Tuesday, June 20, 2017

REVIEW 500: G KUTTA SE


Release date:
June 16, 2017
Director:
Rahul Dahiya
Cast:


Language:
Rajveer Singh, Neha Chauhan, Rashmi Singh Somvanshi, Nitin Pandit, Sandeep Goyat, Parth Sharma, Vibha Tyagi      
Haryanvi, Hindi


In a small town in Haryana, not far from where I sit writing this review, a woman escapes home in the dead of night with her lover. Within minutes, they are abducted by car-jackers. On the drive that follows, during which she is almost raped, one of the men asks why she is running away. Is her husband impotent? Does he beat her up? He runs through a list that even an ultra-conservative might see as believable reasons (reasons, not justifications) why a woman might choose to dump her pati parmeshwar, the deity she is legally and socially bound to for life.

This pretty, feisty (albeit slightly silly) creature does not fit the mould of his imagination though. She is leaving, she says, because she does not love her husband and he has no interest in her beyond the few minutes he spends each day getting into her salwar.

That early conversation in a cramped vehicle flying down a Haryana-Delhi highway comes to mind when we later meet another free spirit in a tiny Haryana village, the lovely Kiran who has a mind of her own, and emotions, plans, dreams and desires no one expects her to have. Writer-director Rahul Dahiya’s heart-stoppingly beautiful G Kutta Se (earlier called G – A Wanton Heart) is about the claustrophobic and hypocritical world that suppresses and suffocates those like Kiran, a world where family ‘honour’ resides between the legs of womankind.

This is a place where women are denied dignity and men roam free, where loneliness and sexual yearning can drive women to make foolish choices in men, where segregation could result in dangerous innocence, where such innocence and gullibility in a girl can become punishable, where men may vent their testosterone on unwilling women yet demand virginity from their daughters and sisters, where women are themselves often aggressive purveyors of patriarchy, where a disinterested woman is more desirable than one who says yes, where a man might avenge his unrequited lust by raising a din about the ‘chastity’ of a girl who did not notice him and targeting the chap she did, and where death is a real and present danger for any girl or woman who does not play by the rules.

However much the media may have told us about what are euphemistically termed ‘honour killings’, nothing can prepare us for the casualness with which such crimes are committed by ordinary people in G Kutta Se. However disturbing the film’s early scenes may be, nothing prepares us for the frightening level of misogyny and the murders that follow.

Four stories intersect here: they involve the runaway wife, her abductor Virender, his little sister who gets exploited by a creepy local boy and Kiran, a college girl who is having a clandestine affair. This is clearly a social setting Dahiya knows well. What makes his work exceptional though is its unassuming tone and utter sincerity. There is no “see how socially conscious I am” attitude here that has pervaded many recent Bollywood films made by directors who do not give a damn about women’s rights but chose to cash in on the increasing media spotlight on feminism; there is no screeching background score to melodramatise intrinsically dramatic scenarios; no fanfare with which ‘issues’ are raised. In G Kutta Se, life unspools on screen as though it just happened to happen while a camera passed by.

Far from downplaying the seriousness of the subject at hand, Dahiya’s matter-of-fact storytelling style and Sachin Kabir’s unobtrusive cinematography have the effect of further underlining the blazing intensity of their theme, so that every new development comes as a punch in the gut.

Understatement is among the film’s greatest assets. The other is its cast of actors so natural that they feel like real people whose true story is being told. Although an array of smaller characters are well-written and well-rounded off, the two who end up being protagonists of sorts are Kiran and Virender played by the good-looking Neha Chauhan (earlier seen in Dibakar Banerjee’s Love Sex aur Dhoka) and Rajveer Singh. Both deliver flawless performances.

“G” in the title is to be read variously as the Hindi words for “live” (from the usage “live your life”, as for example with “ja Simran, ja g le apni zindagi”) or “the human will” (derived from a scene in the film where a woman says, jisko g karega na, usko doongi” which amounts to “I shall fuck whoever I please”); or even the G-spot, which epitomises the sexual pleasure forbidden to the women of this film. This is my interpretation of the director’s notes, which I sought out after watching the film. Initially the title struck me as inaccessible, since it does not immediately offer up its meaning, but having heard the catchy song accompanying the closing credits (music: Anjo John, lyrics: Dahiya and Danish Raza), I find myself intrigued and still enjoying the challenge of translating “G Kutta Se”. Figure out your own take once you watch it.

It is a measure of the extent to which the Censor Board interferes in filmmakers’ creative choices these days that the Board had the audacity to ask for the replacement of this quote which was placed at the start of the film, “Your borrowed ego lies rooted in the same taboo, the same sexual desire, which gave you life, for which you cease my existence”, with these statistics which were earlier placed at the end: “There are about 5000 honour killings reported every year in 23 countries around the world. Official estimates state that about a 1000 persons are reported killed in India alone. However, a large number of cases go unreported.” The figures are appalling, no doubt, but where they are presented in the film should have been the director’s business and his alone. The idiocy and arrogance of the Board should be the subject of a full-length feature some day soon.

G Kutta Se runs for 103 crisply edited minutes, but feels less. Not too long back, Navdeep Singh’s excellent NH10 had taken us into a Haryana hinterland ridden with gender-related violence. G Kutta Se is completely different yet just as searingly effective. It is about hypocrisy and double standards, but the point about it is not that it merely picks a relevant topic. The point is that it does a great job of telling a solid story based on that relevant topic.

There are several bloody moments in G Kutta Se (none of them gratuitous), but the scene that shook me to the core had no gore. It features a young woman arranging a rendezvous with her male lover. When they meet, all he wants is to have sex, and he is taken aback when she refuses, assuming perhaps at first that she is playing hard to get – I confess, at first, I wondered if the filmmaker was making a crowd-pleasing concession here, to go along with the prevalent “she asked for it” response to sexual assault. The young man finally snaps: If you did not want this, why on earth did you come here? I just wanted to meet, she replies tearily.

The fact that he (a comparatively decent chap, considering the dismal scenario) had not even considered that possibility; that for him a relationship with a woman is not about conversations and friendship but about sex alone is scary and deeply saddening to say the least.

Far beyond its shock value, it is scenes like this – unexpected, acutely observant and written with moving sensitivity – that make G Kutta Se such a special film.

Rating (out of five stars): ****

CBFC Rating (India):
A
Running time:
103 minutes

This review has also been published on Firstpost:


Poster courtesy: Rahul Dahiya


Friday, June 16, 2017

REVIEW 499: BANK CHOR


Release date:
June 16, 2017
Director:
Bumpy
Cast:




Language:
Riteish Deshmukh, Vivek Anand Oberoi, Rhea Chakraborty, Sahil Vaid, Bhuvan Arora, Vikram Thapa, Upendra Limaye, Cameos by Baba Sehgal and Vikram Gokhale
Hindi


Considering the reputation Riteish Deshmukh and Vivek Oberoi have built for themselves in the comedy genre, it might be natural to assume that any collaboration between them would be filled with rhyming jokes, crass wisecracks about butts, breasts, farts and faeces, and other clichéd devices used by creators of low-grade slapstick humour. Bank Chor is a good example of why you should not pre-judge a film based on reputations. Far from being a crude comedy, writer-director Bumpy’s second film is pretty serious stuff, a seemingly innocuous comic thriller that says a lot while appearing to do little beyond trying to amuse and wow the audience at a very basic level – like the film, there is more to this sentence than meets the eye for now.

Bank Chor begins with three idiots who ain’t no Ocean’s eleven, botching up their attempt to rob a branch of the fictitious Bank of Indians (BOI) in Mumbai. The name at first sounds like a funny take on existing Indian bank names, but like most things in this film, it means something beyond its face value. This truly is a BANK OF INDIANS, housing and safeguarding our collective national intelligence, self-preservation skills and survival instincts.

So Champak (Deshmukh) and his accomplices Gulab and Genda (played by Bhuvan Arora and Vikram Thapa) look like they will not get anything right as they try to loot this BOI. The bumbling fools are further slowed down by CBI officer Amjad Khan (Oberoi) who unexpectedly arrives on the spot to deal with what should have just been a case for the Mumbai Police.

What’s the CBI doing at a simple bank heist? Ah, that would be telling.

Also in this mix are a now dead investigative journalist (Vikram Gokhale), Maharashtra’s corrupt Home Minister (Upendra Limaye) and a well-meaning reporter (Rhea Chakraborty) among the media crowd milling outside the bank.

The first half of the film is devoted to the central trio’s stupidity combined with the Mumbai-versus-Delhi and intra-NCR rivalry in their group. The barbs going back and forth between them are worthy of laughs because Bumpy and his team of co-writers here play on stereotypes without perpetuating them and gently mock those who do. There are, for instance, swipes aplenty directed at netas who have encouraged resentment and violence against ‘outsiders’ in Mumbai in the past decade. When a Mumbaikar in the film asks a Dilliwaala to get out of the city, the gentleman shoots back: If Delhiites return to Delhi, who will do the work here in Mumbai? Touché.

(The writing, by the way, has been credited as follows: story: Baljeet Singh Marwah and Bumpy; dialogues: Ishita Moitra Udhwani; screenplay: Marwah, Bumpy, Omkar Sane and Udhwani.)

The parochial friction between the accomplices holds up even when the plot starts to drag – or at least it seems to drag, until it emerges (or at least that is what my generous soul suggests) that even that lax pace was probably deliberate, designed to lull us into a stupor as nothing much happens on screen. And then it does. Post-interval Bank Chor revs up, there are new developments at every turn, followed by an unexpected climax. The speed at which the story progresses leaves little time to dwell on loopholes and question marks over the modus operandi employed by the villains.

If this was all there was to it, Bank Chor would have ended up being a moderately interesting, harmless entertainer. There is more though. By pointedly and repeatedly emphasising the religious identity of certain players in the saga, Bumpy and his team add a mischievous layer to their entire storyline, making their film not just about good people in conflict with evil, or ordinary citizens besting corrupt corporates and netas, but also about the ‘good Hindu’, an Aam Aadmi, overcoming the ‘bad Muslim’ (complete with Urdu-laden dialogues, a background from Faizabad and a sadistic delight in tearing into living flesh). That the ‘bad Muslim’ is used by the powers that be to exploit their own people does not make it better. Oh wily Muslim and Enemies Within, do not take the ‘good Hindu’ for granted or be misled by his surface naivete, says Bank Chor’s facile symbolism.

For the record, to counter such objections from cynics, the film throws a ‘good Muslim’ into the blend and gets the Aam Aadmi a.k.a. the Common Man to let on in the end that his name was not what he claimed it was at first and that a name, in fact, is irrelevant.

It is not, dear Team Bank Chor. Names lead to assumptions about human beings, particularly in the communally charged atmosphere pervading our nation right now. So in case you claim innocence in this matter, in case you insist that you genuinely did not intend to convey any point subliminally, then let me throw back at you a line that a crucial antagonist in the film directs at a Mr Nice Guy: innocence (maasoomiyat) is the biggest problem in this world. The unthinking liberal, if that is what you are, often does more harm than the committed communalist.

As far as performances go, the three leads do a decent job of playing off each other’s crookishness, though Bhuvan Arora and Vikram Thapa suffer the effects of shallow characterisation – just because they play Champak/Deshmukh’s sidekicks, does not mean they should have been half-heartedly written. Vivek Anand Oberoi nee Viveik Oberoi nee Vivek Oberoi is effective. To re-capture the intensity he brought to his memorable debut performance aeons back in Company, he will need a screenplay to match. Still, it is a relief to see him in a role that does not require the cringe-inducing tomfoolery of the Masti series.


Rhea Chakraborty as a mediaperson is so-so, though her wardrobe by Maxima Basu – a tight pencil skirt made of leather, no less, a noodle-strapped top and stilettos – is laughably unreal for a working journalist sweating it out on the streets of Mumbai. Seriously, Bollywood, would some research hurt?

The stand-out cast member is Sahil Vaid as one of the hostages in the bank. Vaid here reveals his versatility in a role vastly different from his calling cards so far, Poplu in Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania and Som in Badrinath Ki Dulhania. The rest of the supporting players are fair enough.

Bank Chor is produced by Yash Raj Films’ youth banner Y-Films. Bumpy made his directorial debut with an earlier Y-Films offering, Luv Ka The End (2011), starring Shraddha Kapoor and Taaha Shah. That one was an occasionally engaging but mostly dull affair. Despite its many misses, Bank Chor has more verve. Whatever little progress Bumpy has made as a filmmaker, however, is far outweighed by the insidious messaging of this film which cashes in on the prejudices that wrack Indian society today below a mask of good intentions, comedy and thrills. Sorry young man, you do not get to claim maasoomiyat here.

Rating (out of five stars): *

CBFC Rating (India):
UA
Running time:
120 minutes 9 seconds

This review has also been published on Firstpost:


Poster courtesy: Yash Raj Films
Vivek Oberoi photograph courtesy: Raindrop Media