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Jai Mummy Di movie review: Pyaar Ka Punchnama’s team returns with a not regressive, not progressive, not anything film

If you are a fan of director Luv Ranjan’s brand of visceral misogyny in Pyaar Ka Punchnama 1 and 2 and Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety, and that is what you are hoping to get in Jai Mummy Di, then you will be disappointed. This new film, despite being co-produced by Ranjan, displays a surprising lack of animosity towards women.

If you saw the trailer of Jai Mummy Di, were intrigued by the hint of a long-buried lesbian romance and were hoping to see a film on this still taboo subject, then too you will be disappointed.

If the pace and sense of humour you spotted in the trailer left you expecting a couple of hours of light-hearted fun, again, disappointment awaits you.

That is the thing about director Navjot Gulati’s Jai Mummy Di. It is not regressive, not progressive, not anything.

Jai Mummy Di is the story of Pinky Bhalla (Poonam Dhillon) and Laali Khanna (Supriya Pathak Kapoor) who have been sworn enemies for decades. They are neighbours in a north Delhi locality and their mutual antagonism is so strong, that their children ⁠— Saanjh Bhalla (Sonnalli Seygall) and Puneet Khanna (Sunny Singh) ⁠— dare not reveal to the families that they have been in love since school. When the youngsters realise they cannot live without each other, they set out to find the root cause of the mothers’ hatred which, they are told, dates back to their college days. Back then, their common friend reveals, the two were so thick that they were even rumoured to be girlfriends.

The first half of Jai Mummy Di is certainly mildly funny, but the comedy and the film as a whole fizzle out as it gradually becomes clear that Gulati does not know where to take it. This was also the problem with that earlier film he wrote, 2017’s Running Shaadi starring Taapsee Pannu and Amit Sadh ⁠— there was the seed of a good idea there, but it got lost on a road to nowhere.

Once Jai Mummy Di starts going round and round in circles, it becomes limp and purposeless. Dialogues are left hanging, extra seconds hang loose and it begins to feel like an amateur stage production where the actors don’t understand poor timing.

Veterans Pathak Kapoor and Dhillon get to shout and grimace a lot, but for a film that is supposedly centred around their characters, Jai Mummy Di has precious little about them and gives them hardly any screen time in the second half. Sunny Singh and Sonnalli Seygall, both of whom are recognisable from Ranjan’s most famous films, look dapper and deliver competent even if not sparkling performances. Singh needs to work on his dialogue delivery though. In several places in the film I found myself straining my ears to figure out what he had just said because of his tendency to swallow words or shoot them out too fast.

Possibly because the Pyaar Ka Punchnamas gained notoriety for their misogyny, this screenplay tries to compensate with occasional moments of overt feminism. Saanjh demands to know why a woman must follow her husband wherever he goes after marriage, and Puneet does not disagree. When they hear of the possibility that their mothers were once romantically involved with each other, they respond with a complete lack of judgement. But these instances of pointed liberalism add up to nothing when actor Alok Nath surfaces intermittently in the narrative as a hanger on, and it appears that although the man has no particular role to play in this film, he has been placed there as an act of defiance against those who asked why he was cast in Ranjan’s last production De De Pyaar De despite the allegations of rape and harassment that were made against him during the Me Too movement in 2018, allegations he responded to with the most bizarre, apathetic non-denial.

His presence is a distracting irritant. What really kills this film though is the supposed big reveal in the end about Laali and Pinky’s intense enmity. It is so poorly conceived and so so ordinary, that you have to wonder why this plain film was ever made. Seriously, why?

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.

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.

Bala movie review: Ayushmann-Bhumi crackle and pop while slamming bias…till the film reveals its own prejudice

One of the pleasures of watching Bala comes from its use of language. The characters in this film speak Kanpuriya Hindi which is a delight in and of itself. Better still, they hardly ever substitute words in their mother tongue with English equivalents. On the rare occasions when they do opt for a spot of English, they are hilarious without the narrative taking a condescending tone towards them or getting clichéd. And the dialogues are replete with usages you are unlikely to hear on the streets of Delhi or Mumbai.

So “hasthmaithun” is “hasthmaithun” for the hero, not “masturbation”. His younger brother speaks of his family’s “loloop nazar” on him. And a man is threatened with a “kantaap“, not a slap.

While the going is good in Bala, it is very good. The first half is rip-roaringly funny, simultaneously poignant and insightful as it takes us through the protagonist Bala aka Balmukund Shukla’s journey from a luscious head of hair in his teens to premature baldness in his 20s, from vanity and arrogance to a soul-crushing complex. Director Amar Kaushik, whose calling card for now is the stupendous horror comedy stree, never lets the pace flag pre-interval. Writer Niren Bhatt is clearly determined to make a point about a bald man’s sense of self-worth, stays true to this message and is intelligent while doing so here.

In the second half though, the humour and the intellect dip. For a start, the writing takes the easy way out in a crucial, pivotal situation. (Caution: Some people might consider the rest of this paragraph a spoiler) A woman Bala loves and who loves him back is condemned for rejecting him on discovering his baldness – condemned not merely by characters in the story, but by the film itself – by establishing her as a superficial creature for whom looks matter more than anything else and getting her to dump him solely and entirely because his appearance no longer appeals to her, never allowing her to believe what would have been a reason that might possibly have earned her some audience sympathy: that it is in fact his deception that killed their relationship, not his lack of hair. By getting Bala instead to acknowledge his lies and self-flagellate, the film uses even this opportunity to increase his likeability. This is silly, because it is a sort of ultimatum: once he apologises for lying, she had better forgive him, or else we will quietly slot her as a youknowwhat. It is all cleverly done, all the while ensuring that the judgement is subtle and the tone of the narrative never gets openly vicious towards her. From a film that until then and thereafter is honest about its hero’s character flaws and does not let him off lightly, this is disappointing. (Spoiler alert ends)

The message being driven home by Bala from the start is that we must stop caring about what others think of our looks – that once we begin valuing ourselves, the world will too. Towards this end, it has a dark-skinned heroine called Latika Trivedi who has all her life been derided for her complexion. Getting Bala to be one of those who taunted her in her childhood, and making him a fairness cream salesman in his adulthood even while he battles a bias against early onset baldness, are both nice touches. However, this aspect of the messaging fails because the film reveals its own prejudice against dark skin from the word go.

No one on Team Bala seems to have detected the irony in casting a light-skinned actor as Latika and painting her face black, rather than casting a black woman to play a black woman.

In a film industry that favours goraapan especially for female stars despite marginal evolution on this front in recent decades, Bala‘s unwillingness to seek out a dark-complexioned actor for this role underlines the attitude that a woman whose skin does not match a certain shade is not worthy of being a lead. It appears that Bhatt and his colleagues did not notice either that throughout the film, they treat it as a given that a dark complexion is indeed less and cannot possibly be pretty, and equate it with the side effect of a disease (namely Bala’s alopecia which is a direct result of his diabetes).

The screenplay well and truly bares its prejudice though in Latika’s own reaction to the mythological tale of the hunchbacked woman Kubja who Lord Krishna is said to have miraculously turned into a beauty. Stage enactments of the story in Kanpur are twice shown, both times a dark-skinned woman is cast as Kubja, and Latika – a bright lawyer who had earlier been vocal about her comfort with her skin colour – says after a viewing: “Why did Lord Krishna have to make her sundar? It is possible that someone would have liked her just the way she is.”

“Someone”? Umm, but wasn’t the whole point that we must accept ourselves and not measure our worth by the acceptance of others? Note too that she does not question the casting of a dark-skinned actor as Kubja and the intrinsic assumption that her colour is equal to a lack of soundarya. This is not to say that Latika must be perfect, but that the questioning, unbiased person she has been shown to be until then does not gel with the attitude she displays

This inconsistent characterisation and the team’s lack of awareness of their own prejudice robs Bala of much of its value. Tragic, because when it is dealing with the hero’s baldness it is smart and sharp, the crackling dialogues are rich with cultural references, even the songs and choreography add to the comicality (watch ‘Tequila’, please, and those TikTok videos are out-and-out killers), the comedy involving Bala never crosses the line into insensitivity and the cast is absolutely A-grade.

Ayushmann Khurrana and Bhumi Pednekar live up to expectations by delivering fine performances, and Yami Gautam as the somewhat frivolous professional model Pari Mishra displays a talent for comedy here that will hopefully be explored in future films. The trio are backed by a fabulous ensemble of supporting actors, each jostling with the other in the run-up to a Best Supporting Actor nomination. Every single one of them, including the lesser-known faces (Dheerendra Gautam playing Bala’s younger brother, Sumit Arora as his boss) is given space to shine and they chew up the screen in those moments.

If this film had no Latika (or she was better written and appropriately cast) and the humour of the opening half had been maintained in the second, it would have been near perfect. There is a Latika though and the humour does dip, making Bala a 50-50.

Jabariya Jodi movie review: Sidharth Malhotra, Parineeti Chopra’s dialoguebaazi is the only saving grace in this film

After multiple delays, Sidharth Malhotra and Parineeti Chopra starrer Jabariya Jodi is finally hitting the screens this Friday at the ticket windows. The romantic comedy venture, which was earlier titled Shotgun Shaadi has been in the news since 2018 and was earlier slated to release on May 17, but to avoid clash with other films, the makers finally chose August 9 as the final date and the cherry on top is that it’s a solo release for the film. Even the trailer with its quirk and mass appeal managed to garner the right buzz. But is the Sidharth Malhotra and Parineeti Chopra starrer worth the watch? Check out our review here!

What is it about:

Based on Pakadva Vivah that prevails in Bihar and some smaller town in India, Jabariya Jodi narrates the story of a thug (Abhay Singh) who kidnaps grooms in order to help them avoid paying out heavy dowries for their wedding. With the entry of the heroine, his whole ambition in life goes topsy-turvy.And not because he is madly in love but because inka focus “bistar se zyaada kursi pe hai”. What ensues though is a battle or hearts and the girl (Babli Yadav) turning the kidnapper.

What’s hot:

Sidharth steps into the role of Bihar ka goonda and pulls it off convincingly. Be it his flair in multi-coloured shirts and gamchas or the delivery with which he throws witty on-liners, Sid’s first rustic act deserves a pat. Even Parineeti does justice to her character with pitch-perfect diction and makes it seem effortless. SidNeeti’s chemistry is a treat to watch too. Slow claps are reserved for Aparshakti Khurana and Sanjay Mishra who light up the screen with their comic timing and punches.

What’s not:

The screenplay seems lazy and the editing, shoddy. Directed by Prashant Singh, the film wobbles at points and misses the plot more times than not. Especially the second half which beats around the bush for its entire duration without any plot device. The effort to soften the blow of social evils like dowry and forced marriage with comic intervention is note-worthy but debatable at best. And while Pari has caught hold of the accent, Sid’s is inconsistent. The film is also replete with one too many forgettable songs. Even the climax overstays its welcome with predictable sequences and dialogues.

Batla House movie review: John Abraham delivers another trade-tested cop actioner

John Abraham is back at what he does best! The action hero who has proved his mettle in amazing performances in Dishoom, Force franchise and Satyameva Jayate, will also be seen as a cop in Batla House in an action packed performance. To fill you in, he essays the character of ACP Sanjeev Kumar Yadav in the film who is at the crux of a supposed cover-up. But is the film worth a watch? Read our entire review here.

What’s it about
Batla House is a film based on true events. The film is inspired by the controversial case of Batla House firings that took place in 2008 in Jamia Nagar, Delhi. It was one of the most intriguing cases as it raised many brows on Delhi police and ACP Sanjeev Kumar who led the operation. Many questions were raised about the intent of the op. Was it the aftermath of Delhi blasts to nab the culprits or was it just a cover-up? The movie tries to answer the question and absolve the alleged claims that were flagged.

What’s hot
The film grabs you by the scruff of your neck and forces you to see the grim reality of communal disharmony and the riots that it births. With gripping action sequences and nail-biting fight-offs, John Abraham’s muscle power speaks its own language. His stoicism can be easily branded as effortless. The highlight is that film also scratches the surface of post-traumatic disorder as John’s character struggles with a bullet that didn’t kill him. He even takes help of therapy later which directs the conversation to the right direction. Also, Nora Fatehi is a surprising revelation in the second half which pulls better strings than the the first. The court-room sequence in the same also makes the most engaging part of the drama.

What’s not
Cannot lay more emphasis on how the film wastes the talent that is Mrunal Thakur. Even considering the little she is left to build with, Mrunal’s character is saying most of the clichéd dialogues. But John’s character isn’t that far behind. Apart from the not-so-subtle jargons, the chest-thumping one liners mar the buildup. Not to mention the romantic track between John and Mrunal sticks like a sore thumb. Apart from the vein-popping display of arms, even John’s restrained cop act falters at times when the plot needs it the most especially in the confrontational scenes. Director Nikkhil Advani tries to keep the pace but the story-telling consumes a lot of time on the peripheral red tape than getting to the point. It is only the second half that one sees the story that was promised.

BL Verdict
John Abraham is at his home territory as he portrays the role of a decorated officer and it’s nothing we have not seen already. Watch it for the depiction of real life incidents and the obvious cinematic liberties. It’s not really the independence day treat but makes for a one-time watch. We are going with 3 stars.

NGK movie review: Suriya is the mainstay in this political drama with a loosely knit plot

Before heading to see what NGK has to offer, let’s first look at the line-up of actors in the film. Suriya Sivakumar, Sai Pallavi, Rakul Preet Singh, Devaraj, Bala Singh and Ponvannan among many others. With such heavy load of stars, you can expect the experience of their coherent performance to be fireworks. But NGK is a complete letdown and feels like a wasted opportunity. Director Selvaraghavan’s focus on Suriya is more than any other element in the film including the narrative. NGK is a mashup of many political films from the past laced with thumping performance by the mainstay Suriya. But can Suriya carry the film single-handedly till the end?

What’s it about:

Nanda Gopalan Kumaran, played by Suriya, is a principled young man who wants to do his bit for the society and keep it clean. Kumaran gives up his lucrative job and takes up organic farming and encourages people around to adopt this method of farming. And in this process, Kumaran rubs shoulders with local MLA Pandian, played by Ilavarasu, who runs a business in conventional farming commodities. Pandian warns Kumaran of harsh consequences if he continues with his organic farming and beats up his associates. As situation demands, Kumaran is forced to join Pandian’s political party which makes him realise that politics isn’t what he always thought it to be. Kumaran’s wife Geetha, played by Sai Pallavi, is supportive of him in his perusal and encourages him to not give up. What happens when NGK aka Nanda Gopalan Kumaran fights all the odds and emerges as a winner forms the crux of the story.

What’s hot:

Suriya Sivakumar playing the titular role is all fireworks and delivers a whistle-worthy performance. From subtle to fierce, Suriya puts up a show which is a compilation of every emotion you could ask for. Selvaraghavan’s intense writing adds fuel to Suriya’s fire in the plot which takes a brisk walk in the first half. Sai Pallavi proves yet again why she is an actress par excellence and doesn’t bring any dull moment whenever she is on screen. Her presence itself lights up the frame in the film and keeps you hooked to the screen. Rakul Preet, playing Vanathi, comes up with a performance which no one would have expected. Besides Suriya, the other hero of NGK is music composer Yuvan Shankar Raja whose craft in the film is commendable. Besides the impressive album which is already a hit, the background score of NGK is like an anthem which keeps giving goosebumps moments.

What’s not:

While all the above mentioned elements light up NGK, it’s the lacklustre narrative which makes it a humdrum affair. Selvaraghavan, as a writer, has the habit of building drama gradually in an episode where the climax of episode is the only worthy moment. This has worked for him in the past successfully. But in NGK, it falls flat. Movie buffs may not cherish these moments with Suriya in the equation since a lot is expected from his film. Post the interval, the film takes more than anticipated time to get to the climax and is almost a drag. A forced song between Suriya and Rakul’s characters tests your patience and will make your wait harder for the end.

BL Verdict:

It may be too harsh to say NGK is a wasted opportunity since there is a lot of binge in the political drama. At times, it makes you wonder if it is way ahead of its time, but doesn’t waste a moment in making you realise that it is a loosely knit screenplay. We go ahead with a 2 for NGK.

Badhaai Ho movie review: Neena Gupta, Ayushmann Khurrana & Co redefine warmth in Sai Paranjpye/Basu Chatterjee style

What happens when a woman gets pregnant in her twilight years. If some gentle ribbing is all you are expecting, then you are out of touch with reality and the subconscious prudery that even supposed liberals direct at the elderly.

Now imagine if the expectant mother and her husband, the child’s father, are already parents of a teenaged son and another who is in his 20s. The contempt they face within the home then is no less than what the outside world inevitably throws at them, as Priyamvada and Manoj Kaushik discover in Badhaai Ho.

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Manoj (Gajraj Rao) is employed in the Indian Railways and Priyamvada (Neena Gupta) manages their home. Their son Nakul (Ayushmann Khurrana) works in an advertising firm and is dating his colleague Renee (Sanya Malhotra). The younger one, Gullar (Shardul Rana), is in school.

Their family is rounded off by a tetchy, demanding grandmother (Surekha Sikri). Or so they think until a sudden bout of unease takes Priyamvada to the doctor and they realise she is almost halfway through a pregnancy she was not aware of.

The Kaushiks live in a congested house in a lower-middle-class Delhi locality with an old-world air. Nakul’s office is in Gurgaon, the suburb characterised by its glitzy, gigantic, modern buildings. Their worldview lies somewhere in between.

And so, first comes the older couple’s shyness to announce what in their youth would have been demanded of them as “good news” they owe to the human species. Then comes the laughter and derision of family and their larger social circle. This much is expected in such a story and makes Badhaai Ho a lovable slice-of-life comedy.

What is most telling and a departure from the expected is the nuance and sensitivity with which director Amit Ravindernath Sharma (who earlier made the dreadful Tevar) and his writing team (story: Shantanu Srivastava and Akshat Ghildial, screenplay: Akshat Ghildial) examine Priyamvada and Manoj’s own response to their situation, and the judgement they face from a seemingly forward-thinking character who sees in their decision not to terminate the pregnancy a sign of backwardness.

Messrs Sharma, Srivastava and Ghildial’s work reminded me of an article I read a few years back by a rape survivor who said she had to deal with considerable social opprobrium in small-town America when she decided not to abort the child she conceived from rape. Too many people who view themselves as liberal think that pro-choice means pro-abortion. It does not. It means being in favour of the right of every woman to choose for herself. So if you pressure her with your expectation that she absolutely must, in certain specific circumstances, exercise the option the law gives her, then how are you different from fundamentalists who want to change the law that gives women this freedom?

Priyamvada holds the conservative view that abortion is a sin, Manoj clearly does not and would like her to consider it. Badhaai Ho for its part reveals its standpoint in the position Manoj ultimately takes when he tells his beloved Priyamvada: “Kasht tera hai, final decision bhi tera hi hoga” (You are the one who will go through the trouble that this pregnancy entails, therefore the final decision too will be yours). That, and the fact that Badhaai Ho openly acknowledges abortion as an acceptable possibility, takes it light years ahead of most Hindi cinema so far including the Salman Khan-Anushka Sharma-starrer Sultan (2016) which steered clear of the subject perhaps for fear of antagonising a traditionalist audience.

This is what makes Badhaai Ho not just warm, funny and realistic, but also thinking, intelligent and unobtrusively politically and socially conscious. What makes it so enjoyable is that it wears its IQ lightly.

The characters in this film are not painted in black and white but in all the colours of the rainbow. The middle-class protagonists are not portrayed as saints nor are the upper classes presented as evil cliches. The screenplay, like these people, does have its imperfections though. Halfway down the line it moves too far away from Priyamvada and Manoj in its focus on Nakul and Renee. It’s not that we don’t get to spend time with them – of course we do – but they are dears and it feels like not enough. Since the young are the top priority of most cinema, it would have been nice to get better acquainted with the older pair here and especially know more about Priyamvada’s mindset, her goals and life-long dreams.

Still, what Badhaai Ho offers is precious – an insight into the lives of real people rather than glossed-up specimens of humanity that exist only in the imagination of commercial filmmakers. Sanu John Varughese’s camerawork plays a part in highlighting the contrasting spaces Nakul in particular inhabits. Varughese scales down while shooting the Kaushiks’ home milieu and even Renee’s wealthy residence, but his frames become more expansive when they shift to Gurgaon. The cast and Sharma’s vision are a match made in heaven.

Ayushmann Khurrana is gradually becoming the Amol Palekar of his generation, yet different. This young artiste is capable of top-lining conventional Bollywood cinema (as we see even with the closing song and dance routine in Badhaai Ho), but chooses to work in small films where the star is the story. He is completely convincing here as a well-intentioned though conflicted son. He also shares a comfortable chemistry with his co-star Sanya Malhotra, whose calling card as of now is her role as a wrestler in the Aamir Khan-starrer Dangal (2016). Within a span of just three weeks, Malhotra has managed to display amazing versatility playing a sensible, urban, wealthy woman of today in Badhaai Ho, a character that is chalk to the cheese that is the loud, pugnacious sibling living in rural Rajasthan that she was in Vishal Bhardwaj’s Pataakha.

Surekha Sikri is rollicking good fun as the cantankerous Dadi who turns out to be not quite as old-fashioned as you might think at first. Hers is a character that occasionally is in danger of being overplayed, but Sikri holds back just at the point where she needs to. The always wonderful Sheeba Chadda’s performance as Renee’s mother is marked by her trademark restraint.

Neena Gupta plays Priyamvada with the natural ease that has characterised all her performances on film and TV. In addition it is worth noting how she has been styled and how she chooses to carry herself in Badhaai Ho. When she was young I never particularly thought of her looks, but in this film I was struck by her luminous prettiness in a face filled out beautifully with life experiences. Gajraj Rao is so credible as her reticent yet romantically inclined partner, and they are so good together, that they bring to mind these lines from ‘I Believe In You’ sung by the legendary American country musician Don Williams: “But I believe in love / I believe in babies / I believe in Mom and Dad / I believe in you.”

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