Friday, October 2, 2015


Release date:
October 2, 2015

Akshay Kumar, Amy Jackson, Lara Dutta, Kay Kay Menon, Pradeep Rawat, Anil Mange, Arfi Lamba, Rati Agnihotri, Kunal Kapoor

The wisest thing to do when you make a film this silly is to flaunt your silliness with pride and not pretend to be anything else. Singh Is Bliing does precisely that.

And so, though it has the IQ of a boiled potato and a plot thinner than the slim heroine, the film gets by on the combined strength of its unabashedness, Akshay Kumar’s charisma and complete surrender to the madness of the plot, a supporting cast featuring excellent comedians – in particular Ms Lara Dutta – and situations that are funny, even if often cliched.

At the centre of it all is Raftaar Singh, an ironic choice of name since he is intellectually slow. Raftaar (Akshay) is a well-meaning buffoon in Punjab’s Bassi Pathanan village. He is spoilt by his mother (Rati Agnihotri) and constantly chided by his father for his inability to ever complete a given task. Desperate to reform him, Dad packs him off to Goa to work with an old friend.

A continent away in Romania, the villain Mark (a nicely evil Kay Kay Menon) misbehaves with Sara (Amy Jackson), daughter of a fellow arms dealer (Kunal Kapoor, yes Shashi Kapoor’s son – brief role, neat performance). Sara snubs Mark. She goes into hiding to save herself from the vengeful fellow, taking off for Goa where she hopes to also locate her estranged mother.

All this has been engineered to get Akshay and Amy into the same frame so they can sing, dance and fall in love. Along the way they encounter more villains, maa ka pyaar and endless khana-peena. The story – credited to Grazing Goat Pictures and not to an individual – is flimsy, but the film works because the narrative strings together one wacky comical episode after another.

Akshay is great with physical comedy, acting here not just with his face and voice, but with his entire body. Even in the supremely boring song Cinema dekhe mamma, his dance moves and gestures are a hoot. His willingness to make a fool of himself works well for Singh Is Bliing.

The 48-year-old oozes charm, which is a good thing because it would otherwise be impossible to accept a 54-year-old Rati playing his mother (biology is clearly not Prabhudheva’s strength). It’s also worth asking if the tremendously fit Akshay does not realise that he unwittingly emphasises his advancing years by playing the sweetheart of an actress 24 years his junior. It is a pity that his confidence in his stardom does not translate into acting with women his age.

Nevertheless, Akshay is one of this film’s biggest strengths. The other is Lara, who has been poorly served by Bollywood since she first entered films. Her penchant for comedy was evident in Housefull and even in the unsuccessful Jhoom Barabar Jhoom. Why doesn’t Hindi cinema have more to offer her? She is a riot in Singh Is Bliing, killing every scene in which she appears as Emily, an interpreter between Sara who can’t speak Hindi and Raftaar who doesn’t know English. Wish there was more of her in this film and in films in general.

Sara has very few dialogues, but the director makes up for that by letting her flying fists and agile limbs do the talking in scene after scene in which she bashes up bad guys. Good job, Amy! Quite unusually for Hindi cinema, far from seeking the hero’s protection, she protects him in one scene. The film also delivers a message – one that Akshay has been championing off screen too – that women must learn self-defence techniques. While it would be naïve to see this as an all-in-one solution, it is certainly one of many that could work together to end gender-related violence.

The positive messaging is a tiny step forward, since Akshay and Prabhu’s previous collaboration was the all-pervasively sexist, disturbingly misogynistic Rowdy Rathore. Not that Singh Is Bliing shrugs off sexism altogether. Disappointingly, the film features a stock joke about an overweight woman’s unsuitability for marriage and another about a woman with a blackened face.  

Singh Is Bliing’s songs are so-so, except for the hilarious Dil kare chu che in which the tune, lyrics, Akshay and wonderful Lara had me laughing so much that I got a stomach ache. Equally enjoyable is the later use of the song in the background score in a couple of juvenile scenes. Chu che is a fine example of intelligent stupidity – and no, that’s not a contradiction in terms.

All that being said, your ability to enjoy the film depends on your tolerance for Bollywood’s male-centricity and the industry’s Sikh cliche. Despite Amy’s fisticuffs and Lara’s talent, there is no question that Akshay is the centre of this universe. And though the jovial Sikh is a positive stereotype, it is exasperating that mainstream Hindi cinema refuses to portray members of the community as anything but jolly to the point of being OTT, breaking into Bhangra at the drop of a hat and/or deeply patriotic individuals waxing eloquent about nationalism and Sikh honour.

The world will perhaps end the day Bollywood delivers a grim, non-Bhangra-dancing, cowardly, unpatriotic, unfunny Sikh character. I wonder if the Sikh community will even want that. 

While we consider that question, there’s Singh Is Bliing. The name probably has some deep meaning in the minds of the film’s team, but to me all it is is an effort to remind us of Anees Bazmee’s Singh Is Kinng (2008) which remains one of Akshay’s biggest box-office successes till date. SIK was a more substantial, more memorable film. SIB’s lack of substance makes it forgettable, but while it lasts it is a pleasant, mostly harmless, rib-tickling, side-splitting affair.

Rating (out of five): **1/4

CBFC Rating (India):

Running time:
142 minutes

Photographs courtesy: 
(1) Poster & Chu che still:
(2) Picture of Akshay & Prabhudheva: Sterling Communications

Tuesday, September 29, 2015


(This is the English version of an article published on BBC Hindi on September 22, 2015)


The Central government’s unrelenting propaganda against FTII’s striking students and the institution itself hints at a goal that goes beyond ending the current impasse

By Anna MM Vetticad

(Above) A still from this year's Bollywood hit Badlapur starring Varun Dhawan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui, directed by FTII alumnus Sriram Raghavan who is from the institute's 1987 batch; and (below) Malayalam film actor Vinay Forrt who passed out of FTII in 2009 

This week the Central Government is expected to begin “unconditional talks” aimed at ending the strike at Pune’s Film and Television Institute of India (FTII). About time too. In the 100-plus days since protests began against the Centre’s appointments to the prestigious institution – including actor Gajendra Chauhan as FTII Society president – the sarkar has run a blatant misinformation campaign against the striking students.

Apart from being embarrassed by the strike, the government’s antagonism could be attributed to the ruling BJP’s conviction that FTII is a bastion of Communists. The party insists that students would have objected irrespective of who this government had chosen. Facts indicate otherwise. When actor and BJP MP Vinod Khanna helmed the institute under the previous BJP-led government, students did not question his appointment. His acceptability came from his eminence in the field of cinema.

Interestingly, government propaganda is also being directed at FTII per se, with the repeated suggestion that it has not produced noteworthy alumni for many decades. Chauhan himself has been widely quoted as saying: “Barring Rajkumar Hirani, the institute has not produced any important artiste.”

In reality, FTII has churned out numerous luminaries. Hirani’s batchmate from 1987, Sriram Raghavan, directed this year’s Hindi hit Badlapur starring Varun Dhawan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui. In theatres now is the Malayalam hit Premam with which actor Vinay Forrt, from the institute’s 2009 batch, has audiences rolling in the aisles laughing. 2014’s National and international award-winning Marathi film Killa is directed by Avinash Arun, who passed out in 2011, and written by fellow FTII-ian  Tushar Paranjpe. The list is endless.

While the government is right in pointing out that the institute is battling major systemic problems (a matter that students themselves have been raising for long), it is insidiously misleading the public about the track record of the institute’s alumni.

A possible motive for this propaganda has been emerging from mainstream and social media commentary by prominent pro-BJP voices. One columnist asked the party to “yank central funding” from FTII and “create a new institution manned by the right kind of academics and intellectuals… friendly to its way of thinking”.

Another alleged that annual government expenditure per student is Rs 13 lakh, four times the amount spent on a student at the Indian Institute of Technology. The figure has since been proved dubious by an RTI application filed by a student, the response to which shows that institute expenses unrelated to the students are being attributed to them (such as a film appreciation course for outsiders, a contest for film schools across India and a contribution to the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund).

FTII’s Students’ Association alleged in a press release that during a dialogue on July 3, I&B Minister Arun Jaitley indicated that if they did not end their strike, they could face “shut down and eventual privatisation.” The Ministry has denied this, but film personalities present at the meeting back the students’ version.
Was privatisation on the agenda in June when Chauhan was annointed? After all, a respected artist is unlikely to be as pliable as a non-entity entirely beholden to his sarkari bosses for the post. Besides, most heavyweights might avoid supporting a proposal that has been decried by students and many in the film industry in the past.

The widespread support for the ongoing strike would make it hard for the Ministry to openly propose privatisation for a while now… unless of course it succeeds in convincing tax-payers that the striking students are a talentless, expensive burden on the exchequer and that investment in the future of Indian cinema is a waste of public money.

(Anna MM Vetticad is the author of The Adventures of an Intrepid Film Critic. Twitter: @annavetticad)

Link to original column in Hindi:

Photographs courtesy: 

Note: These photographs were not sourced from

Related article by Anna MM Vetticad: “Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics” published in The Hindu Businessline

Friday, September 25, 2015


Release date:
September 25, 2015
Madhur Bhandarkar

Akanksha Puri, Avani Modi, Kyra Dutt, Ruhi Singh, Satarupa Pyne, Madhur Bhandarkar

It feels sad to write this review. Was this film really made by the man who gave us Chandni Bar, Page 3, Corporate and Fashion?

No doubt the concept of writer-director-producer Madhur Bhandarkar’s Calendar Girls is worth expanding into a full-fledged film. This, however, is not that film. This story has a been-there-seen-that feel to it – a whiff of Page 3, a dash of Corporate, a sprinkling of Fashion all chucked into poorly fleshed out scenarios. No new insights. No new perspective. And plain tacky.

If good writing is the cornerstone of a good film, then Calendar Girls is on the verge of collapse from its opening scene. The dialogues are of embarrassingly bad quality, most are heavy-handed, many mix Hindi with awkwardly handled English, and too many try too hard to sound clever.

The over-smartness is irritating. Such as when a photographer tells a bunch of models: Each of you must do something for me now that every model has to do for me the night before a shoot. Cut to the girls, all taken aback at what they assume – as we are no doubt expected to assume too – is a blatant request for sex. The music changes to reflect their fears. Grim silence follows, during which I could picture the writer visualising viewers thinking, “Oh, he wants to sleep with them.” At last the lensman speaks up, asking an offensive but different question. Dan ta tan!

Combine this mediocre writing with lousy casting and what you get is a non-starter, not a film.

Were Calendar Girls’ five female leads really picked by the man whose heroines so far have included Tabu, Konkona Sensharma, Priyanka Chopra and Bipasha Basu?

Here we get Akanksha Puri as aspiring model Nandita Menon from Hyderabad, Avani Modi as London-based Pakistani girl Nazneen Malik, Kyra Dutt in the role of Sharon Pinto from Goa, Ruhi Singh as Mayuri Chauhan from Rohtak and Satarupa Pyne as Paroma Ghosh from Kolkata. The five do not have as much charisma collectively as Tabu, Konkona, Priyanka or Bipasha possess in one little toe. Avani in particular cannot act and her personality is completely unsuited to the itsy-bitsy Westernwear that is the ladies’ wardrobe almost throughout the film.

Kyra and Satarupa hold out some hope. Kyra acts better than the others, but she either gained weight half way through the film or is poorly served by the clothes and camera – I can’t be sure which. Satarupa fits the glamour girl mould better than the rest, but needs to work on her acting. All five – especially Akanksha, Avani and Satarupa – suffer greatly from the combined assault of over-done make-up and poor lighting that highlights rather than camouflages their pancake.

The story is about five women from diverse backgrounds selected to feature in a high-profile, high-glam corporate calendar, clearly drawing on Vijay Mallya’s Kingfisher Calendar. This is their big break. The film is about the hurdles they face in tinseltown and how they get past them.

The point being made by Calendar Girls is this: that though films and modelling are life-suckingly challenging, you don’t necessarily have to sleep around to make it as is assumed by the public. Now if only this point was being made in a more polished, less exploitative film.

Madhur’s last two ventures – Dil Toh Baccha Hai Ji and Heroine – were certainly problematic, but any objections to them are dwarfed by the aura given off by Calendar Girls that he had a low budget here and/or that he made this as a quickie while waiting for his next project to take off.

Nothing else can explain the all-pervading sloppiness of the film. Take for instance the titular calendar. The Kingfisher Calendar is an exclusive product that is gifted to a select few people, but the calendar in this film is shown hanging sadly at cheap eateries in Mumbai.

Elsewhere, at an agitation against Pakistanis, the protestors include men in skullcaps and women in burqas. Was a profound point about secularism being made here? If yes, it was lost on me.

A woman is told by her dad-in-law that her husband’s serial infidelity is a family “parampara”. She is heart-broken. Without any evidence given of a progression of feelings, we are later given a passing shot of the same woman, pregnant and being mollycoddled by that same husband. Had she accepted the “parampara?” Or had hubby turned over a new leaf? No idea.

Get get get Idea. Go go go go, get Idea. Aha ah ah, get Idea.

Don’t mind me. I got so sleepy revisiting this film for my review that I sang Idea Cellular’s ad jingle to wake myself up. Now seriously… Calendar Girls lacks attention to detail. For instance, TV anchors do not walk away from the camera the second they utter the last word on a show; they pause briefly to be sure they’re done. You wouldn’t learn that though if you were to take tips from a character in this film who is an anchor. Nitpicking, you say? No, demanding finesse.

Filmein toh bahut banti hai, par film wahi hota hai jo release hoti hai (many films get made but a film is truly a film only if it is released), says a character in Calendar Girls to a starlet.

Here’s a thought: Filmein toh bahut banti hai, par kuchh filmein aisi hai jo release nahin honi chahiye. After Calendar Girls, it will take a lot for Madhur Bhandarkar to redeem himself.

Rating (out of five): ½ (half a star)

CBFC Rating (India):

Running time:
132 minutes