Welcome Back poster

Meview: Very Welcome

The opening credits – still shots of the principal players to the accompaniment of the single word ‘Welcome’ – start rolling, and you know something’s on. But it hits you only with the killarious graveyard scene way into the second half. Welcome Back is a ’90s movie. And as madcap as they came.

This seems to be the era for celebrating the era in which Gen Y came to be. There have been some awesome tributes (Dum Lagaa Ke Haisha), some awful ones (Dheere Dheere aka Bore Me Slowly), and many more brewing. (Heads-up: Saajan completes 25 years next year, and the baap of all path-breaking movies, Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar, the year after that. Keep those hashtags ready.)

But back to Welcome Back. WB is all things nineties: sister from another mother (Shruti Haasan, to Nana Patekar); son from another father (John Abraham, to Paresh Rawal); conning jodidaars, only this time, the gender gets changed (Dimple Kapadia and newbie Ankita Srivastava); bhais/goons (Anil Kapoor – fusing roles like Loafer, Laadla, Ram Lakhan; Nana Patekar, and Abraham); right down to a visually challenged don (Naseeruddin Shah, picking up from Mohra, and pumping in the fun of Ishqiya) and a written-on-the-sets, tweet-wit story (Kapoor and Patekar discover they have another sister, Rawal uncovers his wife has another son, they decide to get them married, then not, then Naseer jumps in, with a son… Should I go on?).

But is it fun. Again, think nineties: David Dhawan directing all his favourites (Govinda, Sanjay Dutt, and to a lesser extent, well, Anil Kapoor)… in one movie. It’s that amped up. Clearly, everyone’s having fun here. It’s like they went on a three-month vacation to Dubai/Abu Dhabi, decided on the spur of the moment to do a movie there, came on the sets asking, “Toh aaj kya karna hai?” And the response was, “Aap ko kya karnaa hai?” And then, all went about their roles like pre-schoolers discovering crayon.

So, Paresh Rawal, seemingly happy to be back to comedy from netagiri, rolls his eyes, totters about exasperatedly (first half) and schemingly (second half), and even delivers an about-two-minute dialogue through a cut-out of Abraham’s head. (Told you.)

Naseeruddin Shah rolls his eyes too – although he can’t see – and rolls his guns and dialogues even more… And keeps them coming thick and fast. As his character exclaims, “Mazaak thaa, mazaak!” And then finally regains his sight, after hitting his head on a bumper. (Believe me now?)

Naseeruddin Shan in a scene from Welcome Back

Dimple Kapadia and Ankita Srivastava wear flowing and itsy-bitsy outfits respectively and switch their accents from posh (when faking a Maharani and a Rajkumari) to street (when being their true characters) to Hyderabadi (when being their real true characters).

John Abraham and Shruti Haasan, perhaps the weakest actors here (but then, they are pitched against stalwarts), sense their limitations or those of their roles and play along, happy to flare (he), simper (she), and gallivant (they).

But the movie belongs to the bhai/muh-bola-bhai jodi of Anil Kapoor and Nana Patekar. They get meaty parts, and pounce on it like… bhais. Kapoor lets his eyes and facial expressions do half the acting (keep your eyes and ears on all alert for the same graveyard scene) and his clothes (like Govinda’s in the nineties, but glammed up) and glasses the other half. Nana Patekar is the perfect bromantic partner to him. Check him trying hard to keep his control in most of the movie and then losing it big-time in the graveyard scene and at the end.

Anil Kapoor and Nana Patekar in their promo poster for Welcome Back

Plus, the seasoned duo are sporting enough to take a barrage of ageist jokes thrown at them. (Here’s mine: Knock, knock. > Who’s there? > Our knees.) But seriously, how old do they look – 45 and 47? Seriously too, the next Welcome – oh yes, it’s looking very strong after this, and one hopes sooner (Welcome Again?) – should concentrate even more on these two. After all, don’t we, and they, want to know: Will they ever get a girl? Or maybe not.

And if you want any more nineties’ masala, in the end, you have everyone in the middle of the desert trying to escape exploding devices, galloping camels, and a billowing sandstorm. (Clearly, the director, Anees Bazmee’s turn to play with crayons.)

Naseeruddin Shah near a chopper in a climax scene from Welcome Back

The last time I had so much fun at the movies – and heard others having too: laughing, clapping, thumping their thighs, whistling at snippets of the first part (Feroze Khan’s RDX character got the loudest) – was Mujhse Shaadi Karogi, surprise, another David Dhawan romp-in-the-amusement park.

Welcome back, Welcome Back.

Side-note:

Raja Sen’s review of the movie on Rediff stated something like, “in Shruti Haasan’s case, the acting genes (Kamal Haasan and Sarika) have cruelly missed her”. I’ve seen her in a couple of movies now (the earlier being D-Day, which gave her a better platform for performance than here), and I think he misses the point. I read his review before I watched the movie and kept a close look-out for this. And now having watched enough Kollywood (Tamil) movies too, I think I got it.

Shruti Haasan in a scene from Welcome Back

Shruti has worked more in South Indian movies (and Sen doesn’t seem to have watched too many of these), that too Tollywood (Telugu) movies, and her acting sensibilities have got moulded that way. So, she hams it up and gestures a lot more than necessary for Bollywood, but all of which is par in Tollywood, where everything needs to be supersized (these are the folk who gave us Baahubali, after all).

Shruti Haasan in several promo shots from the Telugu movie, Race Gurram

Several other non-South-Indian actresses who have made the South their base after trying their luck initially in Bollywood have gone this way too. They get entrenched and established here, then based on their success here, get a Bollywood offer or two, but don’t cut the grade. Think Shriya Saran, Asin, Kajal Agarwal, and Tamannah (the last one in all her outings). In Drishyam (the Hindi version), my parents asked me of Shriya, “She’s that Sivaji girl, right? Where’s she from? Oh, Punjab. But she’s looking completely South Indian now.” There you go.

So, I think Shruti’s just fine. And I’m not even a fan.

Movie poster of Manjhi the Mountain Man

Meview: Manjhi the Mountain Man

Manjhi the Mountain Man is a pile-high of a disappointing movie. Though perhaps not so if you know the director, Ketan Mehta’s track record. He’s done many biopics/character-pics (more so in recent times: Rang Rasiya, on painter Raja Ravi Verma; Mangal Pandey, on one of India’s first freedom fighters; Maya Memsaab, based on Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary; and earlier, Sardar, on India’s Iron Man, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel) and several movies on social issues (Mirch Masala, on women’s subjugation in his home state, Gujarat; Bhavni Bhavai, on the caste system, and Holi, on college ragging, as Aamir Khan’s factually first movie as an adult actor).

Manjhi director, Ketan Mehta, with the movie poster in the background

So, let’s see: he takes interesting (actually, very interesting) subjects, and then gives us… rubble. His movies start with very promising premises and then slowly have you breaking for a ciggie (upto the ’90s) or for Temple Run (now). In between, he didn’t direct for a long time.

Here, he takes the real-life account of Dashrath Manjhi from Gehlore village in Bihar from the early ’60s, who took upon the task of pounding a road through a mountain all by himself, after his wife (Phaguniya) lost her life trying to cross the mountain. How long was he at it? 22 years. Absolutely incredible.

The real Dashrath Manjhi on the mountain

But Ketan Mehta gives us such a dull screenplay that after some time the only thing you’re noticing on screen are the subtitles. And the problem isn’t that of only one person occupying the screen for 85% of the time. There have been other movies in this mould – Cast Away, 127 Hours, and more recently, Life of Pi – but the screenplay there has been solid enough for the duration or there have been other credible interludes. Here, the non-Manjhi screentime goes for forced fictionalised accounts (the Manjhi-Phaguniya meet-cute is way over-the-top, over-the-mountain-top). Plus, it tries to do too much: include accounts of the changes Indian went through over Manjhi’s mountain-breaking years (abolishment of casteism/untouchability, Naxalism, Indira Gandhi, Emergency). Or maybe that’s the problem: Mehta tries to do much with the non-Manjhi time and too little in the Mountain-Man time. The Manjhi space has the titular character either having monologues with the mountain or having visions (like in most of these movies) of dear-departed Phaguniya, for whom he’s building this rock-fested Taj Mahal.

The let-down though doesn’t stop at the screenplay. The supporting actors, big on paper (pack-a-punch director and part-time actor, Tigmanshu Dhulia; eternally solid character actor, Pankaj Tripathi; rapidly rising Radhika Apte), look disinterested on celluloid. (Perhaps because they knew even the mountain had more screen time than them?) So, Dhulia doesn’t look the necessary frightful when he’s about to be… hanged. (Guess he was relieved at the end of his misery.) Tripathi plays the rustic lout yet again. (Tripathiji, we would like more of what we saw in Masaan and less of this, if possible.) And Radhika Apte tries very hard for sometime (when she playfully reveals she’s pregnant and not-so-playfully beats up Manjhi with the broom), but loses interest soon and sticks to making her big eyes appear even bigger and revealing skin (from all possible angles).

Radhika Apte in two scenes from Manjhi the Mountain Man

That leaves Nawazuddin Siddiqui to rescue a movie that he’s anyway supposed to bear the weight of. But Siddiqui seems to have chosen this movie of all to not act, overact, or worse, act himself… yet again. It’s like he was huffed by two movies on the trot with Salman Khan (Kick and Bajrangi Bhaijaan) becoming monster hits without he getting due credit. So, he went: ‘Since this movie is all about me, let me show everyone what I am about.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui in two scenes from Manjhi the Mountain Man

Siddiquisaab, we already know what you are capable of (Gangs of Wasseypur). We wanted to see how you would play someone who is anguished, desolate, and determined. Instead, we get someone who comes across as cocky, overzealous, or shoot, full of himself.

Really, if Manjhi took 22 years to tame that mountain, couldn’t Mehta have taken at least one-tenth that time to give us a better flick?

And what is ‘meview’? Find out here on my blog – Irfictionary: Meview

Ad for Ila, play by Patchworks Ensemble

Meview: Ila

As I mentioned in the previous post, as a part of The Hindu Theatre Fest (HTF) 2015 here in Chennai, the day before, I went for what has proved to be my best play of all time. Ila, by Patchworks Ensemble. HTF also has a Citizen Review, whereby readers of the paper and viewers of the play can send in their take on the play in 50-150 words. The best entry wins a dinner for two at The Park, a leading hotel here. Well, below’s my entry. And as it turns out, I won. Yippee. With very few edits. Double yippee.

At the end, find the link to the digital version of the paper’s section where mine and some other reviews appeared. Have also, but of course, posted a couple of pix. And oh, what’s a ‘meview’? Find out here.

Male. Female. Tick a box.

But what if there were more than two boxes? More male; More female; In between… What then of this person, and… stereotypes? Such as ‘Men slap their thighs, women cross theirs’.

Ila dares to examine this gender- and mind-bending question. Through an apt metaphor: the ladies’ compartment of a Mumbai local train, which turns ‘general’ by night – like its protagonist. (Ila draws from the myth of a king who, under a spell, goes between manhood and womanhood with the moon’s waxing and waning.)

It continues pushing the blue/pink envelope: several actors take turns playing the wo/man and, in literally a flicker, swings between Ila’s tragic/magic tale and that of a pregnant train regular. The music yin-yangs too: now actor-like – posing a conundrum, now audience-like – pondering that conundrum. By the end, everyone’s mind is prised open, at least a bit. Ila ticks all the right boxes.

Find mine and other entries here: http://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/theatre/ila-challenges-gender-notions/article7561429.ece

My winning Citizen Review in the offline version of the paper My winning Citizen Review in the online version of the paper

Promo pic of The Siddhus of Upper Juhu

Meview: The Siddhus of Upper Juhu

I seem to have entered a poetic, verse, or at least a rhyme phase at present. Here’s my meview of the play, The Siddhus of Upper Juhu (which I watched as a part of The Hindu Theatre Fest 2015, over the weekend), in poetic form.

Life in a metro can get to you,

Is the theme of The Siddhus of Upper Juhu.

So, the Siddhus move into this “Bombay” highrise,

But find in vain, and pain, that it doesn’t suffice…

To keep away the din of the partying “airhostesses”; the neighbour, his kids, his wife;

The barking dog; the construction drill; and other dins of urban life.

To make things worse, Mr Bubbles Siddhu gets the sack,

And slowly begins turning into a cuckooish Jack.

To compensate, his wife, Behroze, takes up a job – and thus joins the grind…

But, as Bubbles seems to get better, she ends up losing her mind!

Rajit Kapur and Shernaz Patel play the afflicted couple to perfection,

And Rahul DaCunha is as astute as ever in his direction.

Do watch this play wherever you get the opportunity –

It’s a humorous lament on the cost of living in a city.

To read a non-poetic review of the play, go here: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/entertainment/hindi/theatre/Theatre-review-The-Siddhus-Of-Upper-Juhu/articleshow/46622780.cms

Jurassic World Poster

Meview: Jurassic World

Early on in Jurassic World, you see Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) informing both a group of investors and Owen (Chris Pratt), separately (great, not once, but twice, so that we don’t miss the point), “We need to keep upgrading, giving people something bigger/better, so that they don’t get bored, and keep coming.” And just in case you didn’t get that, a bit later, during crisis time, Dr Wu (the scientist, B D Wong) tells Masrani (the owner of the park, Irrfan Khan), “Why did we invent Indominus Rex? Because you wanted something cooler.

Great, we get it; the new Jurassic Park movie, a sequel to the first movie (from 1992) is a reload for the generation that was born after 1992 and is thus aiming to be bigger, better, badder, cooler for them. So, now, we can begin checking off.

More dinos (mososaurus, the ginormous whale-meets-croc one; the baby ones – in the petting zoo; pteranodon – the flying ones; more raptors – four; and of course, the motherlode, I-Rex).

More sophisticate: holographs of dinos in the museum; gyrospheres instead of the electric-powered cars; and whew, both terrestrial and submersible viewability of Gino Dino.

Cooler setpieces: the much-memed and already-cult sequence of Owen saving an apprentice, and himself, from his nurtured raptors; the flee, flight, and fury of the pteranodons; Gino whooshing up for its meal of a… Great White shark.

Jurassic World Chris Pratt cult scene

Stay: The already-cult scene from Jurassic World where Chris Pratt urges his raptors to behave

Tributes to many of Steven Spielberg’s cult movies, especially beginning with J: Jaws (Gino speeding to the surface a la the Great White); the Indiana Jones franchise (Pratt killing the terrain on a mean hog and alongside his raptors); and of course, J Park itself (I-Rex scaring the kid first with just his eye).

Standard forebodings about not caging, controlling, and messing with animals and their DNA – the best part about the movie to animal-freedom-advocate me.

And the final check-off. The movie’s achieved what it set out to do: appeal to a younger generation, earn gino amounts of money, and pave the way for sequels and triquels.

And then, you really check something: the eyes. First, the eyes of the kids. You notice them looking somewhere other than where they’re supposed to on the green screen. (Ah, maybe they are just kids and thus novices. Still, a bit unforgiveable in a movie of this monetary magnitude.) And then, you notice the eyes of the grown-ups too – Claire, Owen, Masrani: they all look empty, like they are just acting out and mouthing up what’s on the pages rather than feeling it. Yes, even the normally solid Irrfan Khan; at times, he even resorts to adding unnecessary, trite gestures to his dialogues to make up for the lack of feeling in the lines. And you slowly notice this all around: the baddie Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio); the support cast; the filler cast; heck, even the dinos – all going through the rigours of the screenplay without any feel and only because they got fat paychecks for such a movie. (Dinos not emoting? Lack of feel among the behind-the-scenes animation folk.)

It’s then you realize – a bit late, as you’re already lured in by then – that Jurassic Park Redux is just a monster movie (a movie with monsters, rather than a movie about monsters), and at best, a serviceable one. (In comparison, last year’s Godzilla was truly god-like.) As if bearing testimony to this, toward the end, there’s even a monster pile-up: raptors vs I-Rex; raptors with I-Rex; T-Rex vs I-Rex (yes, how could T-Rex not be reloaded?); T-Rex and raptor vs I-Rex; and finally, hold your breath, G-Rex (good ole Gino) coming up and gobbling up I-Rex. (Really, Gino needs his own movie to showcase all his skills.)

The new J Park movie sorely lacks the soul of Steven Spielberg. The soul of Spielberg, to folk born after 1992, is the opening sequence of Jaws, where you get the feeling that something terrifying is going to happen, and it does, only in a more terrifying way than you imagined, and you didn’t even see anything. It is the spine-scaring T-Rex coming close to the adolescent girl in the 4×4, and you’re shouting at the stupid girl to shut off the flashlight, but who’s too terrified to think or listen to you. It’s the claustrophobic and scarier-than-any-horror-flick sequence in the original J Park, where the raptors and the kids go hammer-and-tongs at each other, both psychologically and physically, in the place with hammer and tongs, the kitchen.

Jurassic Park T-Rex eye close-up

Eye on you: The classic and cult T-Rex intro sequence from Jurassic Park

In the middle of the movie, the younger kid Cray (Ty Simpkins) asks Owen near his raptor unit, after Owen has finished telling him the four raptors’ names, “So, who’s the alpha male?” Owen, uber-cool: “You’re looking at him.” Unfortunately, in this movie, you’re not looking at the alpha-male version of Spielberg, but just his holograph. The director-writer duo of Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly go, pitifully, full fanboy and hole soul. And as pitifully, exec producer Spielberg lets them. Now, we’ll just have to wait for Bridge of Spies (Spielberg’s next directorial offering) to rekindle what the master is like. And until then, watch Jaws and Jurassic Park all over again.