Monthly Archives: May 2018

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.

Zaira Wasim may play Abhishek Bachchan, Priyanka Chopra’s daughter in Shonali Bose’s next film

Zaira Wasim has established herself as a young powerhouse performer with her slate of films. After winning numerous hearts and a National Award for Dangal, the actress delivered yet another memorable performance in Secret Superstar, for which she won the Critics’ Best Actress trophy at the Filmfare Awards 2018.

Read: Zaira Wasim on life after Dangal: ‘It’s a beautiful feeling, but it also makes me nervous’

Abhishek Bachchan, Zaira Wasim and Priyanka Chopra. Facebook

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.