India Insight

Movie Review: Bhoothnath Returns

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

The one thing to be said for Nitesh Tiwari’s “Bhoothnath Returns” is that it has impeccable timing. At a time when India is caught up in election fever, and every TV news channel is celebrating “the dance of democracy”, the film delivers the same message, albeit with a higher budget and a stronger medium than public service advertisements.s

Combining a children’s film with a sermon on the importance of voting couldn’t have been easy, and at times, the film falters. Yet, you cannot help but warm up to the characters and the rather uneven storyline, thanks to the generous dose of honesty that director Tiwari brings to the table.

Amitabh Bachchan reprises his role as Bhoothnath, an amiable ghost in the land of spectres, depicted in the film as an idyllic European village with meadows and towering castles. Ridiculed because he couldn’t spook earthlings in the first film, Bhoothnath is sent back to scare a few kids, so that he can fulfil his ghostly duties.

Once on Earth, however, Bhoothnath forgets his original mission, thanks to his encounter with Akhrot, a wisecracking urchin in Mumbai’s biggest slum, and the everyday hardships of the poor in Indian cities. Akhrot convinces Bhoothnath that the best way to make use of his supernatural powers is to contest elections against the local builder-cum-politician-cum-gangster, Bhausaheb (Boman Irani), who has prospered for long, did nothing for his constituents and is the stereotype of a typical Indian politician.

The concept of a ghost contesting elections might seem far-fetched, but thanks to the crackling chemistry between Parth Bhalerao (who plays Akhrot) and Bachchan, the plot seems to work. Sanjay Mishra, who plays the friendly neighbourhood lawyer, also adds to the great cast and scenes featuring the trio are among the film’s best.

Movie review: Youngistaan

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

Syed Ahmad Afzal’s “Youngistaan” is supposed to be a funny and clever look at the reign of a carefree young man who finds himself sworn in as the prime minister of India.

Abhimanyu Kaul (Jackky Bhagnani), the son of the incumbent premier, is partying one minute and sitting by his dying fathers bedside the next. Our young hero is oblivious to his parent dying of cancer and knows nothing about the vagaries of politics in India, but is still trusted with the highest office in the country.

Abhimanyu’s wardrobe undergoes a transformation — from grungy tees to crisp, linen shirts. He makes rousing speeches at the United Nations and pushes for youth reform. What does not change though, is his whiny girlfriend and her whims and fancies, which the young prime minister insists on fulfilling, even when they are unreasonable and childish.

Movie Review: Bewakoofiyaan

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

Nupur Asthana’s “Bewakoofiyaan” deals with money, its effects on modern-day relationships, and how couples deal with societal pressures.

But the treatment of the film is quite outdated. There are autocratic fathers who don’t trust their daughters, and grown men who are out of a job but splurge on vacations and designer clothes.

None of the lead characters invite your sympathy or attention — whether it is Mayera (Sonam Kapoor), a spoilt, petulant girl who thinks her boyfriend’s credit card limit is a sign of growth; Mayera’s loud, blustering father (Rishi Kapoor) who doesn’t think twice before spying on the boyfriend; or Mohit Chaddha (Ayushmann Khurrana), the boyfriend in question.

Movie Review: Gulaab Gang

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

Soumik Sen’s “Gulaab Gang” wants to assure us, through its promos and marketing campaigns, that it speaks of women’s empowerment and the power they can wield against a corrupt and insensitive system.

On the contrary, this is a movie that does women’s empowerment a huge disservice — it depicts the protagonists as one-dimensional characters; equates justice with mob violence; and would have you believe that the punishment for a heinous crime is to slice off the perpetrator’s body parts.

There is so much sanctimony stuffed into “Gulaab Gang” that you find it hard to take anything in this 135-minute film seriously. Madhuri Dixit plays Rajjo, the fierce leader of a women’s group that has its own justice system and aims at standing up for victims of domestic violence or those oppressed by the dowry system. She locks up government officials who refuse to provide the village with electricity — and minutes later, breaks into a choreographed dance number.

Movie Review: Queen

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

At one point in Vikas Bahl’s “Queen”, lead character Rani has too much to drink on the streets of Paris. She bursts into loud sobs over her broken marriage, but perks up when she hears a Hindi song. Kangana Ranaut, who plays Rani, changes her body language in a flash, easily transitioning from despair to euphoria.

It is Ranaut’s ownership of the character, as well as director Bahl’s conscious attempt at a subtle, screwball comedy that makes “Queen” soar, making it a film where viewers root for the main character and find her naivete charming.

Rani (‘Queen’ in Hindi) is a timid Delhi girl, one who never disobeys her parents and holds her fiancé in such high regard that she declines a job offer because he doesn’t want her to work.

Movie Review: Shaadi Ke Side Effects

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

Saket Chaudhary seems to be a fan of sitcoms and SMS jokes. He combines the two to put together a script and make “Shaadi Ke Side Effects”, a movie about the modern Indian marriage, where men are trying to escape and women are obsessed with their children.

Chaudhary, who also directed the film’s 2006 prequel “Pyaar Ke Side Effects”, resorts to a heap of clichés and jaded jokes, most of which you have heard before and some which might seem offensive. Sporadically, the film manages to find a funny spot, thanks to Farhan Akhtar’s comic timing, but for the most part, “Shaadi Ke Side Effects” is a series of sitcom episodes strung together to make a full-length movie.

Sid and Trisha are the “yuppie couple” whose marriage is chronicled from their carefree days to their transition to parents and caregivers. Chaudhary chooses to tell the story from the man’s point of view, making Vidya Balan’s character purely ornamental, except towards the end.

Movie Review: Highway

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

In an interview last year, Imtiaz Ali said he didn’t have a script when he set out to make “Highway”. All he had was a one-line draft and he wrote the film during the shoot.

The journey should influence you, he said, adding that is what should drive the film — not a pre-written script. This rather unusual method of filmmaking seems to have yielded unexpected results.

What you get is a complete departure from Ali’s usual fare — a film that is as  pristine as some of the locations it is shot in; almost meditative in parts and wonderfully understated.

Movie Review: Gunday

(The views expressed here do not represent those of Thomson Reuters)

Ali Abbas Zafar’s “Gunday” is a film set in the 1970’s and 80’s, amid the grime of the coal mafia. It is supposed to be a gritty film about two friends and their undying bond, which is broken when a girl enters their lives.

“Gunday” is a throwback to the cinema of the 70’s and 80’s when the wronged hero was still virtuous; the heroine was seductive but still coy; and the system was something you had to fight against to get what was rightfully yours. Director Zafar gives us a more polished version of those films.

Bikram (Ranveer Singh) and Bala (Arjun Kapoor) are friends who escape from Dhaka in the aftermath of the 1971 Bangladesh war and find themselves orphaned and homeless in Kolkata. They quickly discover there is money to be made in wagon-breaking — robbing coal from trains and selling it at subsidized prices in the market.

Movie Review: Hasee Toh Phasee

(The views expressed here do not represent those of Thomson Reuters)

Vinil Mathew’s “Hasee Toh Phasee” has the trappings of a conventional Hindi romantic comedy — the big fat wedding; the quirky extended family; two lost souls; and much song and dance.

Yet, Mathew manages to combine these elements into an unusual film that sparkles with humour and witty repartee, and despite a few bumps along the way, makes for a fun ride. The humour is reminiscent of TV sitcoms, and draws on several modern Indian pop culture references, including campy Bollywood songs and cult TV favourites like CID, to draw laughs.

At its heart, “Hasee Toh Phasee” is about Meeta and Nikhil, who meet a few days before he is to get married to her sister. Nikhil is stressed because his fiancée wants him to be successful and rich, while he is struggling with his event management business. When Meeta — who gets mysterious phone calls from China; compulsively gulps down mysterious pills; and seems decidedly neurotic — returns home, Nikhil is asked to take care of her and ensure she doesn’t ruin the wedding.

Movie Review: One by Two

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)
Devika Bhagat‘s “One by Two” is the kind of film that best describes the word “wannabe”. It is populated with characters apparently beset with existential issues that seem superficial, and who think passing wind and chilling beer in the toilet is cool.

The plot structure is unusual in that the lead pair only meet in the final scene. But the incidents leading up to it are so drab, convoluted and uninteresting that when it does take place, it is difficult to drum up any enthusiasm for the couple.

Abhay Deol plays Amit Sharma, a “regular Joe” stuck in a dull job and being forced into an arranged marriage by his overbearing parents. Samara (Preeti Desai) is a dancer dealing with a dysfunctional family and professional woes.

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