Sunday, May 1, 2016

REVIEW 387: MOTHER’S DAY


Release date:
April 29, 2016
Director:
Garry Marshall
Cast:





Language:
Jennifer Aniston, Julia Roberts, Kate Hudson, Jason Sudeikis, Timothy Olyphant, Shay Mitchell, Britt Robertson, Jack Whitehall, Sarah Chalke, Margo Martindale, Hector Elizondo, Aasif Mandvi, Robert Pine
English


The things star power can persuade us to do. This weekend, the combined allure of Julia Roberts, Jennifer Aniston and Kate Hudson drew me to a theatre on a maniacally busy, I-don’t-have-time-to-breathe sort of day to watch Garry Marshall’s Mother’s Day.

It is not that the film held out the promise of being another Pretty Woman, Marshall’s career-defining 1990 film that made Roberts a household name. It did not. Mother’s Day is in the same league as the director’s Valentine’s Day (2010) and New Year’s Eve (2011), with an all-star ensemble cast and multi-strand format.

With three female leads, one male lead and a couple at the centre of the action, Mother’s Day is less crowded than those other two films. The quality, however, is many steps down, which says a lot considering that V-Day and NYE were just timepass fare. Hopefully this brings to a close the director’s fixation on festival-related relationship sagas. God, please make him stop at a trilogy. A quartet will be beyond endurance.

Aniston here plays interior designer Sandy, a middle-aged, divorced mother of two young boys, who gets along well with her ex-husband Henry (Timothy Olyphant). Her travails in the film revolve around Henry’s unexpected announcement that he has married the young-enough-to-be-his-daughter Tina (Shay Mitchell from TV’s Pretty Little Liars).

Sandy’s friend Jesse (Hudson) and her sister Gabi (Sarah Chalke, familiar again to Indian viewers primarily from TV’s Scrubs) are having relationship troubles of their own. Both are keeping crucial secrets from their overbearing, prejudiced parents.

Meanwhile, Sandy bumps into a fitness trainer called Bradley (Jason Sudeikis). He is a widower with two daughters and is still pining for his wife (Jennifer Garner) who passed away an entire year back, so you know from 10 miles away where that thread is headed.

On the professional front, Sandy is sought out for a design project by Lance Wallace (Hector Elizondo), agent of the hugely successful writer-entrepreneur Miranda (Roberts).

Elsewhere in the same town, as Mother’s Day approaches, Jesse’s friend Kristin (Britt Robertson) is hesitant to marry the father of her baby, her comedian boyfriend Zack (Jack Whitehall), for reasons yet undisclosed, although she is very much in love with him.

Mother’s Day is clearly intended as a light-hearted yet emotional look at womanhood, motherhood and parenthood in general as the day commemorating maternity approaches. Its Achilles heel is its other obvious intention: to manipulate us by any means available.

To be fair, the film is harmless fun in the first half even when it is not being particularly original. Besides, Aniston, Hudson, Roberts and Sudeikis are so likeable that it is near-impossible not to succumb to their appeal, even if Roberts is given surprisingly little to do in comparison with the others and her body looks impossibly padded up to make her look older for reasons that will become evident when you see the film.

But as the second half rolls along, Mother’s Day gets mushier and progressively more emotionally calculated, till it feels as though Marshall is not aiming at even an iota of depth. Perhaps he feels secure in the knowledge that audiences are easily pleased when so much charisma and beauty are on display. Perhaps, like generations of Hindi filmmakers, he feels the mere mention of Maaaaa is enough to reduce us to messy puddles of tears.

He is right up to a point (I confess). But even a schmaltzy-pretty combine can go only so far when the writing is so lazy and so transparent in its effort to pull at the heartstrings.

The bottom-of the-barrel moment of maudlin manipulativeness comes towards the end when Zack goes on stage with his baby in his arms during a comedy contest, delivers just one funny line in his entire routine, yet wins, no doubt on the strength of the kid’s cuteness alone. Apparently, his audience is as easily pleased as the one Marshall is targeting with Mother’s Day.

The shameless mushiness leads to an unintentionally amusing moment at one point when the baby’s Mummy, Kristin, confides in Jesse that she was given up for adoption by her birth mother. “I have abandonment issues,” she says in a weepy voice that is unwittingly hilarious.

While parts of the film are purportedly liberal, Roberts’ character Miranda uses the word “career” as if it means “that thing women do to fill up an emotional void” or “the thing that leaves women with no time to have romantic relationships and children”. She says it twice in a tone that suggests these implications are obvious.

Mother’s Day is silly. It is a measure of the cast’s collective charm that the film is not entirely unbearable.

Rating (out of five): *1/2

CBFC Rating (India):
U/A
Running time:
MPAA Rating (US):
119 minutes 
PG-13 (for language and some suggestive material)
Release date in US:
April 29, 2016

  

Friday, April 29, 2016

REVIEW 386: BAAGHI


Release date:
April 29, 2016
Director:
Sabbir Khan
Cast:

Language:
Tiger Shroff, Shraddha Kapoor, Sudheer Babu, Sunil Grover
Hindi


Baaghi is a slickly packaged empty vessel. The action choreography is striking, the locations are exquisite, the camerawork polished, the art design impressive, the cast well dressed. Scratch the attractive surface though, and you get a dated, cliched storyline that compartmentalises hero, heroine, villains and comedians in the way Hindi films of the 1970s and 1980s did.

The story begins in the menacing Bangkok den of a rogue called Raghav Shetty, who is on the lookout for Sia Khurana. Cut to Hyderabad, where she is shooting for a film directed by her Daddy, when the numero uno baddie’s goons abduct her. Martial arts expert Ronnie Singh is called in to rescue the damsel in distress. Ronnie and Sia have a past. Time for explanatory flashback.

Cut to Kollam railway station in Kerala where boy and girl met, girl pretended to resist boy, they fell in love, fate split them up, reunited them, Raghav split them up again and so on.

It is a formula that is so dull and dusted that even Sunny Deol has stopped revisiting it.

Baaghi’s writer Sanjeev Dutta seems to have a thing for antiquity though. This is the sort of film where the hero is omnipotent and successfully bashes up dozens of men single-handedly, as did male leads of pre-1990s Hindi cinema who sought to replicate and cash in on the success of Amitabh Bachchan’s Angry Young Man formula. Here, like it was back then, the heroine’s only role is to be good-looking, charming and if possible dance sweetly/sexily enough to make the hero fall in love with her, thus providing him with a motivation to bash the bad guys in the end.

The villains here too are uni-dimensional cardboard cut-outs. Comedians are slotted in to relieve tension even in the middle of a hectic chase. Love happens at the first sight of a pretty face who fakes disinterest in the hero though of course she is keen on him because, well, you know, after all he is the hero. What else was she created for but to fall for him?

Besides, do we not also know that when a woman says “no” she means “maybe”? Ronnie, an absolute stranger who just met Sia a few minutes back on a train, blows a kiss to her from a station platform. She shows irritation but turns away to hide a smile. This film may not be as aggressive or overt as the song Koi haseena jab rootth jaati hai from Sholay, Jumma chumma de de from Hum, Jumme ki raat from Kick or Tu hi to hai from Holiday, but it does make that regressive point all the same.

The film’s only USPs are its only novelties. First, it is set almost entirely in Kerala, which translates into an eyeful of stunning locales, the famed snake boat race (vallam kali) in scenic backwaters and miles of greenery all around. Second, Ronnie is in Kerala to learn the state’s traditional martial arts form Kalaripayattu, which has a way of transforming men into Rudolf Nureyev and Birju Maharaj while they smash and slice other human beings to bits.

Tiger Shroff as Ronnie gets the bulk of the film’s fights and has clearly worked hard to learn Kalari. Many points to him for that and what he has achieved with his body. He must, however, control the tendency to pose about, which is never more evident than in scenes where he replicates his Guru’s moves and comes across as a mannequin, while the old man looks like a battle axe and a ballet dancer rolled into one.

In terms of acting, Tiger’s exaggerated expressions are one with the film’s penchant for overstatement. To be fair, he seems like he would do better with better direction, even if it is hard to ignore the fact that his Caucasian facial features make him a bit of a misfit in Indian cinema. He absolutely does not look Punjabi, although that is what he is meant to be in this film; he looks European. Perhaps he will figure a way around that.

And while I’m all for men showing off their beautiful bodies on screen, could someone explain why so many Hindi film heroes these days make it a point to rip off their shirts before a fight? Sure they look good, but is there a scientific logic here that has escaped me? Just asking.

Shraddha Kapoor as Sia is well turned out and gets a couple of fight scenes of her own. It is nice to see the actress throwing punches and kicks with such elan. Her acting in the early scenes though, is over-cutesified. Time to cross over into the adult world, girl. You are too good to waste yourself playing and replaying a child-like innocent who is an appendage to the hero.

Of the remaining performers, Sudheer Babu Posani merits a mention for his Kalari moves as Ronnie’s bête noir Raghav Shetty. It is curious though that Sudheer, who is a Telugu actor, manages his Malayalam diction so poorly in the film. He keeps addressing his father as “Aachan” when it should be “Achchan”, a word that even a north Indian might easily get right if you point out that the “chch” is pronounced precisely as it is in Bachchan. Simple, no?

Veteran Sanjay Mishra and Sumit Gulati (who we saw last year in Talvar) enter the picture at one point to provide what is conventionally called “comic relief”. If a blind man bumping into things or mistakenly feeling up a woman’s legs makes you laugh, then the director has got what he wants. Some people, hopefully, have better taste.

Director Sabbir Khan made his debut with Kambakkht Ishq in 2009 starring Kareena Kapoor and Akshay Kumar, which he followed up with Tiger and Kriti Sanon’s debut Hindi film Heropanti in 2014. Both films revealed his love for bombast.

In Baaghi, he adds to his shoulders the burden of targeting Salman Khan and Akshay’s traditional audience. And so, Tiger is given an old-style punchline to repeat through the film: Itni bhi jaldi kya hai? Abhi toh maine start kiya hai.” (What’s the rush? I’ve only just begun.) It is hard to imagine why the producers thought this ordinary writing would be as memorable as, say, Salman’s “Ek baar jo maine commitment ki, toh apne aap ki bhi nahin sunta” (Once I make a commitment, I do not allow myself to hold me back) or that Tiger has the panache to elevate it.

More triteness comes in the form of Baaghi’s effort to cash in on the prevailing tension between India and our neighbour China, as Hindi cinema once did with Chinese-looking villains around the time of the 1962 war or before that in the just-post-Independence era when seemingly Western Roberts were the bad people. Here, Raghav’s henchman Yong tells Ronnie: “You killed my brother, you Indian. You think you can fight? We fight. Chinese fight.” Ronnie beats him to pulp before replying grandly, “Sorry, China ka maal zyaada tikta nahin hai” (Chinese goods do not last long).

Might as well have gone a step further with a crowd-pleasing, sarkar-pleasing “Bharat Mata ki jai!” yelled out by the hero. The chest-thumping suits the film’s emptiness. Gloss sans substance tends to make a lot of noise.

Rating (out of five): *1/2


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

This review has also been published on Firstpost: