Sunday, January 15, 2017

REVIEW 453: OK JAANU


Release date:
January 13, 2017
Director:
Shaad Ali
Cast:

Language:
Shraddha Kapoor, Aditya Roy Kapur, Leela Samson, Naseeruddin Shah
Hindi


Tumhare liye zyaada aham kya hai? Tumhara career ya Adi?” (What is more important for you? Your career or Adi?)

Replace Adi with Aidan, Aman, Anthony, Ahmad, Rustom, Gurvinder, Armaan or any of lakhs of available male names, and what you have is a question women have been asked for decades.

What do you want more? Love or career? Marriage and children or that job? Because it has been decreed by those who know what is best for us better than we do, that wombs are incapacitated by ambition, and maternal instincts – a.k.a. every female human’s bounden duty – drown in professional success. As is often the case in life, so too in Ok Jaanu, the question is asked by a well-meaning person.

Director Shaad Ali’s Ok Jaanu is an official Hindi remake of Ali’s mentor Mani Ratnam’s 2015 Tamil film O Kadhal Kanmani (Oh My Love, The Apple of My Eye), otherwise known as OK Kanmani, starring Dulquer Salmaan and Nithya Menen. Ratnam has produced the Bollywood version in partnership with Karan Johar, and is credited with the story and screenplay here too.

Ali has had experience adapting Ratnam’s work for a north Indian setting and audience. He made his directorial debut in 2002 with Saathiya starring Rani Mukerji and Vivek Oberoi. That film was a reworking of Ratnam’s Tamil Alaipayuthey with Shalini and R. Madhavan. The retelling was lovely though not entirely as magical as its forebear. In Ok Jaanu, there is no reworking, just a scene-for-scene translation. And nothing is lost in the process except for the earlier leading man’s electric charisma and the leading lady’s zest.

Is that a good or bad thing? The answer depends on whether or not you loved OK Kanmani.

Ok Jaanu stars Shraddha Kapoor and Aditya Roy Kapur in the roles played in OK Kanmani by Salmaan and Menen. She is an architect who wants to study in France, he is a video game designer who wishes to work in the US. Tara and Adi meet by chance, are drawn to each other and decide to move in together for the few months they have in Mumbai before they go abroad.

(Spoiler alert)

“Is this love?” she asks him towards the start. She stops him from answering and he does not try further to respond at that point. Early on, they agree that marriage and babies are not for them. But as expected, six months and much sex later, they grow on each other and are confused.

The thing with films like OK Kanmani from Kollywood and Befikre from Bollywood is that they tell stories of young, urban, modern, liberal Indians not as they are but as seen through an older person’s aspirationally liberal gaze. OK Kanmani was steeped in wannabe coolth of the “please notice that I’m showing a couple having sex and living with each other before marriage” variety. Sadly, despite his relative youth, Ali has done nothing to improve Ratnam’s tone.

So yeah, Tara and Adi sleep together, live together and vow not to tie each other down, but when it comes to the crunch, the only difference between this film and almost every other such Hindi film romance featuring a commitment-phobic lead couple is that it acknowledges and underlines the point that a woman need not necessarily choose between career and marital commitment, if marriage is indeed what she wants; that two people can follow their professional dreams and still be together, that following each other to the ends of the earth could be a metaphor rather than a literal geographical journey.

And yeah, that’s a big small step, but how do Tara and Adi arrive at that change of mind? What inspires her, a young woman wounded by her parents’ divorce and custody battle, to soften up to the idea of marriage? Sure sure, she is in love, but she was in love soon after they met anyway, so what gives her this new confidence? What made Adi see life differently when just minutes earlier he described her as “Tara, my biggest mistake”?

Who knows? All we see are an actor and actress looking pretty, dressing prettily, doing fun stuff while songs play incessantly in the background, and doing the kind of things couples do in self-consciously ‘youth-oriented’ romances because they look cute on screen but would merit a mega showdown in real life (such as your boyfriend landing up inside – yes inside – your office, skulking about in the shadows and whisking you off for a day in the sun).

The director is so busy whipping up artificial energy in Tara and Adi’s relationship on screen, that he forgets one thing: conversations and quiet companionship.

When do these people talk seriously? When do they slow down from driving their jeep along a beach or making out on a high-rise parapet or breaking into a restaurant kitchen or taking food off a stranger’s table at a restaurant, to simply chat?

If it is Ali’s contention that they get to know each other in the spaces in their lives that we do not hear or see on screen, then the problem is this: as a viewer I wanted to know them too, but I came away with a superficial understanding of who they really are.

Ok Jaanu is interesting at first, but as it rolls along it reveals its hollowness, a failing that even the lead couple’s charms and the attractive production design cannot overcome.

Far more engaging than the central relationship is the bond between the elderly owners of the house they are living in, the Alzheimer’s-ridden former singer and her caring husband played ever so sweetly by Leela Samson (who was also in OK Kanmani) and Naseeruddin Shah.

A.R. Rahman’s music for this film is far from being his best. Sunn bhavara is a pleasant melody, but the title track loses some of its appeal in the journey from Kollywood to Bollywood. Even the remix of Humma humma – Rahman’s superhit from Ratnam’s 1995 Tamil blockbuster Bombaybecomes too muted in the effort to be different from the robust original.

Samson and Shah are likeable as the older couple. Kapoor and Kapur are not in the league of Salmaan and Menen, but they do share a nice chemistry that could be better exploited by better writing. That said, the snazzy graphics accompanying the credits cannot camouflage the fact that those credits give second billing to Ms Kapoor although she is the bigger star.  

Genuine liberalism and attention to detail are clearly not this film’s strengths. For one, not a single artist in a small supporting role leaves an impact. And that loud cellphone conversation across a church aisle would have got Tara and Adi thrown out of any real church in India. To know that though, perhaps you need to enter one as part of your research. Just as you need to acquaint yourself better with young people, enter their minds and understand their way of thinking, to portray them on screen with any degree of depth. Ok Jaanu is a surface skimmer.

Rating (out of five stars): **

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

A version of this review has been published on Firstpost:


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Saturday, January 7, 2017

REVIEW 452: TI SADDHYA KAY KARTE


Release date:
January 7, 2017
Director:
Satish Rajwade
Cast:



Language:
Ankush Chaudhari, Tejashree Pradhan, Abhinay Berde, Aarya Ambekar, Hruditya Rajwade, Nirmohi Agnihotri, Urmila Kanitkar
Marathi


The first Marathi film release of the year is a story of words left unspoken and thoughts left unexpressed, of relationships that do not find closure haunting us all our lives, of first love and intense friendship and everything in between.

Ti Saddhya Kay Karte (What Is She Up To These Days) is about Anurag and Tanvi who were close friends for years before his awkwardness and confusion as a teenager tore them apart. The two central characters are played by three artistes each, representing three different stages of their lives: childhood, the final years of school and middle age. It is narrated in the present by Anurag a.k.a. Anya as he looks back at the mistakes that effectively ended one of the most important relationships of his life, and the second chance he gets to repair the hurt he caused.

One of the plus points of Satish Rajwade’s film is that though it is designed as a commercial venture, complete with song and dance, it does not get loud at any point. The mellow narrative introduces us to little Anurag and Tanvi, acquaints us with their blossoming bond, and trots along quietly towards the boy’s juvenile understanding of romance and their realisation – not clearly articulated – that they may share something beyond friendship.

Like so many of us do in our later years, Anurag at that early stage begins to take Tanvi for granted. As the older Anurag reminisces about those days, he is confused about the feelings that linger from back then. To reveal more would be to give away too much. Let’s just say that for the most part the film steers clear of stereotypical notions of friendship and love.

For the most part. There are moments when the writing strays, such as when a teenaged Anurag begins romancing other girls and realises that glamorous Mohini is actually not interested in him. The older Anurag in the narration dispenses a cliché at that point. In every group there is a girl who every boy believes is in love with him; such a girl is pretty, friendly and unattainable, he explains. In other words, says Anurag, she is “beyond budget”. Although this is not the same as the “women are teases” stereotype, it is close enough to pander to members of the male-dominated audience who believe women tend to lead men on. No doubt there are those in real life who hold such views – point is that, first, no counterpoint is provided to that dialogue in the film; and second, it comes from the older and supposedly more mature Anurag, not the kid.

This is, arguably, the only bow to populism in the film.

Ti Saddhya departs from its common-sense tone later when a female character explains that she married her husband, among other reasons, because “after all, he was the first to ask”. It is hard to tell whether she genuinely meant this or said it only to convey to the listener the extent of the pain he had caused her. If she meant it, then it does not fit the kind of person she is shown to be until then and thereafter”: level-headed, emotional and yet not needy.

Still, there is plenty in this film to make it worth a watch. It is not earth-shatteringly original in its depiction of childhood crushes and teen romances (in fact the entire track involving Anurag and Mohini is such a been-there-seen-that episode), but the depiction of the adult Anurag and Tanvi – their internal conflicts, his remorse, her regrets, the remnants of an old wound, their individual sense of guilt towards their present partners despite not having betrayed them – is sensible and refreshingly different from the standard depiction of relationships in Indian cinema.

It helps that the gentle pace and rhythm of the narrative are engaging. Rajwade’s low-key storytelling coupled with the placid soundtrack are well-suited to the subject matter at hand. I especially enjoyed the melody and the singing of Hrudayat waje something composed by Avinash-Vishwajeet, which recurs through Ti Saddhya.

The tone of the film is established in no small measure by actor Ankush Chaudhari’s appealing voice as narrator. The adult Anurag could have been reduced to a caricature in some scenes, but Chaudhari holds back just enough to get it right. He finds a good match in debutant Abhinay Berde (son of actress Priya Berde and the late Laxmikant Berde) who plays his teen version.

The pick of the ensemble cast though is the very attractive Tejashree Pradhan who lightly tugs at our heartstrings with her restrained performance as the older Tanvi. The little ones have limited screen time, but Aarya Ambekar as the teen Tanvi is occasionally stilted, though never more so than in the song Jara jara. (For the record, the choreography and shooting of that song, with the cast posing about in an old fort and on a beach, are among the unoriginal aspects of this film.)

I am willing to live with the fact that Ambekar and Berde look nothing like Pradhan and Chaudhari, but not with the ageing makeup given to the actors playing the lead pair’s parents – it is surprisingly inadequate for a film that is otherwise technically polished.

A large part of Ti Saddhya’s appeal lies in its narrative structure, with the incessant inter-cuts between the present and the couple’s school years revealing bit by bit what brought Anurag and Tanvi to where they are at today. This could have been a huge distraction, but in the hands of editor Rahul Bhatankar is smoothly executed and effective as a result.

In recent years, film buffs outside Maharashtra have come to associate the Marathi industry with pathbreaking cinema: from Umesh Kulkarni’s works to Chaitanya Tamhane’s Court (2015) or 2016’s Sairat. Ti Saddhya Kay Kartey is not on that plane at all. It is not spectacular. This coming-of-age-late-in-life film is a simpler pleasure, nostalgic and sweet.

Non-Marathi audiences, please note: The production company, Zee Studios, confirms that Ti Saddhya Kay Karte has been released everywhere with English subtitles. I do not know what prompted the decision not to subtitle the songs or scenes in which characters are reading (or reading out) SMSes, but for the rest, the subs are efficient.

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

CBFC Rating (India):
U
Running time:
127 minutes

This review has also been published on Firstpost: