Saturday, February 13, 2016

REVIEW 371: SANAM RE

Release date:
February 12, 2016
Director:
Divya Khosla Kumar
Cast:

Language:
Yami Gautam, Pulkit Samrat, Urvashi Rautela, Rishi Kapoor
Hindi


This is not a film, it is an embarrassment.

If you want to fully understand the struggles of newcomers without powerful godparents in the Hindi film industry, watch dear Yami Gautam from Vicky Donor (2012) and the very likeable Pulkit Samrat from Fukrey (2013) brave their way through Sanam Re. It is a cringe-worthy film with cringe-worthy pretensions to gravitas and grandeur, amateurish writing and the most ludicrous choreography ever seen in mainstream Bollywood.

Those who planted the label “Jumping Jack” on poor Jeetendra in the 1980s may feel inclined to mail him an apology if they see the hilarious dance steps in Sanam Re. In one scene, actress Urvashi Rautela shakes her ample booty dressed in a white outfit with what seems like macramé trimmings. She leans her back against Pulkit’s body, encircles his neck with her raised arms, jumps in the air, does a mid-air split, then sinks down with both legs spread wide apart. A few seconds after that laughable routine, there she is again, bending to plant both hands on the ground where Pulkit lies, then throwing the rest of her body up in the air in what appears to be an attempt at a hand stand, before descending on his prone body.

I suppose you could liken her to a gymnast performing floor exercises at the Olympics – except that the quality of those moves is so poor that she would be refused entry to gali-level contests.

Sanam Re’s inexplicable choreography is credited to the film’s director, Divya Khosla Kumar, who must be delusional considering that she pays tribute to herself twice within the first few minutes of the film. Divya, who? Did I hear you right? Precisely.

The lady had tried her hand at acting over a decade back before she married Bhushan Kumar, son of T-Series’ founder Gulshan Kumar. She made her directorial debut with 2014’s sleeper hit Yaariyan which some of you who have not seen it may still recognise from its signature song by Yo Yo Honey Singh with the truly cerebral lyrics, “Aaj blue hai paani / Paani paani paani paani paani / Aur din bhi sunny / Sunny sunny sunny sunny sunny.”

Within seconds of Pulkit’s emergence on screen in Sanam Re, his car radio plays Sunny Sunny. Moments later, along comes Divya, all limbs and no grace, dancing awkwardly at a party to a song titled Humne Pee Rakhi Hai. This is the only number she has not choreographed herself.

It would be unfair to the concept of time to waste it by recounting the story in detail. Here is a précis of a précis: a little boy called Aakash (Neil Tyagi) in a mountain town called Tanakpur is told by his grandfather (Rishi Kapoor) that he will find true love just 500 steps away from their home. Kid takes Dadaji literally and walks that exact distance, only to turn away from the girl he finds at the stop. His reaction has something to do with what Dadaji said about how the heart will beat faster if she is The One. His dil does not go dhadak dhadak until later when he sees another little girl (Delissa Mehra) and remains in love with her till he, now grown up as Pulkit Samrat, leaves town for better prospects in the sheher without informing her (Yami Gautam).

They meet, they part, they meet, they part. Somewhere along the way, a second woman called Mrs Pablo a.k.a. Akanksha (Urvashi Rautela) falls in love with Aakash, Dadaji gets very very old, his Johnson and Johnson Photo Studio (estd 1902) has to be sold, someone mutters something about Aakash’s responsibility to his hometown and someone else has a heart disease. Don’t ask who. Who cares? I am too busy trying not to doze off. Meanwhile, the noisy couple a few seats away from me in this near-empty hall are taking calls from home and work, and issuing loud instructions on the phone to sundry people. I do not shush them as I usually would, since their rude interruptions keep me awake.

Also in this bland, desperately-trying-to-be-cool-&-clever potpourri is Aakash’s “Shackspeare”-spouting boss (Manoj Joshi) in his Mumbai office whose English we are clearly meant to laugh at when he says things like “How make me fun of dare”; and a yoga camp which Aakash attends, where the overweight instructor dispenses nuggets of wisdom that go something like this: Jhaanko back into your past, don’t drive in lane fast. When Aakash has nightmares, his roommate at the camp is even more profound. “Sensex bann gaya hai tu, says the chap, “kabhi chadhta hai toh kabhi utartha hai (Like the sensex, you rise and you fall).” Umm…meaning?

By the time Shruti gets around to saying, “Aakash, pyaar woh safar hai jisko meelon main nahin, gehraee mein naapa jaata hai (Aakash, love is a journey that is measured not by miles but by its depth),” I am grateful – this pretentious line at least means something in a sea of nothingness. Clearly someone involved in this project thinks they’ve created an epic love story. They’ve not.

In a reasonably worthwhile film, I might have troubled myself to debate the bizarreness of a grandfather earnestly dishing out advice on true love to his possibly 7/8-year-old grandchild. Their conversations are clearly meant to be cute, when in fact they’re silly, even inappropriate. To say more would be to take the film more seriously than it deserves to be taken.   

Correction to the previous sentence: Sanam Re is not a film, it is a non-film.

Rating (out of five stars): 0

CBFC Rating (India):

U
Running time:
120 minutes

This review has also been published on Firstpost:


Friday, February 12, 2016

REVIEW 370: FITOOR


Release date:
February 12, 2016
Director:
Abhishek Kapoor
Cast:





Language:
Tabu, Katrina Kaif, Aditya Roy Kapur, Mohammed Abrar Sheikh, Tunisha Sharma, Aditi Rao Hydari, Rahul Bhat, Lara Dutta, Akshay Oberoi, Cameo: Ajay Devgn
Hindi


Abhishek Kapoor set himself a tough task when he decided to adapt Great Expectations for a Hindi film. His chosen text is the most challenging of Charles Dickens’ classics: it is dreary, gloomy and depressing despite the final crumb offered in the form of a happy ending.

The original is the story of the wealthy Miss Havisham who is so shattered when her groom does not turn up for their wedding, that from that day forward she remains dressed in her bridal finery, keeps her home decorated as it was for the celebrations and lets her wedding cake lie rotting on her dining table. She gives vent to her bitterness towards her cheating lover by training her foster child, an orphan called Estella, to break the hearts of men. Pip – the hero and an orphan himself – is smitten from the moment he meets the little girl. The book travels with them into their adulthood, which is marred by the manner in which old Miss Havisham has affected the young woman’s ability to love.

Abhishek – who earlier made the lovely Rock On!! (2008) and Kai Po Che (2013) – transposes Dickens’ saga from 19th century England to present-day Kashmir. Miss Havisham becomes the handsome Begum Hazrat (Tabu), reclusive resident of the lavish haveli Anjuman; Estella is her daughter Firdaus Jaan Naqvi (Katrina Kaif), who is sent off to study in England – a mandatory move in most of Ms Kaif’s films, designed to explain her accent; and Pip is Noor Nizami (Aditya Roy Kapur), brother of a poor local handyman’s wife, who grows up to become a famous artist.

Though faithful to the book, Fitoor is a not a carbon copy. Thankfully not, since Miss Havisham is Dickens’ most troubling female character, epitomising the ‘neurotic, frustrated, eccentric spinster’ stereotype or that oft-visited cliché of the evil, destructive witch in European fairytales perpetuated through generations of misogyny by artists and society as a whole. This film avoids the lure of the striking, haunting imagery Dickens used to represent her. There is no worm-eaten cake lying in a cobweb-ridden hall in Abhishek’s version, no ugly old lady in a decaying gown, and the mansion is far from decrepit. Quite to the contrary, Anjuman is still rich and beautiful, and the child Noor is smitten from the day he first sets foot in it when his brother-in-law is summoned to do some odd jobs at the house. 

He is as enchanted by Firdaus, the cold, distant, well-turned-out girl-woman who rides a horse on those sprawling grounds and mocks him for his poverty. She is, to him, the unreachable star, an enigmatic creature whose allure lies as much in her aloofness and snobbery as it does in the hand of friendship she condescendingly extends towards him at one point. She moves away. They grow up. They meet again. He is now a grown man in love.

If you can tolerate the extreme sexism in Dickens’ portrayal of Miss Havisham, Great Expectations is actually an ideal choice for contemporary Kashmir. In Fitoor, the Noor-Firdaus love story is not just about gender relations or social disparities. Hazrat does have a reason to hate men, which is revealed much later in the film, and Firdaus at one point does refuse to hook up with Noor, harshly telling him, “Shaadi do darjon ke beech hoti hai (A marriage can only take place between two people of the same class),” but Abhishek and Supratik Sen’s writing takes it beyond that.

In their vision, Hazrat is a metaphor for an older generation in Kashmir, justifiably embittered by the actions of the state but unjustifiably plotting to bequeath that bitterness to their children, denying them their own pursuit of happiness, going so far as to encourage them to sleep with the enemy in their quest for revenge against the Indian state. Yet the state is not a homogeneous entity. It is not just scheming members of government. It is also made up of people, soft, gentle, in love and longing to be loved.

The new generation is, of course, represented by Firdaus; the heterogeneous state, both by the man who jilted Hazrat (played by Akshay Oberoi) and sweet, sweet Noor.

So far so good, except that Abhishek and Supratik appear not to have trusted viewers to get the point without being spoon-fed. Their interpretation is robbed of much of its depth by their needless decision to bestow dark red hair – not a natural Kashmiri colour – on Hazrat and Firdaus. Come to think of it, it’s silly. The interplay of their dyed tresses and auburn, autumnal Chinar leaves – an eternal symbol of Kashmir – is so literal that it makes me want to shake a fist at Team Fitoor in exasperation. C’mon, we got it! You should have trusted us.

This might have been forgivable if it weren’t for the casting of Firdaus. Katrina is woefully inadequate in Fitoor, trying to convey Firdaus’ sorrow and confusion with expressionlessness. To make matters worse, her screen companion through much of the film is an actress who has the ability to eke out feelings from a log of wood. This is not Tabu’s best, but in a role that could have been easily over-played and caricatured, she elicits some degree of empathy even for her decidedly unlikeable character. Aditya as Noor is efficient, but that’s about it.

It is hard to comment on the supporting cast since they are all playing very limited characters. The only exception is the adorable Kashmiri child actor Mohammed Abrar Sheikh who, as little Noor, fits perfectly into the setting. This is not to endorse the belief some film buffs hold that only Kashmiris should play Kashmiris and so on (this subject demands a long discussion for which we do not have space here), but it shows a casualness towards detail when the child playing Noor has a precise Kashmiri accent but Aditya speaks differently.

The film’s technical embellishments are all in place. Anay Goswamy’s visuals are impressive without being overwhelming, the costumes are attractive, and the music by Amit Trivedi (songs) and Hitesh Sonik (background score) is adequate within the context of the film.

Tabu’s makeup artist deserves kudos for lending age to her face intelligently, rather than with standard Bollywood crutches such as thick spectacles and white hair on unchanged skin.

The production design is well thought out, travelling from Anjuman’s wintry insides to the fiery warmth of the spaces Noor occupies in Delhi and London, as he swings between hope and despair. His striking art works and the scenes in which he creates them are among Fitoor’s high points.

The dialogues are inconsistent though. While many are lyrical, there are weirdly suggestive undertones (clearly unintentional) in a reformed terrorist, once helped by little Noor, telling the now-grown-up chap: “The memory of the phiran you gave me has kept me warm through many nights.” Err, didn’t the filmmaker replay that line to himself before retaining it in the film?

This, however, is a mere aside. Fitoor’s primary problem is that it fails to conjure up the sort of passion that it should have and could have with less literalness and better central casting. Perhaps we have been spoilt by Vishal Bhardwaj’s brilliant Haider (2014), another Hindi adaptation of an English literary classic transported to Kashmir. Fitoor certainly can’t be accused of the laziness with which Wazir recently scraped the surface of the state’s agonising reality, but it also lacks the wealth of meaning and emotional resonance of Haider.

There is a bomb blast in the film at a crucial point – the build-up to it is so underplayed that the explosion comes as an absolute shock. It is one of Fitoor’s most memorable, most effective moments, yet the occurrence fails to inform the later actions of those personally affected by it. Therein lies Fitoor’s defining flaw: it is inconsistent in dealing with the political context of its chosen geographical setting.

The pain, the rejection, the searing desire for revenge, the all-conquering power of love – none of it is adequately conveyed in this film which, by the time its final scene rolled around, left me as cold and detached as Estella’s heart was when she first met Pip.  

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

CBFC Rating (India):

U
Running time:
131 minutes

This review has also been published on Firstpost:


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