Monthly Archives: December 2019

Mardaani 2 movie review: Rani Mukerji and a chilling antagonist are the lynchpins of a gripping thriller

When a woman is talented and successful, then society expects that in exchange for being allowed to go so far, she must be willing to conduct herself with humility and an unassuming demeanour,” Shivani Shivaji Roy’s boss tells her one day.

Ms Roy’s boss is not being a jerk. He is, in fact, an ally putting into words what most smart, professionally successful women face every day. This harsh reality lies at the core of writer-director Gopi Puthran’s gritty, gripping thriller Mardaani 2, a sequel to the 2014 box-office hit Mardaani. As in the first film, here too Rani Mukerji plays Shivani, a brilliant, no-nonsense policewoman who ruffles feathers with her disinterest in social niceties and indifference to the male ego.

Shivani has been assigned to Kota in Rajasthan when a local criminal hires a very young hitman called Sunny to do some work for a politician in the city. Sunny sees red when women wound his pride, and nothing wounds him more than a public takedown – either of him or of another man in his presence – by a woman. When he witnesses a girl admonishing her boyfriend for a perceived wrong one day, he rapes, tortures and murders her as punishment. This sets Shivani off on his trail. When he sees her, a female member of the police force, mocking him at a press conference, he becomes obsessed with showing her her place. Thus begins a game of thrust and parry between this murderous maniac and a sharp, tough-as-nails policewoman.

It is rare for a Hindi film to create a portrait of no-holds-barred evil without caricaturing the villain in question, at the very least giving him a weird quirk, a catchphrase or even a disability. Case in point: Riteish Deshmukh’s character in last month’s Marjaavaan. Mardaani 2 has no time for such immaturity. Sunny is cruel, his ego is fragile around women and when we discover his background, we get a clearly well-researched insight into the deep-rootedness of patriarchy in our society and the anatomy of violence.

Sunny is a frightening and extreme manifestation of the resentment that confident women face at every turn, not just in public places but also in their offices, social circles and homes, sometimes behind a mask of sophistication. In fact, when he occasionally directly addresses the audience, the device — forgotten too soon in the film — serves as an unnerving reminder of our proximity to the brutes in our midst.

As uncommon as its depiction of villainy is Mardaani 2’s portrayal of an independent woman (barring the irritating, problematic title – for more on that please click here for my review of the first Mardaani). In the past decade, as it has moved away from the cliché of the heroine as a coy, ideally home-bound virgin, Bollywood has come up with another stereotype: Hindi film writers and directors have tended to reductively equate female independence with smoking, drinking, a vocabulary packed with abuse and even obnoxiousness towards those around them, often making these the woman’s defining characteristics. Look no further than Anurag Kashyap’s Manmarziyaan in 2018 starring Taapsee Pannu. Shivani in Mardaani may or may not have habits that her doctor would object to, Gopi Puthran simply does not feel the need to point to them, and her vocabulary, while certainly not antiseptic, is not her identifying feature. What defines her is her brilliance, bravery and dedication to the job.

Although we are not left in any doubt about who is the boss in Mardaani 2, DoP Jishnu Bhatacharya does not giganticise Mukerji’s Shivani as is the norm with male superstars in action dramas. This is obviously in keeping with the director’s vision for the film. So is the sensitivity with which Bhatacharya shoots Sunny’s victims. His camera is an observer and reporter, not a voyeur, and the women are treated with utmost dignity.

Puthran – who earlier wrote Mardaani, which was directed by Pradeep Sarkar – lets Shivani and Sunny completely dominate Mardaani 2, but their characters are so detailed, the tension between them so palpable and the action so unrelenting that the plot feels never less than packed. The background is also dotted with enough characters giving us a glimpse into their respective worlds, from the hardened criminal who draws the line at the sexual abuse of random women to a supportive husband happy to be his wife’s anchor, a subordinate driven by his social conditioning and others who rise above theirs.

The use of a solitary statistic on juvenile rapists at the start of Mardaani 2 is misleading and troubling though, and the text on screen in the end is shoddily written. Another of Mardaani 2’s few faltering moments comes in a TV interview Shivani gives. While the anchor’s conservatism mirrors many real-life journalists, his silence in response to her defiance is unconvincing. Bullies do tend to be cowards, but it is just as true that when they find themselves overshadowed in a debate, chauvinists tend to camouflage a lack of substance with decibels or personal remarks, not acquiescence. For the record, like the female producer listening to their conversation, I too teared up at Shivani’s answer about the stress and scrutiny, humiliation and hurt that every woman experiences.

Aided by Monisha Baldawa’s concise editing, the tension does not let up for even a second in Mardaani 2’s economical one hour 45 minutes running time. John Stewart Eduri’s background score is perfectly compatible with the storyline and Puthran puts it to excellent use, not once raising the volume or thrusting it into crucial silences, unlike the makers of most Hindi thrillers. Sound designers Ganesh Gangadharan and Nihar Ranjan Samal too seem intent on not sensationalising the unfolding crimes.

A heroine and a bad guy unusual for Hindi cinema, cracking suspense, understated messaging that is woven into the characterisation, top-notch performances by Mukerji and Vishal Jethwa who plays Sunny, and Puthran’s no-frills storytelling style all add up to making Mardaani 2 a hugely entertaining, highly intelligent, polished thriller. In terms of cinematic quality, 2019 has been one of the worst years for Bollywood in a very long time. Mardaani 2 is a timely reminder of how good this industry can be when it chooses not to be weighed down by prejudice, market-driven compulsions and lazy formulae.

 

Dabangg 3 movie review: Salman Khan’s Chulbul Pandey is no longer charming or funny – R.I.P. please, Robinhood

Early in Dabangg 3, Salman Khan’s character is chatting with his subordinates when he makes what may seem like a throwaway remark, “…hum class aur mass, dono ke liye kaam karte hai” (I work for the classes and the masses). Since “class” and “mass” are words used by the Hindi film industry to informally categorise sections of the audience, this is obviously more than just a casual comment – it is an allusion to Khan’s success across social strata since he turned out the blockbuster Wanted in 2009.

The effort to retain his cross-sectional appeal is evident throughout this dated, dull and clichéd film, which is what makes it such a mish-mash of conservatism and liberalism, almost amusing in its confusion.

Dabangg 3 marks Khan’s third screen outing as Chulbul Pandey, the comic-serious policeman who has no qualms about circumventing the law to serve the common people. In keeping I suppose with Hollywood’s trend of serving us origin stories of superheroes, this Bollywood venture is about how a useless, purposeless fellow called Chulbul became the chap we now know him to be: a destroyer of evil who is ever ready with a self-deprecating joke or gesture. By Film 3, he is the ASP of Tundla, still married to Rajjo (Sonakshi Sinha), a father, and up against a human trafficking don called Bali Singh played by Kannada star Kichcha Sudeep (his name is spelt as Sudeepa here).

The writers’ please-all aim in Dabangg 3 leads to many scenes of unwitting irony. Such as when Chulbul speaks of respect for women and gets furious at men who refer to women as “maal” just moments after he is shown dancing to the song ‘Jumme ki raat’ from the 2014 hit Kick in which Khan’s own character had picked up Jacqueline Fernandez’s skirt with his teeth without her knowledge and followed her while dancing. Then there is Chulbul taking a purportedly feminist stand on dowry and women’s education even as he describes himself as the “rakhwaala” (keeper) of a woman he intends to marry. The self-consciousness and duality of his liberalism become exhausting to watch after a while.

Equally exhausting are the rusty dialogues filled with rhymes, many failed shots at clever wordplay, some scenes of double entendre and others of downright crudeness.

Sample: Chulbul saying, “Hum unhi ko tthokte hai jo zaroorat se zyaada bhokte hai” (I only bump off those who bark too much).

Sample: Rajjo telling her husband, “hamare petticoat mein chhed mat karna” (please do not pierce a hole in my petticoat) when he snatches it away from someone who was fitting a drawstring in it, at which point hubby eyes her suggestively.

Sample: a random character who randomly enters a toilet where Chulbul’s brother is doing potty, at which point we are subjected to gurgling potty sounds.

Sample: Chulbul impaling his butt on a nail.

Sample: a bad guy’s crotch falling on a dagger.

Sample: Chulbul dropping his pants by mistake when he takes off his belt to whip someone.

Sample: Chulbul shooting a junior who asks how he can get a promotion.

All these scenes are designed to elicit laughs.

And then there are lines like this that are no doubt meant to sound smart but do not: Chulbul saying, “Ek hota hai policewala aur ek hota hai goonda, hum kehlate hai policewala goonda” (there are policemen and there are hooligans, and then there are those like me who are police and hooligan combined).

The story is not even worth recounting. It feels like a bunch of disparate ingredients hurriedly thrown together in a cooking pot. So does the music by Sajid-Wajid who have in the past created so many memorable tunes for Salman Khan starrers. Here they first recycle the Dabangg title track, then deliver two numbers that sound like first cousins of ‘Tere mast mast do nain’ from Dabangg, one terribly boring song in which Chulbul romances Rajjo and – c’mooon, they’re not even trying – ‘Munna badnaam hua.’

The SFX are bad. Even the choreography has nothing new to offer, which is odd since the ace choreographer-cum-dancer Prabhudeva has directed this film.

As far as acting goes, Khan’s charm wears thin as he tries hard to resurrect that unusual blend of gravitas and humour that worked so well in Dabangg in 2010. Here he comes across as almost embarrassingly juvenile.

Sinha has little to do but pout and look pretty. Her Rajjo is also throw up in their air by a massive explosion that somehow leaves her makeup completely unscathed. Why is this talented women wasting herself so?

An unimpressive newcomer called Saiee Manjrekar gets a large supporting role to which she lends nothing but her smooth complexion and lovely figure. The rest of the cast hams shamelessly.

Anyone who has seen Sudeep in his Kannada films knows that he has the charisma to match Salman, but he does not stand a chance here in Dabangg 3 in the face of a sketchily written character which does little but showcase his towering physique.

There is so much tomfoolery and immaturity in this film that the climactic fight sequence comes as a shock. It is so grossly violent and in-your-face that I could barely bring myself to look at the screen. And of course because it is a masala film by a commercially focused director with a major male star as the lead, it has been given a UA rating instead of the strict a it deserves.

And no guys, it is no longer entertaining when two male actors with fabulous bodies take off their shirts for no reason to engage in fisticuffs. This was a fun device when it was first introduced, especially because for decades before that, male stars had been completely careless about their bodies and it was assumed by both the industry and audiences that only women can and should be objectified. Now though, it is a boring formula. Gentlemen, we love the fact that you work out, so get your scriptwriters to find a more imaginative way now to let you display your sexy torsos, please?

Somewhere in the middle of Dabangg 3, Rajjo tells Chulbul that she will never again force him to take a ’70s-’80s style kasam (oath). Never mind the context. I do wish Bollywood would take a kasam here and now to lay Chulbul Pandey a.k.a. Robinhood Pandey to rest.

Bhangra Paa Le, Sunny Kaushal’s dance drama, produced by Ronnie Screwvala, to now release on 3 January, 2020

Bhangra Paa Le, starring Sunny Kaushal and Rukhsar Dhillon in the lead, has received a fresh release day. Earlier slated for 1 November, the dance drama will now hit the screens on 3 January, clashing with Sab Kushal Mangal at the box office. The comedy film stars Riva Kishan, daughter of Bhojpuri star Ravi Kishan, and Priyaank Sharma, the son of actor Padmini Kolhapure. Himesh Reshammiya’s musical drama Happy Hardy and Heer, which was also supposed to release on 3 January, was recently postponed to 31 January, owing to the singer-composer-actor’s commitment to singing reality show Indian Idol.

Bhangra Paa Le will mark the directorial debut of Sneha Taurani, the daughter of music baron Ramesh Taurani. The film also stars Shriya Pilgaonkar in a pivotal role. Ramesh Taurani, along with Ronnie Screwvala’s banner RSVP Films, is bankrolling the project.

RSVP shared a quirky video on Instagram to share the new release date of the film. In the video, lead actors Sunny and Rukhsar, are arrested for dancing outside Shah Rukh Khan’s house Mannat and Salman Khan’s house Galaxy Apartments to the song ‘Bhangra Paa Le.’ The original version of the hit song was part of Shah Rukh and Salman’s 1995 movie Karan Arjun. The song has not only inspired the title of the new movie, but also a remake. Speaking about the recreated number, Sneha said that it was “adapted to the film’s world completely.”

“Two things led us to recreate this track. Since our film revolves around Bhangra, the song lends itself to the dance form. Secondly, our title itself is a good fit with the song,” she added, as per Mirror.

Bhangra Paa Le will chart the college rivalry between the protagonists Jaggi (Sunny) and Simi (Rukshar)

 

Varun Dhawan’s Street Dancer 3D trailer to be attached with Dabangg 3; clip’s digital release on 18 December

The trailer of Varun Dhawan and Shraddha Kapoor’s upcoming film Street Dancer 3D will have its digital release on 18 December. It will also be showcased across cinemas, prior to the screening of Dabangg 3 on 20 December.

Previously, the Street Dancer’s trailer was scheduled to be out on 12 December, which is also producer Bhushan Kumar’s birthday.

Confirming the delay, director Remo D’Souza told Bollywood Hungama, “There’s lots of VFX and 3D stuff is happening and right now we are all working on that. I am keen to show the trailer to everybody and have been working round the clock to get it complete by then. It will be a proper two-three minute trailer. You can expect some amazing, never-seen-before dances in it – and something very special which I cannot reveal right now (sic).”

The report further adds that Kumar and D’Souza are reportedly keen to have Salman Khan at the trailer launch.

The makers have previously called Street Dancer 3D “India’s biggest dance film”. D’Souza had also said that it is unrelated to the ABCD franchise. Dhawan and Kapoor will once again share screen space after 2015’s ABCD 2.

Mumbai Mirror had reported that Kapoor trained in five different dance forms – Afro, Krump, Locking and Popping, Animation Tutting and Urban. She joined the cast after Katrina Kaif opted out because of a scheduling conflict.

Shakti Mohan, Nora Fatehi, Prabhu Deva, Sonam Bajwa and Aparshakti Khurana also star in vital roles. Mohan will make her Bollywood debut with this feature. The first schedule took place in Amritsar after which, the cast and crew shot in London.

Street Dancer 3D releases on 24 January, 2020.

 

Commando 3 movie review: Vidyut Jammwal flexes his muscles while talking down to India’s Muslims

A study of Bollywood’s Commando series could be the basis for a PhD in opportunism. Commando: A One Man Army, released in 2013, was about a loyal Armyman being abandoned by the Indian government when he is caught in enemy territory. Off screen, India got a new government in 2014 and with it arrived the Hindi film industry’s open subservience to the establishment. So Commando 2: The Black Money Trail in 2017 batted for demonetisation. And now, as Islamophobia rages across India, here comes Commando 3 with its cringe-worthy condescension towards India’s Muslims.

The third instalment of Commando, this one too starring Vidyut Jammwal, is directed by Aditya Datt whose best-known feature so far is the Emraan Hashmi-Tanushree Dutta-starrer Aashiq Banaya Aapne. Jammwal’s Karan Singh Dogra this time is on a mission to track down a London-based terrorist running a conversion racket in India that draws innocent Hindu boys to the Islamic fold and brainwashes them into committing violence for Allah along with other Muslims. Buraq Ansari (Gulshan Devaiah) is as evil as a human can be. We first see him heavily veiled. His face is revealed in a scene in which he forces his little son to watch as he brutally murders a man.

Working alongside Karan is his sidekick Bhavna Reddy played, as she was earlier, by Adah Sharma. The mix this time is sought to be revved up by the addition of the British Intelligence agent Mallika Sood (Angira Dhar) who is based on the same prototype that has yielded the Bond franchise’s ‘Bond girl’.

The women in Commando 3 are occasionally given space to display their fighting skills and in that limited time Sharma and Dhar show us how immensely capable they are, but make no mistake about this: the primary purpose of their existence in this screenplay is to compete for Karan’s attention so that while he goes about the serious business of saving the country, we never forget that he leaves la femmes weak at the knees.

The subordination of women to the hero in Commando 3 is nothing compared to the film’s messaging about Muslims. The problem is not with the depiction of a terror network operating in the name of Islam — that such organisations exist must of course be acknowledged; the problem lies with the manner in which this film seeks to hold all Indian Muslims accountable for Buraq Ansari’s actions in a way that the public discourse has never held India’s entire majority community accountable for the wrongdoings of individual members.

Commando 3 is strategic while building its case. It is careful to prepare alibis for itself even as it lectures India’s Muslims about their duty towards the nation at large and their Hindu brethren in particular.

For instance, mention is made of beef-related lynchings and other genuine grievances of the Muslim community, which can be held up to anyone who accuses the film of being one-sided. Here’s the catch though: if majoritarian fundamentalists object to the acknowledgement of these crimes by their group, the defence is no doubt a scene right at the start where a Muslim terrorist was shown instigating his flunkeys to kill a calf to stir up trouble. The insinuation is that even the lynchings of Muslims have been the fault of Muslims.

While the principal evil Muslim in Commando 3 spends his time plotting against Hindus, the good Hindu hero waits for a Muslim terrorist to finish his namaz before capturing him. Oh look ye, respect!

(Minor spoilers in the next two sentences) The sermonising directed at Muslims peaks in a video appeal Karan publishes, aimed at inspiring the Muslim masses to thwart Buraq’s plan to attack the Hindu masses. The video and the subsequent scenes of Muslims rising up in response are dripping with a patronising attitude. (Spoiler alert ends) They are also amateurishly written and in your face, epitomised by that shot before the credits roll of a Hindu man and a Muslim man standing shoulder to shoulder right after they together fire a flaming arrow at an effigy of Ravan.

Those who wish to understand the difference between the mischief-mongering by Commando 3 and a factual portrayal of Islamic terrorism would be well advised to watch Anubhav Sinha’s Hindi film Mulk (2018) .

Commando 3’s minuses don’t end with its troubling politics. The Indian agents in London come up trumps despite being dumb, lax, over-confident and foolhardy, because these qualities are what the writing team perceives as bravery. (Some people may deem the next sentence a spoiler) For instance, both Bhavna and Karan, despite being undercover agents, blow their own cover early in the narrative to draw the snake out of his hole: she tweets about Karan from her actual ID and he releases a video to the media revealing his identity, both of which are somehow meant to be clever moves. (Spoiler alert ends)

Jammwal, Sharma and Dhar do what is required of them well enough: she and she scrap over him, all three beat up people, they glare, they stare. I experienced a little heartache though at the sight of a fine actor like Gulshan Devaiah reduced to over-acting as Buraq Ansari.

Commando 3 is technically glossy and the fight choreography is slick. The writing though is contrived. The film is filled with lines like this one tossed at Buraq by Karan, “Pehle purdon mein chhupa karta thha, ab mardon mein?” (Earlier you hid behind a veil, now you hide behind men?) as the latter walks towards him surrounded by armed guards, but the dialoguebaazi is tiresome and soulless. Even if this were not the case, it is appalling that the populist stereotypes in the script target an already vulnerable people.

It becomes evident in the end though that none of this comes from a place of conviction. So unsure of itself is Commando 3, that after all its bloodshed and bhashans the end credits run alongside not one but two formulaic song and dance routines.

First comes this kiddish Hinglish number lip-synced by Karan:

Tere peechhe main
Mere aage tu run-run
Kabhi aage tu
Kabhi peechhe main fun-fun
Dekhega jalwa ab toh tu
With my gun-gun
Ek hi toh bachke niklega
Yeh toh done-done.

As if that is not ludicrous enough, there follows Karan dancing with the two women in skimpy, sexy attire, ending on an image of him in silhouette with a Ravan in the background.

Commando 3: Ahead of film’s release, makers unveil Vidyut Jammwal’s introductory scene

Ahead of its theatrical release, the makers of Commando 3 have released an introductory video of film’s lead Vidyut Jammwal. The five-minute footage features Jammwal as a vigilante hero rescuing schoolgirls from a bunch of eve-teasers. The scene gives a glimpse of an action-packed treat that lies ahead for the viewers.

Commando 3 producer Vipul Amrutlal Shah says it’s a bold step and a big gamble to reveal the introductory scene. “Innovation is the key to reach out today to the audience, we have decided to take a bold step to put out a 5 minute clip of the film as it is. It is a gamble but it’s our belief that after watching this clip audience will be compelled to see the film. Fingers crossed,” Shah said in a statement.

The Commando series was introduced in 2011 with Commando: A One Man Army. The second part, Commando 2: The Black Money Trail, came out in 2017.

Helmed by Aditya Datt, Commando 3 also stars Adah Sharma, Angira Dhar and Gulshan Devaiah in pivotal roles.

The trailer of high-octane action drama revealed Devaiah as the antagonist of the upcoming action entertainer. Jammwal’s Karan Singh is tasked to team up with Mallika Sood (Dhar) from British Intelligence and Indian agent Bhawana Reddy (Sharama) to save the nation, and knock down Devaiah’s evil plans. The footage reveals Jammwal using his exceptional martial arts skills to beat up villains double his size, indulge in high-speed car chases, and spew out huge dose of patriot dialogues.

Commando 3 is presented by Reliance Entertainment and Motion Picture Capital, in association with Sun Shine Pictures and Vipul Amrutlal Shah Production.