Friday, December 2, 2016

REVIEW 449: KAHAANI 2 – DURGA RANI SINGH


Release date:
December 2, 2016
Director:
Sujoy Ghosh
Cast:



Language:
Vidya Balan, Arjun Rampal, Jugal Hansraj, Kharaj Mukherjee, Tota Roy Choudhury, Naisha Khanna, Tunisha Sharma, Manini Chadha
Hindi


If you believe the end maketh the movie, then writer-director Sujoy Ghosh’s Kahaani 2: Durga Rani Singh falls strictly in the category of the not-extraordinary. The second instalment in this series starring Vidya Balan features nothing like the surprise that punched us in the collective gut in Kahaani’s climax back in 2012.

Before the end comes the beginning though, and there is much to recommend in the journey between those two points here – the atmospherics, the pall of disquiet blanketing the narrative, the unusual subject, locations rarely explored by Bollywood (Kalimpong and Chandan Nagar in West Bengal in addition to Kolkata), the cast, and most of all, Balan.

Kahaani 2 begins with a young single mother in Chandan Nagar hanging out with her bedridden daughter. We soon learn that when Vidya Sinha is at work, she has a nurse coming home to take care of Mini who is paralysed from the waist down.

Vidya wants to take her daughter to the US for treatment that she hopes will give the child back the use of her legs. She persists with this belief although her kindly doctor in Kolkata cautions her against being too optimistic about a cure. Then one day an abduction followed by another tragic turn of events ruptures their happy, middle-class existence.

Who is that voice on the phone threatening to separate Mini from her mother forever? Will this Vidya – like the redoubtable Vidya Bagchi of the first film – thrash aside all obstacles to attain her goal? Keep guessing.

What made Kahaani an absolute killer was that its entertaining, layered storytelling was followed by a disclosure through which we realised that nothing had been what it seemed through the film. Kahaani 2 features many disturbing and mystifying individual elements. It also delivers some shock treatment for viewers midway through the first half. Ultimately though you realise that most things in the film were more or less what you thought they were when they first rolled by and the big reveal is just so-so.

The ending may not deliver the goods, but Balan certainly does. The media has for years now discussed her willingness to take on the physical attributes of the various characters she plays. While that is no doubt a remarkable quality, to focus on that alone would be an injustice to this fine artist since physical quirks can be used as crutches by average actors too. Balan’s strength is her ability to drown out her own personality for a role.

And so, here in Kahaani 2, there is not a trace of the hard-as-nails heroine of Kahaani, the overtly sexual, bubbly Silk from The Dirty Picture (2011) or the brazenly manipulative Krishna from Ishqiya (2010) who had no qualms about purring out the words “chutiyam sulphate”, at a time when the industry’s heroines were usually identified by their coyness.

When Vidya/Durga in Kahaani 2 recoils at the first touch of a man she loves, the actress convinces us of her character’s diffidence and fears. As a distraught mother and a victim of social indifference, she does what we have come to expect of this formidable star: she erases Vidya Balan to become the person she is playing, Vidya Sinha.

The rest of the cast offers no equivalent of the lovely Parambrata Chatterjee and Nawazuddin Siddiqui from Kahaani, but it is still good to see an evolving (dishy as always) Arjun Rampal playing the policeman with a past, Inderjeet Singh, and Jugal Hansraj – the little boy from Masoom who grew up to a lacklustre acting career – surprisingly effective as a creep. The incredibly cute Naisha Khanna and the interesting youngster Tunisha Sharma – both playing Mini at different stages of her life – get limited space to showcase their talent, but are clearly worth watching out for.

Though Kahaani 2 has none of the memorable detailing of satellite characters that made Kahaani outstanding (where are you, Bob Biswas?) it is unobtrusively insightful in its own way. The long-term effects of sexual abuse, victim blaming, the politics in the police establishment and small-town life are all dealt with effectively. I enjoyed the sweetness of the brief romance between Vidya/Durga and her beau Arun (Tota Roy Choudhury, nice!), his kindness to her and his non-aggressive wooing. And there is a refreshing, believable normalcy in the relationship between Inderjeet and his wife played by the sprightly debutant Manini Chadha.

The big let-down in Kahaani is the writing of the climax, whether viewed in isolation or in comparison with its remarkable predecessor. For the record, these are the credits: Screenplay – Sujoy Ghosh, Dialogues – Ritesh Shah & Sujoy Ghosh, Story – Sujoy Ghosh & Suresh Nair.  Ghosh, who is so confident in his conceptualisation till that point, is clearly aiming at a similar sock-the-viewer-in-the-neck impact as before, but comes up instead with an unimaginative, more or less predictable whimper.

To be fair, his deft direction and Namrata Rao’s skillful editing ensure that there is not a moment of boredom right until then. The two have found a good match in DoP Tapan Basu, production designers Kaushik Das and Subrata Barik who together manage to make the film’s small and large spaces feel cloistered and intimidating, while lending unexpected warmth to Vidya and Mini’s tiny home in Chandan Nagar.

Clinton Cerejo’s music gently wafts around the film and then ends with a bang: the neatly orchestrated, energetic rendition of Rabindranath Tagore’s Anandaloke mangalaloke accompanying the end credits is so haunting that I stuck around for the very last word to disappear from the screen.

Vidya Balan is fantastic in Kahaani 2, but storywise, the film is like a pleasant meal spoilt by a mediocre dessert. If only…

Rating (out of five stars): **

CBFC Rating (India):
UA
Running time:
129 minutes 55 seconds

This review has also been published on Firstpost:



Friday, November 25, 2016

REVIEW 448: DEAR ZINDAGI


Release date:
US: November 23, 2016. India: November 25, 2016.
Director:
Gauri Shinde
Cast:



Language:
Alia Bhatt, Shah Rukh Khan, Kunal Kapoor, Ali Zafar, Ira Dubey, Yashaswini Dayama, Rohit Saraf, Aban Deohans, Atul Kale, Angad Bedi, Aditya Roy Kapur
Hindi


Two points. Dear Zindagi is clearly straining at the formula-ridden Bollywood straitjacket to give us a refreshing take on love and family, and for the most part it sticks to its guns. In the end, it does succumb to the pressure to bow to perceived public demand with passing mentions of what we have come to consider inevitable in every Hindi film, but the ride up to that point is so rewarding so often that it is tempting to look past those needless moments.

Writer-director Gauri Shinde’s Dear Zindagi comes four years after her remarkable debut with English Vinglish. If that film brought the charismatic Sridevi back to the big screen as a leading lady after a 15-year hiatus, this one redefines the concept of hero and heroine in Hindi cinema.

Dear Zindagi revolves around Kaira (Alia Bhatt), a talented young cinematographer in Mumbai who despises her parents, appears confident in her romantic relationships yet is ridden with insecurities about the men she is drawn to. Those insecurities lead her to deliberately hurt her boyfriends before they get a chance to hurt her. It does not take a degree in psychology for a viewer to figure out her behaviour patterns, but Kaira is naturally confused by her fears. She ends up seeking professional help, and with some wise counsel, finds her answers herself.

When one of the biggest stars in the history of Bollywood appears on screen about 40 minutes after the opening credits, it goes without saying that this is an extremely unconventional film. Bhatt’s Kaira is the focal point of the story from start to finish whereas Shah Rukh Khan – playing her therapist Dr Jehangir Khan – surfaces towards the latter part of the first half and is nowhere to be seen in the concluding scene.

In a male-obsessed industry still tending to subordinate women in most mainstream projects, this is a decision that shows guts on Shinde’s part and Khan’s evident willingness to experiment. That other MegaKhan, Aamir, took a similar gamble with rewarding results in Taare Zameen Par (2007), and this is a winning aspect of Dear Zindagi too.

SRK gets less screen time but owns every scene he is a part of. In fact, Doc Jehangir enters the picture just as the film is sagging and appears to be repeating itself. His arrival immediately lifts Dear Zindagi. It sags again occasionally thereafter, but never when he is around. Besides, there is such warmth in Kaira’s interactions with the Doc that it envelops the rest of the narrative too.

It is worth mentioning that Khan in this new phase of his career when he is acknowledging his age gracefully, showing us a dash of gray and a whiff of wrinkles, is looking hot.

Kaira explodes in anger at one point when someone describes her as a pataka (firecracker). Well, that’s precisely what Bhatt is – a pataka with pizzazz and verve. What makes her so impactful is that she has had an internal journey with each of her roles so far, and not so far allowed that journey to be overshadowed by her attractive personality. Kaira is simultaneously exasperating and endearing, and Bhatt remains in control of that difficult blend throughout.

Still, the film needed more matter to wrap around these two lovely stars, and Dear Zindagi too often does not. Some of that comes from the failure to build up the satellite characters who are Kaira’s go-to people in times of need. We get that she is pre-occupied with her own emotional struggles to the point of not noticing their problems, but that is no excuse for the writing to neglect them too.

Who is Fatima (Ira Dubey) beyond being a mature, married friend? Who is Jackie (Yashaswini Dayama) beyond being a sweet, supportive, possibly younger friend? Who and what is that chubby male colleague beyond being chubby and funny? Who is her brother Kiddo (Rohit Saraf) whom she loves, beyond being her brother Kiddo whom she loves? Who and what are her boyfriends Sid (Angad Bedi), Raghuvendra (Kunal Kapoor) and Rumi (Ali Zafar) beyond being a good-looking restaurateur, a good-looking producer and a good-looking musician?

(Spoiler alert begins) And then there are those two oh-no moments towards the end – you know the kind that make you say, “Oh no, you too Dear Zindagi”? One of them seems to go along with the traditional view that characters played by a major male star and a major female star must inevitably be attracted to each other if they interact long enough in a story; the other underlines the essentiality of a man in a woman’s life to make her feel complete. Both are fleeting suggestions, but they pull down the film’s assuredness about what it is trying to say until then. Oh no, you too Dear Zindagi? (Spoiler alert ends)

For this and other reasons the film is inconsistent and intermittently lightweight. Yet, there is much else to recommend in Dear Zindagi.

The use of music, Amit Trivedi’s breezy tunes and Kausar Munir’s conversational lyrics are lots of fun, as are Kaira’s many amusing interactions with her friends. DoP Laxman Utekar fills the film with pretty frames of Goa beyond what we are used to seeing of that picturesque state, and is just as imaginative in his focus on Khan and Bhatt’s faces. Watch out for the closing shots of Bhatt on a beach.

From an industry that usually treats parents as deities deserving to be worshipped, it is also unusual to get a story that does not ignore these gods’ feet of clay, especially considering that Dear Zindagi is co-produced by Karan “It’s All About Loving Your Parents” Johar.

Above all, it is nice to see a film making an effort to destigmatise patient-therapist interactions, in a portrayal far removed from the “paagalkhanas (lunatic asylums)” of an earlier Bollywood era. 

Dear Zindagi then is a mixed bag. I loved SRK in the film, Bhatt is always a pleasure to watch, the story visits many themes that are uncommon in Bollywood, and several of the discussions are either witty or insightful or both. Overall though, the film comes across as being not enough because the writing needed more substance.

Dear Gauri Shinde,

You broke the mould with the delightful English Vinglish. Since you have defied convention in so many ways this time round too, you may as well have gone the entire distance without worrying about the consequences. We believe in you. Please do have faith in our faith in you.

Regards,

A genuine well-wisher.

Rating (out of five stars): **1/2

CBFC Rating (India):
UA
Running time:
149 minutes 53 seconds

This review has also been published on Firstpost: