Saturday, April 21, 2018

REVIEW 591: NANU KI JAANU


Release date:
April 20, 2018
Director:
Faraz Haider
Cast:


Language:
Abhay Deol, Patralekhaa, Rajesh Sharma, Manu Rishi Chadha, Himani Shivpuri, Brijendra Kala
Hindi


Although Abhay Deol is the leading man of Nanu Ki Jaanu (Nanu’s Beloved), the film belongs, in my ’umble opinion, to Rajesh Sharma. In what appears to be subliminal messaging snuck in by this brilliant character artiste, in a scene towards the end where he is supposed to be weeping, he turns his head gently sideways and gives the impression that he is masking a laugh. Whether or not this was his intention, it feels like an encrypted note aimed at the viewer, with Sharma’s expression seeming to say: I cannot believe I am actually working on this bizarre nonsense AND you dunces are watching it!

The other two actors in this scene, Deol and Patralekhaa, on the other hand, try to look invested in the film till it takes its last gasping, rasping breath. It is tempting to ask why they bothered at all, but the truth is, I can see what they might have spotted in the project’s concept.

Nanu Ki Jaanu is a remake of the 2014 Tamil hit Pisaasu (Devil). Although the original is not named in this one’s credits, its producer Bala and director Mysskin are listed in the acknowledgements, and the story is credited to Mysskin. I have not seen Pisaasu, but from the trailer and reviews it comes across as a somber horror flick that Faraz Haider decided to turn into a horror comedy for Hindi audiences.

The idea is not bad at all – since rationalists brush aside the possibility that ghosts exist, it makes sense to make a film that pokes fun at those who believe in spooks. And frankly, sizeable parts of Nanu Ki Jaanu’s middle portion are quite uproarious. When viewed from start to finish though, the kindest thing that can be said about it is that it is uneven.

Haider’s introduction hints at a film that is vastly different from what it turns out to be. The director also fails to make a credible transition from the humorous passages to the grave latter part. And the end is maudlin to the point of being embarrassingly silly.

In the opening moments, Nanu (Deol) and his gang barge into the house of an elderly gentleman, and threaten him into signing a flat’s ownership over to them for a pittance. The scene is trying too hard to be amusing, but is not.

Cue: change in tone: shabby ‘item’ song.

Cue: change in tone: Nanu is driving down a main road when he stops to take a call on his cellphone and sees a crowd running towards a woman (Patralekhaa) lying bleeding on the ground, her scooter beside her. Since no one else does anything but stare, Nanu rushes her to a hospital where she dies on arrival, her hand in his as life ebbs out of her body.

The episode leaves the ruffian shaken and, much to his gang’s dismay, too soft to lead them through the house-grabbing assignments that follow. What comes next is a bunch of laughs interspersed smoothly with scares as we try to figure out with Nanu & Co whether he is genuinely suffering from a psychological problem or the ghost of the dead girl is actually haunting his Noida flat.

Just as it seems like Nanu Ki Jaanu might add up to something after all… Cue: change in tone: love angle.

Cue: change in tone: messages.

Cue: change in tone: lively song with end credits.

The middle bits are fun. The scene involving the redoubtable Manu Rishi Chadha’s character Dabbu trying to scare off the spook is a scream. Chadha brings to that very long segment all the comical depth that made Hindi film-goers sit up and take notice of him in Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! (2008) and Phas Gaye Re Obama (2010). (Note: he is also this film’s screenplay and dialogue writer.)

Haider’s direction is too ham-fisted to make optimum use of his talented cast though, making Nanu Ki Jaanu a bumpy ride, until it gets to its it’s-so-bad-that-it-is-good finale.

Deol, who started off with such promise in films like Socha Na Tha (2005) and Oye Lucky, has featured in very few good projects since then. The beguiling innocence he brought to those early works and the finesse of his performance in the more recent Shanghai (2012), is proof enough that he cannot be written off. His performance in Nanu Ki Jaanu is uninspired though.

Patralekhaa, who shone in Hansal Mehta’s Citylights (2014), has almost nothing to do in this film. Sharma seems to give up part way through it. Only Chadha crackles till the end. 

Parts of Nanu Ki Jaanu feel as if the production team stopped bothering with it. If you have spent money on making a film, how much would it cost you to throw some extras into a hospital scene? Or to consult grammar experts before flashing “After Few Days” and “After Few Week” on screen to indicate the passing of time?

And oh ya, Messrs Haider and Chadha, if you want to pack in messaging about beef terrorism, speaking on cellphones while driving and helmets for two-wheeler drivers, please do not make it all sound so contrived. Granted though that the point about domestic violence is well – and subtly – made.

The crux of this entire affair is that Nanu Ki Jaanu is unsure of what it wants to be, the team lacks the ability to make it everything they want it to be, and the film therefore ends up flailing its arms all over the place. It is scary in a few parts and funny in more, which is why it is so sad that in the overall assessment and especially in its finale, it turns out to be such a loosely handled, low-IQ mess.

Rating (out of five stars): *

CBFC Rating (India):
UA 
Running time:
133 minutes 

A version of this review has also been published on Firstpost:




Tuesday, April 17, 2018

REVIEW 590: KAMMARA SAMBHAVAM


Release date:
April 14, 2018
Director:
Rathish Ambat
Cast:





Language:
Dileep, Siddharth, Namitha Pramod, Murali Gopy, Andy Von Eich, Divya Prabha, Bobby Simha, Shweta Menon, Indrans, Vijayaraghavan, Vinay Forrt, Siddique, Baiju, Sudheer Karamana, Simarjeet Singh Nagra
Malayalam


A film within this film falsely lionises a politician and ends up boosting his party’s electoral fortunes.

At a conceptual level, writer Murali Gopy’s Kammara Sambhavam directed by Rathish Ambat, is apt for our troubled times. The saga of a contemporary neta/party untruthfully claiming to have played a pivotal role in the Indian Independence movement rings a bell loud and clear. Napoleon Bonaparte’s words flashing on screen right at the end – “History is a set of lies agreed upon” – perfectly encapsulate the point made by the storyline until then, about a victor peddling his version of the past to the hapless masses.

The value of a message is greatly dependent on the sincerity of those delivering it though. And by slipping its own insensitive insinuation into a conversation in its closing moments, Kammara Sambhavam vastly dilutes its worth.

In that crucial scene, Kammaran Vishwambaran Nambiar (Dileep) – a traitor who has just recently been hero-ised on the big screen – tells his cohorts that they can quietly work on their agenda if they distract the public by getting a woman to accuse a high-profile man of sexual violence. The throwaway remark sans qualifiers would have been distasteful in any context, considering how the bogey of false cases has long been used to muddy the waters for millions of victims of rape, molestation and harassment. It is particularly disgusting in this specific context because of the real-life case in which Dileep is currently embroiled, in which he is charged with orchestrating an attack on a female colleague.

Dileep makes it tough for viewers to separate the artist from his art when he blatantly sneaks a potshot at his accuser into a fictional film.

Now make of that what you will.

Kammara Sambhavam is divided into two distinct halves. Pre-interval, in the present day, the members of the Indian Liberation Party, ILP (played by Vijayaraghavan, Sudheer Karamana, Baiju and Vinay Forrt) approach the hit Tamil director Pulikesi (Bobby Simha) to make a film on their ageing party patriarch Kammaran. ILP was a small armed force set up by Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose to fight the British colonisers, but it is now a political party.

(Possible spoilers ahead)

In this portion, Kammaran recalls his story during World War II, complete with his lies and machinations among the people of his village, his obsequiousness towards the British, his extreme caste prejudice, his longing for the beautiful Bhanumathi (Namitha Pramod) who does not reciprocate his feelings and his raging, all-consuming, well-disguised simmering jealousy towards the man she loves, ILP leader Othenan Nambiar (Siddharth) who is the son of another man Kammaran hates, the cruel and exploitative Kelu Nambiar (played by Gopy himself).

Despite the grim proceedings, this part is often amusing and sometimes outright hilarious as the protagonist’s ignorance, biases and manipulations are gradually revealed. It is also made evident here that Kammaran has zero interest in India’s freedom.

Post-interval, we sit with an audience in a hall viewing Pulikesi’s propaganda biopic on the man. The filmmaker paints a portrait of Kammaran that even Kammaran cannot recognise. Since those who know the truth are either dead or complicit in the lie, the public is successfully deceived.

(Spoiler alert ends)


Overall, Kammara Sambhavam is a reasonably entertaining film, not the least because Ambat more or less controls Dileep’s hammy tendencies and manages to use the actor’s naturally bland personality well. Dileep is therefore convincing as the slimy Kammaran of the first half. And when called upon to play the glamorous Kammaran of the second, he is given a thick beard, dark glasses, an attention-getting quirk and swish attire to build him up to being someone the actor and the character are not.

The rest of the cast needs no such crutches. Namitha Pramod is both striking to look at and a subtle performer. Gopy is convincing as an evil fellow you cannot even briefly sympathise with despite the ugly villainy of his bête noir. In a comparatively tiny role, Indrans displays his acting chops when he steals a scene in which the casting of Kammaran’s biopic is being discussed.

Tamil-Telugu star Siddharth, making his Malayalam debut here, is a pleasantly polished contrast to Dileep. His Malayalam diction needs improvement, but the fact that he dubbed for himself is worth commending since it shows a willingness to take risks and a desire to evolve. Besides, Siddharth is always easy on the eye.

There is an interesting tonal split in Kammara Sambhavam between fact and its distorted, fictionalised depiction. The film within the film is intentionally farcical, energetic and spiced up, and every actor featured in it (Dileep, Siddharth, Shweta Menon) is required to be over the top. Outside that celluloid take on events, the tone is more understated.

However, that romantic song and dance interlude with Bhanu in Kammaran’s imagination jars when it is forced into the first half. If Ambat’s goal is to laugh at commercial cinema even while participating in it himself, he cannot expect to be excused for resorting to one of the country’s most worn-out cinematic clichés. Besides, the director does not manage to entirely pull off the effort at relative understatement before the interval. To make matters worse, the sub-par European actor playing the British officer stationed in Kammaran’s village (his name is Andy Von Eich) robs the narrative of finesse whenever he is around, which is a lot.

The production design too is inexplicably inconsistent. On the one hand, we get some sophisticated battle scenes shot in low light, including a neatly done sequence where a bunch of men are seen in silhouette in the night fighting each other against a backdrop of a blue-back sky. On the other hand, the village settlement looks too glaringly set-like and artificial, which takes the punch out of an important passage where the paths of the story’s multiple players – the locals, the ILP, the British and Kelu Nambiar – intersect during an uncontrollable blaze.

Kammara Sambhavan remains fairly engaging despite these weak patches, which could perhaps have been forgiven in favour of its purportedly hard-hitting theme. It is impossible though to ignore the film’s lack of commitment to its own cause. Let us spell it out for Rathish Ambat and Murali Gopy: you cannot mock propaganda while being a vehicle for it yourself.

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

CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
182 minutes 

This review has also been published on Firstpost: