Friday, November 21, 2014

REVIEW 303: HAPPY ENDING

Release date (India):
November 21, 2014
Director:
Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK
Cast:



Language:
Saif Ali Khan, Ileana D’Cruz, Kalki Koechlin, Ranvir Shorey, Govinda, Preity Zinta, Guest appearance: Kareena Kapoor Khan
Hindi and English


Happy Ending is a romcom that aims to deconstruct romcoms. It comes armed with the sort of understated humour we don’t get enough from Bollywood. Too often we assume that laughter, loudness and mindlessness are inextricably linked. Well, firstly, inoffensive mindlessness can be enjoyable unless it becomes the only available option. Second, the assumption itself is wrong. Happy Ending, for instance, elicits a steady stream of laughs throughout its two-and-a-quarter hours of running time, but it is certainly not mindless – despite its flawed screenplay – nor is it loud. The film is sweet, comical and harmless enough to tide over its own failings.

While telling us the story of Yudi Jaitley, the film also takes potshots at formulaic romantic comedies in literature and mainstream Bollywood. Yudi (Saif Ali Khan) is an over-grown baby living in California, a writer who has lived off his one bestselling novel for five-and-a-half years now. It’s got him fame, money and girls, which is all he wants from life.

Like the characters Saif has played in a number of films, Yudi is an easygoing, commitment-phobic flirt, unaware of his vulnerabilities. By the time we meet him at the start of this film, his bank balance is running out, that first book has faded from public memory and his car is being towed away by creditors. He has failed to deliver his second manuscript to his publishers who are now busy with their hot new acquisition, a young India-based writer of romances called Aanchal Reddy (Ileana D’Cruz) who is currently on a book promotion tour of the US.

To save Yudi from bankruptcy, his agent gets him a contract with the middle-aged Bollywood superstar Armaan (Govinda) who wants him to whip up a screenplay bringing together the best of Bollywood and Hollywood. The brief: plagiarise without qualms. Yudi cannot write romances, so he begins to pursue Aanchal for inspiration. As he courts her and simultaneously struggles with his writing, Happy Ending embarks on its dissection of romcom formulae.

A similar dissection of this film’s screenplay is telling. Happy Ending is unrelentingly amusing and offers occasional wisdom, but leaves many questions unanswered. For a start, swallowing Yudi and Aanchal’s success requires a stretch of the imagination because of the setting. How many Indian writers of light English fiction (whether US- or India-based) have achieved stardom in the US? It’s one thing for the story to offer us one, but two within a span of 5-6 years? Aanchal is presented as an emerging celebrity but Yudi is somewhat in the mould of Richard Castle from the teleserial Castle. It’s not an impossible situation, it’s just improbable as of now, which makes you wonder why the film couldn’t have simply been set in Delhi or Mumbai?

Armaan is held up as a mirror to Bollywood’s eccentricities. Well, if Armaan wanting little Alia Bhatt to be the heroine of his film-within-this-film is a haha moment, consider the implications of the casting of Happy Ending. Ageing bachelors with a wandering eye do exist, so I’m not questioning the decision to have Saif playing Yudi. What though necessitated the casting of Ileana, who is nearly two decades Saif’s junior, as Aanchal? The question raises its head further because Preity Zinta appears in a small role in the film. She’s as sweet-looking, likeable and talented as ever, is far closer to Saif’s age than Ileana, was lovely opposite him in Kal Ho Naa Ho, and there’s no logical reason why she couldn’t have played Aanchal – except that Happy Ending is made in a misogynistic industry that retires women past a certain age.

That being said, Saif’s comic timing remains one  of his strengths though I do wish he would cut his hair, gel it less and lose some weight. Also, his dialogue delivery lacks clarity in his second avatar in the film as a paunchy, bespectacled, sloppy chap who is Yudi’s inner voice. Ileana is a natural before the camera, has a pleasant screen presence and is absolutely gorgeous.

The film’s four satellite characters are all played by interesting actors who get varying treatment from the writers. Ranvir Shorey excels as Yudi’s chaddi buddy Montu who is stuck in a miserable marriage. Kalki Koechlin as Yudi’s clingy girlfriend Vishakha is adequate, though the screenplay seems to repeatedly forget her existence; Vishakha doesn’t exit and enter the stage smoothly, but pops up and out instead, disappearing from Yudi’s consciousness in between.

The stars of the supporting cast though are Preity and veteran Govinda who owns the screen every time he is within sight. His Armaan is hilarious. As he moves to G Phaad Ke, you can’t help but notice with a touch of emotion that the waistline is wider than it used to be, the limbs are perhaps not as elastic as they once were, but boy oh boy, he still dances with every cell of his being! The best-written character on the sidelines of Yudi and Aanchal’s romance though is his ex who is now married and a mother of triplets. It’s hard not to feel a touch of emotion too watching Preity in that role which has been termed a guest appearance in the credits, no doubt in deference to the superstardom the actress once enjoyed before the industry cruelly discarded her.

Sachin-Jigar’s songs are entertaining, with lyrics as quirky, for the most part, as Happy Ending aims at being. Visually too this is an eye-pleasing experience. Oddly enough, considering the title, the film’s weakest point is its ending. Though the girl remains consistently unconventional and challenging to the man, the climax lacks panache. As unconventional romcom endings go, Bollywood is yet to better Shakun Batra’s Ek Main aur Ekk Tu from 2012.

Directors Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK, who helmed 2011’s fantastic Shor In The City, have a flair for low-key storytelling which is why they pull off this film despite its issues. It helps that though they are spoofing romcoms, their tone is not mocking. Besides, they acknowledge through the voice of Armaan, that lofty ideals notwithstanding, cliches do succeed. Happy Ending is sadly not as wacky as it could have been, nor is its effort to deconstruct romcoms particularly effective or as clever and sharp as it wants to be. However, it’s genuinely funny and unobjectionable, which makes it easy to forgive the film its many shortcomings. I was conscious of all my grievances while watching it, but I couldn’t help laughing non-stop all the same.

Rating (out of five): **3/4

CBFC Rating (India):
U/A
Running time:
136 minutes

Posters courtesy:
Videos courtesy: The Glitch
Jaise Mera Tu video:
Haseena Tu Kameena Main video:
Mileya Mileya video:
Paaji Tussi Such A Pussycat remix:

Sunday, November 16, 2014

REVIEW 302: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST


Release date (India):
November 14, 2014
Director:
Christophe Gans
Cast:

Language:
Lea Seydoux, Vincent Cassel, André Dussollier
English (French film dubbed in English)


The French fairytale Beauty and The Beast is a brooding, emotionally wrenching story bearing the message that true beauty lies within. Poignant and tender for children, profound and layered for adults, there’s a reason why it has survived so many hundreds of years. This latest version is shorn of the emotion and depth of the original, but is so violent and so intentionally disturbing that you have to wonder who it is aimed at – adults, children, or neither?

It has to be said though that Christophe Gans’ retelling of this classic is visually spectacular in every frame. From the gowns worn by the women, especially the protagonist Belle, to the Beast’s magnificent magical palace, the mysterious surrounding grounds, the initial introduction to the Beast himself particularly when he is in flight, those stone giants in battle, and the vast snow-laden French countryside, everything about La Belle Et La Bete (the French title) is rich and lavish and impressive.

As it happens, the spectacle dwarfs all else in the story including the lovely lesson that made it memorable enough to travel to us down the centuries. The two lead actors are unable to summon up any chemistry between them, and not because he is buried in his animal costume through much of the film. The lack of sparks between them has more to do with the fact that there’s nothing in the script to explain why this considerate and beautiful woman would fall in love with this awful man whose ugly visage is irrelevant in the face of his harshness towards her.

In the original fairytale, as Belle gets to know the Beast over a period of time, they become good friends. In this film, they hardly talk. Instead, he showers her with pretty clothes and jewellery, doesn’t spend much time with her, is mean to her almost all the time that they are together, frightens the hell out of her, and one day almost rapes her. He also yells at her at one point that she has no choice but to fall for him in time. So when she does ultimately declare her love for him, I found myself thinking of Stockholm Syndrome rather than matters of the heart.

As in the classic fairytale, the film too is about a widowed merchant who loses his ships at sea and is impoverished overnight. The man has three daughters – two selfish girls and the kind, generous, thoughtful Belle (Lea Seydoux). One day, when their father gets news that one of his ships has been found, he takes off to town to reclaim his lost wealth. Buoyed at the thought of being affluent again, the elder girls ask their father to return with clothes and cosmetics for them, but Belle only wants a rose. Alas, the merchant’s ship is seized by the authorities. While on his way home, he chances upon a palace filled with food, jewels and other treasure. With no one in sight, the merchant gathers gifts for his daughters but is attacked by the owner – a fearsome half-man-half-animal (Vincent Cassel) – when he picks a flower from the garden for Belle. He is released on the promise that he will come back. When Belle hears of this, she goes to the palace in her father’s place and thence begins the romance that is at the heart of this story.

Possibly in a bid to add more conflict and drama to the raw material at hand, Gans and co-writer Sandra Vo-Anh have given Belle three brothers and the Beast a back story that unfolds on screen in Belle’s dreams. Not enough thought has been devoted to the screenplay though, leaving questions unanswered and loose ends hanging. For instance, when Belle enters the palace, we see swarms of small, saucer-eyed, dog-like creatures lurking about everywhere. They will end up being Belle’s best friends one day, says the voiceover. But that friendship never happens. It’s also hard not to wonder whether Belle falls in love with the actual Beast before her eyes or becomes open to the idea of falling in love with the hairy fella because her dreams reveal that he was once a handsome prince. If it’s the latter, then the entire point of the Beauty and The Beast saga is lost, is it not? Pffft!

The film’s reliable leads deserve better. Cassel is a Cesar Award-winning French actor whose acting muscle Hollywood audiences witnessed when he played the artistic director of the ballet troupe in Black Swan. Almost 20 years his junior, Lea Seydoux is also an award-winning French star who has made several Hollywood appearances but would be best known to film buffs worldwide for her role in the Palm d’Or-winning French film Blue Is The Warmest Colour. The massive age gap between them serves no particular purpose in this story. With limited writing to rely on, Cassel strides about the film in flashback, being so aggressive that you wonder why Belle is attracted even to the chap in her dreams; and Seydoux shows us none of the depth she is capable of, being reduced here instead to a beauty with marble-like smooth skin and an awesome bosom.

The atmospherics in Beauty and The Beast are amazing, as are the sets and costume design. After a while though, the grandeur ceases to please. Extravagant images are of little use if they leave you cold, confused and disappointed.

Rating (out of five): *1/2

CBFC Rating (India):
U/A
Running time:
MPAA Rating (US):
114 minutes
Not released yet in the US
Release date in France:
February 12, 2014