Saturday, December 9, 2017

REVIEW 551: FUKREY RETURNS


Release date:
December 8, 2017
Director:
Mrighdeep Singh Lamba  
Cast:


Language:
Varun Sharma, Pulkit Samrat, Richa Chadda, Ali Fazal, Manjot Singh, Priya Anand, Vishakha Singh, Pankaj Tripathi 
Hindi
 

Hunnny, Chuchcha, Zafar, Laali and Bholi Punjaban are back. They are as nutty as they were the first time we met them in 2013’s sleeper hit Fukrey produced by Farhan Akhtar and Ritesh Sidhwani. Back then, however, the refreshing naturalness with which Mrighdeep Singh Lamba portrayed them and the director’s own evident understanding of middle-class Delhi were good enough reasons to forgive that thoroughly enjoyable film its slightness. In retrospect though, Fukrey feels profound in comparison with Fukrey Returns. The novelty has worn off by now, and Lamba is so busy sitting on his laurels that he does not bother to come up with a semblance of a credible plot for the sequel. Since his sense of humour remains intact, what we get is a hollow film that feels like a series of hilarious jokes strung together.

Life has somewhat settled down since the boys were introduced to audiences. Hunnny (Pulkit Samrat) now runs a business and is in a comfortably happy relationship with his girlfriend Priya (Priya Anand). Zafar (Ali Fazal) is a successful singer and is moving in with Neetu (Vishakha Singh). Laali (Manjot Singh) still longs to free himself of his mithai-shop-owning father and still yearns for a woman to fall in love with. And Chuchcha (Varun Sharma) is dreaming dreams.

When the gangsta Bholi Punjaban (Richa Chadda) gets out of jail and confronts them over the financial losses they have caused her, the four get stuck in a scheme to make a few crores overnight. Of course things go awry. Of course they run around in circles, giving them time for scene after comic scene. And of course everything is sorted out in the end.

The story – if it can be called that – revolves around the premonitions encased in Chuchcha’s dreams. Add a powerful politician (Rajiv Gupta) to that mix, a zoo, a tiger and a tiger cub, and the result is a motley assortment of ingredients that do not at any point come together as a smooth blend.

For one, Zafar and Laali are completely irrelevant and nothing would change without them. They have so little to do in Fukrey Returns that they look like hangers-on who were retained simply because they happened to be in the first one. This is the film’s loss because Ali Fazal and Manjot Singh are both capable actors.

Priya and Neetu, who were largely responsible for giving Fukrey whatever little depth it had, are even more marginal than these two gentlemen. They disappear through most of the film and resurface for one madcap ride towards the end, for no particular reason other than that Lamba perhaps wanted to assemble the entire cast, Priyadarshan-style, for the climactic moments. This too is the film’s loss because Priya Anand and Vishakha Singh have both proved their mettle as artists in their brief filmographies.

It speaks poorly of the screenplay that four characters could be entirely dispensed with and it would make nary a difference to the storyline or the narrative.

Chadda as Bholi Punjaban fares a little better, not a lot. The problem with her has more to do with the somewhat zestless acting than the writing though. Gupta, who has been lovely in other films, is given little to chew on here but pulls through. Pankaj Tripathi deserves applause for his value additions to the ordinary writing – with a look here, a gesture there, an amusing posture elsewhere, he manages to make a mark with a barely defined character.

Fukrey Returns’ screenplay has invested itself in one role and one role alone, and that role ends up being the only reason for its survival: Chuchcha remains laugh-out-loud, hold-your-stomach-or-it-will-hurt funny and Varun Sharma is hysterical. The actor’s flawless comic timing makes every moment with his character a fun ride. Even when the humour gets more slapstick in tone than Fukrey and becomes physical, it steers clear of being crass for the most part. I confess to feeling uneasy with a scene in which a firecracker pierces a man’s bottom, but that requires a separate and very long discussion that we have not even begun to have in our country as of now.

(Note: The story, screenplay and dialogues of Fukrey Returns are by Vipul Vig. Lamba has been credited for “additional dialogue and screenplay”.)

Sharma’s killer comic talent and the lines he has been given are the driving force of Fukrey Returns. Pretty much everything else about it is listless. Even the presence of a tiger and a cub on screen have not been sufficiently mined for effect. 

Make a film around Sharma/Chuchcha, if you wish, Mr Lamba. If you do intend to bring back the rest of Team Fukrey in a third venture though, please remember not to neglect them as you have done in this one. The consequence of that neglect is that Fukrey Returns is funny but its gnawing hollowness is impossible to ignore. It may as well have been a stand-up comedy show headlined by Varun Sharma instead of a film.
  
Rating (out of five stars): *1/2

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

This review was also published on Firstpost:




Sunday, December 3, 2017

REVIEW 550: PAIPIN CHUVATTILE PRANAYAM

Release date:
December 1, 2017
Director:
Domin D’Silva  
Cast:



Language:
Neeraj Madhav, Reeba Monica John, Sudhi Koppa, Sarath Kumar, Dharmajan Bolgatty, Aju Varghese, Rishi Kumar, Thesni Khan, Indrans        
Malayalam
 

There has been what readers of Western literature might consider a Gabriel Garcia Marquez-ness to the titles of many films rolling out of Mollywood over the years. The latest poetic moniker is debutant director Domin D’Silva’s Paipin Chuvattile Pranayam, Love by the (Water) Pipes, a story of romance blossoming in a seemingly impossible socio-economic situation.

Paipin Chuvattile Pranayam is set on Pandarathuruthu, which is facing a severe water shortage despite being surrounded by a kaayal on all sides. The polluted lake water is unfit for drinking. This one factor pervades every aspect of the local populace’s life, with fights at the community tap a common occurrence, parents seeing marriage as an escape from this hellhole for their daughters and families from elsewhere averse to marital alliances with the men of this village.

Pandarathuruth lies a universe away from the city just on the other side of the lake. It is the sort of place media bosses and politicians ignore. In this dismal scenario, we meet Govindankutty / Govutty (Neeraj Madhav), a hard-working and resourceful young fellow who earns a living from freelance painting jobs, fishing and assignments for his dance troupe comprising local youth.

Govutty and Teena (Reeba Monica John) are in love, but her parents are opposed to the relationship. Paipin Chuvattile Pranayam is about love surviving overwhelming odds, laughter thriving in a forbidding setting, the human capacity for optimism even when tragedy strikes, and the water wars we should be prepared for if we do not heed glaring warning signs.

Environmental degradation is a depressing subject, yet somehow, without trivialising the issues at hand, D’Silva manages to give his film a consistently light touch. By foregrounding Govutty’s relationship with his buddies and his romance with Teena, the writer-director cleverly ensures that this remains a relatable even if educative human story rather than an esoteric documentary. 

Complementing his intelligent screenplay (co-written with Antony Jibin) is a sturdy cast, an atmospheric soundtrack and thoughtful cinematography.

Neeraj Madhav, for whom Paipin is his first screen outing as the solo male lead, justifies the director’s confidence in him. He carries the film on his able shoulders from start to finish without flinching for a moment. He is a proficient actor, a sweet-looking man and a good dancer.

In fact, it was clever of the screenplay to assign dancing as a talent to Govutty, since this gives the film the opportunity to tap Madhav’s natural skills and makes an important plot point (involving a citizens’ protest) believable. When Govutty’s group gets a high-profile platform in the state, choreographer Sreejith Dancity gives them impressive moves with just enough rough edges to make them credible as coming from a team lacking exposure and professional training.

Since Paipin Chuvattile Pranayam exists on a male-dominated planet – as does most Malayalam cinema, including many otherwise lovely films where scene after scene passes by without a woman in sight – Teena is not given much to do apart from just being there. Despite this, Reeba Monica John makes an impression with whatever little the limited characterisation allows her to do. (For the record, she is a stunner.)

This is not about giving characters screen time alone. It is about writing them with depth. Govutty’s feisty grandmother, for instance, is not visible as often as Teena, yet she is well fleshed out (and well acted) and memorable because of that.

To be fair to D’Silva, this folly in the script cannot be blamed on the male gaze alone. Govutty’s friend Ayyappa is a wholesome character – excellently acted by Sudhi Koppa – but Rishi Kumar’s character has recall value for the actor’s voluminous Afro hairstyle and nothing else, and the younger boy pals for not even that. One thing that can certainly be blamed on the male gaze though is the sexualisation of the little girl who is followed around and gaped at by those boys, and is shown enjoying the attention. She looks like she could be a pre-teen, they are not much older. Even if such behaviour does exist in reality, please stop projecting it as cute. It is not. Not only are these brief scenes an absolutely needless aside, they are also disappointing considering that D’Silva & Co manage to portray the Govutty-Teena relationship without a hint of stalking or leering – male behaviour that is normalised in too many other Malayalam films.

Paipin Chuvattile Pranayam is technically refined. DoP Pavi K. Pavan captures the beautiful locale in all its visual glory, yet his matter-of-fact, un-self-conscious style ensures that the camerawork never diverts our gaze from the people at the heart of this tale.

Bijibal has notched up yet another winner with his music for Paipin Chuvattile Pranayam. Although his songs for Maheshinte Prathikaaram remain the jewel in his crown, this lot is pretty neat too. In fact, the melodic title track – with remarkably conversational lyrics by B.K. Harinarayanan – is a perfect précis of the plight of Pandarathuruthu. Kaathu Kaathittu and its instrumental arrangements are lots of fun. I am not so fond of Kayalirambilu, but it fits well into the film. These songs are not interruptions but serve to take the narrative forward.

These are the reasons why the journey up to the climax is so rewarding and insightful, and it is possible to excuse the pat, simplistic and therefore implausible ending perhaps designed to make the film more viable at the box-office than if the climax had been open-ended or ugly. Paipin Chuvattile Pranayam is a sweetly sad film that transports the viewer to its world and provides a convincing portrait of the social milieu it inhabits. It also adds Domin D’Silva’s name to the list featuring the likes of Dileesh Pothan, Althaf Salim and Lijo Jose Pellissery who are redefining commercial Malayalam cinema.

Rating (out of five stars): **3/4

CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
134 minutes 

This review has also been published on Firstpost:




REVIEW 549: FIRANGI

Release date:
December 1, 2017
Director:
Rajiev Dhingra  
Cast:




Language:
Kapil Sharma, Edward Sonnenblick, Monica Gill, Ishita Dutta, Kumud Mishra, Rajesh Sharma, Inaamulhaq, Aanjjan Srivastav, Narrator: Amitabh Bachchan     
Hindi
                                                                                                                     

In a small village in 1920s Punjab, a youth called Mangat Ram (Kapil Sharma) meets a pretty young woman called Sargi (Ishita Dutta), when he comes visiting for a friend’s wedding. Manga, as he is known to everyone in his own home village, is a good-hearted chap, hard-working but unemployed. The two, of course, fall in love. Manga’s search for a job finally ends when a British government official, Mark Daniels (Edward Sonnenblick), hires him as his Man Friday.

While Manga and Sargi negotiate the tricky terrain involved in a romance in a conservative society, elsewhere in the storyline the ruler of the region, Raja Indeevar Singh (Kumud Mishra), is plotting with Daniels to take over Sargi’s village to start a liquor factory. As it happens, Daniels has taken a shine to the king’s good-looking Oxford-educated daughter Shyamali (Monica Gill). India is in the grip of Gandhiji’s call to boycott British goods, and some of the local people led by the Gandhian village elder Lalaji (Aanjjan Srivastav) have thrown themselves into the movement. Manga, meanwhile, has become fond of Daniels, which has driven him to believe that not all Brits are bad. Will he be proved wrong? Will he save his lover’s village by bringing Daniels over to their side, or will his simplicity give way to wiliness in a battle with the powers that be?

The period setting and theme of Firangi bring to mind Ashutosh Gowariker’s Lagaan which again featured poor villagers taking on the might of the Empire through a clash with a single cog in its wheel. The similarities end there. Lagaan was not flawless, but it was brilliant in the way it etched out every single character on Bhuvan’s cricket team in delightful detail, making each of them memorable. Firangi’s uni-dimensional villagers merge one into the other and would have been indistinguishable from each other if it were not for the presence of several gifted and well-known character artistes among them, including Rajesh Sharma as Sargi’s father and Inaamulhaq as Manga’s buddy.

Besides, this is a film of broad brushstrokes and simplistic characterisations, as it ranges a bad rich man and a bad gora against sweet, golden-hearted, poor Indians. It was perhaps foolish to expect nuance from a cinematic venture that chose as its title a disparaging Hindi word for “foreigner”. The production quality of Firangi too is average. And at 160 minutes, it is also just too long for a film with such little depth.

This is not to say that it is a complete write-off. It is not. The cast is pleasant, it has a catchy soundtrack composed by Jatinder Shah, and even when it is indulging in clichés, it does not scream exaggerations at us. Daniels, for instance, is a one-tone villain, yet not of the snarling, fang-baring variety that 1970s-80s Bollywood favoured.

Kapil Sharma, whose claim to fame is his stupendous success as a Hindi television comedian, has been cast to break the mould here – Manga is not a comical character although he is occasionally funny. Sharma is the producer of Firangi, so going against type is obviously a calculated career decision on his part, and not an entirely unwise one at that. He has a naturally likeable personality and is fair enough in the role of a rural simpleton. Ishita Dutta is pretty, Monica Gill is strikingly attractive, and both leave an impression.

Gill’s Shyamali, in fact, is the only character in Firangi with some convention-defying heft in this otherwise paper-thin film.

Edward Sonnenblick playing the evil firangi of the title is the only one in the cast who seems not to even try to rise above the ordinary script. He hams his way through the entire film.

The closing passages of Firangi are completely predictable, except for one that throws up a surprise appearance by a person who contemporary India sorely needs as we are being torn apart by divisive forces. In that scene – naïve yet somehow appealing in its artlessness – writer-director Rajiev Dhingra pulls out the Bharat Mata Ki Jai slogan and reminds us that it was not always the disturbing weapon it has become in the hands of today’s nationalists.

Clearly Dhingra has his heart in the right place. What he also needed to have in place was substantive writing.

Rating (out of five stars): *

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

This review was also published on Firstpost: