltd, said in a statement. “We believe that a combination of fear and stigma is what will deter men in the short-to-medium term. This can only materialise through unequivocal political commitment, proactive law enforcement and strict and swift justice. We want to magnify awareness about this issue through Amoli, and consequently, mobilise the general public to demand our police, judiciary and government to address the issue.”

The 30-minute film is directed by acclaimed documentary filmmakers and National Award winners Jasmine Kaur Roy and Avinash Roy, with music by Tajdar Junaid.

Though shot in Hindi, dubbed-versions of Amoli are available in Tamil, Telugu, Bengali, Marathi, Kannada and English. It has been strung together through stories of survivors who have been through the horrors of commercial sexual exploitation.

102 Not Out box office collection: Amitabh Bachchan-Rishi Kapoor starrer earns Rs 16.65 cr on opening weekend

The weekend seemed to get better and better for the Amitabh Bachchan and Rishi Kapoor starrer 102 Not Out, which recorded a total gross of Rs 16.65 crore in its opening weekend.

The film, directed by Umang Shukla of Oh My God! fame, refused to be bullied by Avengers: Infinity War even though the Marvel blockbuster continued to muscle rivals aside at the global box office.

Rishi Kapoor and Amitabh Bachchan in a still from 102 Not Out. YouTube

102 Not Out raked in Rs 3.52 cr on Friday, Rs 5.53 cr on Saturday and Rs 7.60 cr on Sunday, reports trade analyst Taran Adarsh.

Billed as the most unusual father-son story, 102 Not Out is based on playwright Saumya Joshi’s popular Gujarati play of the same name.

Also read: 102 Not Out highlights what Bollywood might lose out on, thanks to its obsession with youth

The film portrays the relationship between a 102-year-old man (Bachchan) and his 75-year-old son (Kapoor). Bachchan’s centenarian wants to break the world record of being the oldest man alive, which is held by a 118-year-old Chinese man. He plans to do it by putting his son in an old age home.

102 Not Out is produced by SPE Films India and Treetop Entertainment.

The actor duo, who have worked together in films such as Amar Akbar Anthony, Kabhi Kabhie, Naseeb and Coolie, reunite on screen after 26 years.

Alia Bhatt, Varun Dhawan, Sidharth Malhotra to reportedly make cameos in Student of the Year 2

Actors Sidharth Malhotra and Varun Dhawan, who made their film debuts in 2012’s Student Of The Year, will reportedly make cameo appearances in the sequel.

Filmfare reports that the two actors have confirmed their comeback but their roles have not been revealed yet.

Alia Bhatt, who also made her debut with Sidharth and Varun, hinted at a comeback in an earlier interview but has not confirmed if she will be joining the two actors. However, Mumbai Mirror reports that Karan Johar has invited all three actors to make cameos in a song sequence.

Varun Dhawan and Sidharth Malhotra in Student of the Year. Image via Twitter

Student Of The Year 2, the second installment of the franchise, stars Tiger Shroff and newcomers Ananya Pandey and Tara Sutaria.

Karan Johar is bankrolling the movie under his production banner Dharma Productions. With Student Of The Year, Karan gave Alia, Varun and Sidharth a great launchpad in Bollywood. They have since cemented their place in the film industry year after year with a slew of diverse projects.

Varun, who is the son of filmmaker David Dhawan, started his career as an assistant director to filmmaker Karan in My Name Is Khan. He has featured in films like Main Tera Hero, Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania, Badlapur, Dilwale, Dishoom, Badrinath Ki Dulhania and, more recently, October. Siddharth has starred in movies like Hasee Toh Phasee, Ek Villain, Kapoor & Sons, Ittefaq, and more recently, Aiyaary.

The film is being directed by Punit Malhotra, and its shooting is underway.

Student Of The Year 2 will hit screens on 23 November.

Raveena Tandon ropes in weavers from self-help groups across India to create clothing line

Raveena Tandon has been working on her own clothing line for quite some time and is all set to finally launch it towards the end of the year.

Raveena Tandon. Facebook

While her appearances at a number of fashion shows of eminent designers are much talked about, she is also being lauded for her newest endeavor as part of which she has been posting videos wherein she talks about her style and beauty regime. The celebrated yesteryear actress also gives various tips on general well being. DNA revealed that according to a close source, Raveena’s label is tentatively called Fashion Insider.

The label reportedly will have a huge collection of traditional clothes with embroideries and bead work. It is said the Raveena is getting jackets and tunics made from female weavers from various self-help groups across India.

“I found the right time to introduce a fashion collection. I hope to share tips on making smart wardrobe choices. Fashion is an expression of how one feels on any given day and if I can help people feel confident, nothing like it,” the actress was quoted as saying.

As Raveena’s video blogs got a great response from her fans she also told Tribune that she thinks it is a way reciprocate her love to her followers. “I’m grateful for all the love that fans have sent my way. I saw this as an opportunity to reciprocate their love. I will be addressing skin concerns and questions related to beauty that I get asked often. I share all the home remedies that have been passed on to me. The videos are conceptualised by me,” she was quoted as saying.

Sanjay Dutt biopic: Rajkumar Hirani says ‘I told Sanju we won’t glorify him and he was okay with it’

Rajkumar Hirani is gearing up for the release of one 2018’s most-anticipated films, the Dutt biopic, titled Sanju. As the film inches closer to its release, the excitement around it is steadily increasing, mainly because Sanjay Dutt has been the epitome of a ‘troubled star’.

In an interview with DNA, Hirani says that the anecdotes that Dutt had told him during an impromptu meeting stayed with him for a long time. He says that Sanjay’s life, which has been full of ups and terrifying lows, is like a “goldmine” for any filmmaker.

Ranbir Kapoor, Raju Hirani, Sonam Kapoor. Image from Twitter/@RajkumarHirani

After several meetings with Sanjay, Hirani decided that he was going to string the pieces of his life together — the death of his mother, rehab stint and his conviction in the 1993 bomb blasts case — and make a feature film. He maintains that he told Sanjay that he wouldn’t glorify him in the film and the actor was okay with it.

Although Hirani now confirms that Sanju is the title the makers are going with — there’s also a story to it. He tells the publication that the makers wanted to go with a neutral title. When they found out that Nargis (Sanjay’s mother) used to lovingly call him, ‘Sanju’, they went for it. “One of the titles was Aisa Hi Hoon. Anything you attach with a name in a biopic is like an adjective. Even if you say Aisa Hi Hoon or Sarphira, either you are glorifying him or attacking him. One thing all of us were clear about was that we wanted a neutral title. Dutt seemed a little harsh,” explains Hirani.

Although the film set was fiercely guarded, when Ranbir Kapoor’s photos from the sets of the film leaked online, everyone was taken aback. The young actor has no connections with Dutt, but he looked uncannily similar to the senior actor. Hirani says that although Ranbir was an unusual choice for the role, he was cast for his exceptional acting ability. Moreover, the film needed an actor who could seamlessly gel with the transformations in Sanjay’s life and for the makers, Ranbir fit the bill.

What’s also spectacular about Hirani’s journey is that most of his films have been blockbusters. His Munnabhai franchise cemented his foothold in the industry as a filmmaker who could churn out content-driven cinema while still being highly entertaining. However, for the filmmaker, just finishing the film and seeing it release was a high. He says he doesn’t take the title of ‘best writer’ seriously, an honour that has been associated with him informally for the longest time now. He works with his trusted writer Abhijat, who along with Boman Irani, attends his distress calls before every release. Although he is one of the most gifted filmmakers of his time, he claims he is a nervous mess before any release and people like Boman and Abhijat keep him sane during these times.

The filmmaker concludes by praising Sanjay for his courage and the will to talk about his life openly. He tells the publication that Sanjay has seen the teaser and was overwhelmed by it. He plans to watch the film only when it’s complete.

Sanju releases on 29 June, 2018.

Sanju teaser: Ranbir Kapoor transforms into Sanjay Dutt effortlessly in this typical Rajkumar Hirani story

The much-awaited teaser of the Rajkumar Hirani-directed Sanjay Dutt biopic Sanju is here.

In it, Ranbir Kapoor can be seen in six different looks of Dutt that depict six phases of his life. And then in typical Hirani fashion, and in a Munna Bhai accent, Ranbir introduces Dutt’s life.

The teaser then jumps into a montage of Sanjay Dutt’s life, from his onscreen journey to the multiple affairs to his AK-56 rifle case. The teaser underlines the many lives Dutt has lived within one lifetime: from luxury to captivity, from being loved to being punished.

From the first shot of the trailer itself, you will find yourself adjusting your eyes to make sure you’re watching Ranbir Kapoor, and not Sanjay Dutt, in the teaser. The similarities are uncanny, and full props to Ranbir Kapoor for carrying off the character so well.

We wish there were most glimpses of the supporting cast.

Ever since the film was announced, it has been in the news for several reasons — leaked pictures wherein Ranbir Kapoor looks like a carbon copy of Dutt, and the ensemble cast including Sonam Kapoor, Paresh Rawal, Anushka Sharma, Vicky Kaushal and Manisha Koirala (among others).

The most important reason behind this surging enthusiasm is undoubtedly Sanjay Dutt. Recently, several fan clubs on Twitter shared the first look of the film as well:

In October, Varun Dhawan cements his credibility as a performer; it’s a role devoid of filmi

The compliment ‘career-best performance’ gets tossed around so much that it’s in danger of losing it’s meaning. But Varun Dhawan’s performance as the disinterested and surly understudy Danish ‘Dan’ Walia in Shoojit Sircar’s exquisite October is a career-defining work. Decades from now, when Varun’s movie career is being written about, this outing will definitely find a mention.

By now, Varun has already proved that he is a consummate Bollywood hero. There is no doubt that he can dance up a storm; take off his shirt and make girls swoon; beat up baddies, and indulge in tomfoolery to deliver laughs. Commercial successes like ABCD, Dhishoom, Judwaa 2 and Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania have meant that his six years in the business has been smooth sailing.

In a bid to expand his repertoire, he first dipped his toe into the off-center film pool with Sriram Raghavan’s twisted revenge thriller, Badlapur. Having only played versions of the easy-breezy ‘hero’ until this point, Varun made everyone sit up with his performance as Raghu, the everyman-turned-vigilante, opposite the always-fantastic Nawazuddin Siddiqui. As the character ages, the transformation is not merely physical. Varun imbued the older Raghu with melancholy and sadness without losing the rage in his eyes. Although Badlapur had a mixed critical reception due to a weak final act, it was universally regarded as a win for Varun.

Varun Dhawan/Image from Twitter.

If Badlapur was a step in the right direction, his latest release October cements his credibility as a performer. When we first meet Dan, he is a disinterested, faceless hotel employee changing sheets, polishing silver and killing mosquitoes. He lives life on autopilot. He hates what he does but does it nevertheless because he has no other choice. He is a confusing mix of insolence and earnestness. When Dan slips up, his boss tells him to be more like Shiuli, a fellow trainee who he barely knows. Unlike Dan, she is the perfect employee – hardworking and focused. A freak accident renders her comatose and inextricably links their futures.

This is a story of love and loss that takes it’s time unfolding. Working from a script by Juhi Chaturvedi, a longtime collaborator of Shoojit, October is the kind of film you won’t be able to stop thinking about for a long time. Big shout-out also to Shantanu Moitra’s unflashy score and Avik Mukhopadhayay’s evocative cinematography. But it’s a never-better Varun, in a role that’s completely stripped of all filmi affectations, who gives the film a center of gravity.

Hunched over and shuffling, Dan is the most ‘regular’ character the actor has played till date. He is so ordinary that he goes unnoticed as he waits tables, chops vegetables and replenishes toiletries. There is a stillness in how Varun plays Dan that makes his outing as Raghu in Badlapur seem flashy. His coming of age is just as undramatic. There is no explanation for why Dan is overwhelmed by Shiuli’s accident and why he can’t tear himself away from her.

Even as her family rallies around, trying to make sense of the tragedy, Dan is just always around. Somewhere in the background, he is always present. One of the unwritten rules of being a Bollywood hero is to never get lost in the background. That Varun not only picked a character so understated this early in his career, but also delivered in spades is a reason to celebrate.