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Saturday, 22 April 2017

The Zookeeper’s Wife (2017) (English)

I have never been a fan of using English as a primary language of communication in a movie that is set in a country where English is not a first language; even more so, in a period drama.  To me, that is where The Zookeeper’s falls short.  There is a dialogue in the second half that made me cringe. When Antonina Zabinski (Jessica Chastain) tells Urszula (Shira Haas), “I have always wanthed tu dhraw”.

Mind you, I understand the need to be able to connect with a vast majority of the audiences and surely Polish (the language and not the product) is not widely spoken.  But the nuances of a language cannot be done justice to – even with the best of translators.  If you do want to make the movie in English, then please make it in English by all means.  Don’t force an accent.

Having said that, The Zookeeper’s Wife makes the cut on almost all other counts.  The aversion to the use of English is a personal preference and may not be the case with most viewers.  Antonina and Jan (Johan Heldenberg) are keepers of the Warsaw Zoo which boasts of some of the best animals before Hitler decided that Poland was up for grabs.  They lived there with their son Ryszard (Timothy Radford) when the Fuhrer made himself feel at home.

An air strike leaves the Zoo in disarray.  The keepers are in shock but life has to go on.  Disturbed by the possibility of losing those that they have grown up with – Jews and Gentiles alike – the couple decide to provide refuge to their closest friend Magda (Efrat Dor).

However, with the way things shape up, Jan and Antonina decide that they need to do much more and that’s where the true story of the Zookeepers begins. Over a 5 year period, Jan and Nina provided safe stay and passage to nearly 300 Jews for which they received the gratitude of the Israeli government. A story that definitely needed to be told – one of many, I am certain, that have not seen the light of day yet.

Like any movie that touches upon the Holocaust, The Zookeeper’s Wife, will leave you poignant.  I am sure that no one in our generation can even imagine what it was like to be dragged out of your homes and shot for no reason – and that’s if you were lucky.

Jessica Chastain does as well as she possibly can.  With the limitations of the accent imposed by director Niki Caro, I guess it was as good as she could get.  Needless to say, it was a far cry from Chastain’s best performances to date such as Interstellar, ZD30 and of course The Help.

The stand out performance though comes from Daniel Bruhl who I believe is one of THE most underrated actors of our time.  The support cast is solid and the production quality is par excellence.  Scenes such as the delivery of the Elephant Calf or that of Adam (the camel) running after Nina during her morning rounds are superbly shot.

In all, The Zookeeper’s Wife – and I wonder why it wasn’t just called The Zookeepers – considering that Jan’s role in the effort of saving the Jews was as important if not better – is a good watch for a Sunday afternoon at home.  Would I spend hard earned money to walk into a theatre? Probably not.  6 on 10.  Worth a dekko.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Maatr (Hindi) (2017)

The posters and the reviews screamed out that it was Raveena’s magnum opus and no less.  I would not say that it was far from the truth but then again it was nowhere close to a power packed performance that one would have expected from a role that offered so much.  It was controlled in parts but more often than not exposed the gaps that Raveena always had in her armoury (if she had one that is).

MAATR is the story of Mrs. Vidya Chauhan (Raveena Tandon) who is a teacher at GT Memorial High School (somewhere in the National Capital Region).  Her daughter Tia (Alisha Khan) – around 15/16 years old – studies in the same school.  Her husband, Ravi, is a workaholic who has been spending lesser time at home.  Vidya’s best friend is Ritu (Divya Jagdale) who is an artist by profession.

On the other side, we have a bunch of goons led by Apurva Malik (Madhur Mittal) who also happens to be the son of the Chief Minister.  Apurva and his gang are your usual, “Tu jaanta nahin hai main kaun hoon” types that we are so familiar with.  If the film is to be believed, then people can survive on just alcohol, coke and a little bit of starters throughout the day – absolutely nothing else.  And drinking starts at 10 am even if the party ended at 6 am.

Nevertheless, Apurva and gang happen to be at the annual day function of GTM where the CM is the Chief Guest.  They follow Tia and Vidya after the function.  Vidya chooses to take the shorter route as instructed by the GPS. With no civilization within hearing distance, the goons crash their SUV into Vidya’s hatchback and kidnap the 2.  The rest of night is a blur of debauchery at the end of which the goons dispose the “bodies”.  Only, Vidya is still alive.

I had not seen the trailer and my expectation was vastly different from what I saw.  I was hoping to get a trial by the system but at the end of the day MAATR was just another tale of revenge with a whole lot of coincidences.  The makers decided to add 18.53 seconds of Vidya’s training schedule as an after-thought – lest someone asked a question about a brutally beaten up woman taking on 7 men who are probably much stronger than her.

The average Indian director / producer continues to use the shortcut of tacky film making by using the country as a crutch.  After all “India mein sab kuch chalega”.  And MAATR proves that – hand over fist.  Audiences will lap it up because it is a hard hitting topic.  A few will know that it was just bad film making.

MAATR tries to handle an extremely sensitive topic but no one from the cast and crew seem to have the capability to do so.  Other than the gross gang rape scene, there is nothing quite hard hitting.  There is nothing that makes you stand up and take notice.  It is just a bunch of people making a buck at the expense of gullible movie goers through slick marketing.  Definitely not a must watch.  4 on 10.

Noor (Hindi) (2017)

A mic was thrust upon my face by a couple of rank rookies – much like Noor, in the movie – who were obviously asked to survey people who had watched the first day first show of Noor.  It was a first for me and I was caught off guard and all I could muster is, “Theek Thha”.  Eh? Your 15 seconds of fame and all you could do was say “Theek Thha”???

But then, I wasn’t lying.  I was off guard but not lying.  Noor was just that kind of movie that will make you say “OK, worth the ₹90 ticket for a morning show but I wouldn’t pay more than that”.  Just about “Theek”.  Nothing that should make you jump off your seat right away and run to the closest theatre.  Wait for the Televion release if you can.  Hop across if you have nothing better to do.

Noor is adapted from a book titled, “Karachi, You’re Killing Me” by a Pakistani writer – Saba Imtiaz. Sacrilege!!!! Where are the bhakts and the shiv sainiks? Not a big budget movie and so you couldn’t squeeze any money out of the poor director Sunhil Sippy who returns to Bollywood after 17 years.  The Sainiks would have thought, “Nanga nahayega kya nichodega kya? We will save our threats for the KJos of the world who have money”.

Noor Roy Chaudhary (Sonakshi Sinha) is an aspiring journalist with a self-deprecating view about herself.  She believes that she has turned more into a joker than a journo.  But on her 28th birthday, ala Bridget Jones, she swears to turn into a Tedhi Savitri (hip and happening) from a Seedhi Savitri (innocent / naïve).

Her life revolves around her best friends DJ Zara Patel (Shibani Dandekar) and restauranter Saad Sehgal (Kanan Gill), her single father (she lost her mom when she was 4) and her absentee maid Malti (Swati Tambe).  She wants to cover opinion shaping news but is relegated by her boss, Shekhar (Manish Chaudhari) to covering stories like a woman who doesn’t remove her helmet ever or a man who has sworn to walk on his hands for a year.  Yay!!! Super exciting life she leads.

Enter Ayananka Banerjee (Purab Kohli), an ace photographer who sweeps Noor off her feet in a matter of minutes.  And before you know it, we find out the reason for Malti’s continuous absentism – and you thought it was the regular MMS (Mumbai Maid Syndrome) eh? What was building up as a light, coming of age movie turns into a clash of values that eventually ends in a rant against Mumbai and eventually a super coincidental and happy ending.

Noor builds up reasonably well (and I am being gracious here) over about 30 minutes.  Sonakshi shows some flashes of acting as well. I confess, that I have always thought there was potential there but never a result. I was pleasantly surprised albeit for small while.  Purab is probably the strongest in terms of screen presences but sadly doesn’t have much screen time.

There is definitely a reason why Sunhil Sippy took a sabbatical for 17 years after his first movie Snip! (Why have I heard that name before? Still not able to place).  And that reason is quite clearly visible in Noor.  He is unable to hold the story together and adds some insipid dialogue to what could have been a decent story.  Kanan Gill as Saad was probably petrified because the only thought in his head would have been, “What if I am asked to do a pretentious review about this one”.

Noor has its moments though.  Some fun for about 30 minutes.  Some decent acting I must say – for just a bit though.  And a very meek attempt at a message to get Mumbai (and for that matter all of India) to wake up.  Sadly, it falls flat over the second half.  And will Sunhil please tell me why you couldn’t use “Old Monk” and kept replacing it with “Old Rum”???? 4 on 10.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Bajirao Mastani (Hindi) (2015)

At the outset, let us first tip our hat or in fact give a standing ovation to a few people involved in Bajirao Mastani.  Fistly – Sriram Kannan Iyengar, Sujeet Subhash Sawant, Yantra Design Studio and Saloni Ankush Dhatrak for some breathtaking Production Design – probably the best we have seen since Mughal-e-Azam!!!

Friday, 18 December 2015

Dilwale (Hindi) (2015)

Ever get a feeling that you tried to do something differently but could not change who you stand for and ultimately landed up making a big hash of everything? If the answer is yes, then Rohit Shetty’s Dilwale will give you that sense of déjà vu.  It would have definitely given Shetty that feeling.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Tamasha (2015) (Hindi)

He started with a very simple movie 10 years back.  One which would qualify to be a sleeper hit.  It was called Socha Na Tha and starred a certain relative of someone with a 2.5 kg fist.  He has released a movie around every 2 years since.  Jab We Met (2007), Love Aaj Kal (2009), Rockstar (2011), Highway (2014) and now Tamasha (2015).  He is one of my favourite writer directors in India today – Imtiaz Ali.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Spectre (2015) (James Bond)

Disclaimer – This writer is a massive James Bond fan.  He has collected every single release of James Bond on DVD and plans to convert the same (shortly) into an enviable Blue Ray collection before the release of Bond 2017-18.  He can rarely find fault in a James Bond movie and therefore can be classified as a “classic fanboy”.  Read on.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Katyar Kaljat Ghusali (Marathi) (2015)

To say that Marathi Cinema has come of age is a stale statement these days.  It is well past the coming of age stage and is rapidly moving towards excellence.  Subodh Bhave’s directorial debut is a commendable one and an industry (that was otherwise considered a laggard) one step forward.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Prem Ratan Dhan Payo

It has been nearly 2 months since I put the proverbial pen to paper.  I have watched movies in the interim – they are like the air that I breathe – but a combination of writer’s block and just plain lethargy prevented me from writing.  Not that cinema of the likes of Pyar Ka Punchnama 2 or for that matter Shandaar didn’t inspire me to overcome the lethargy.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Katti Batti (Hindi) (2015)

Nikhil Advani is definitely not known for brilliant movies with the one exception of D-Day where he made his only genuine attempt to aid the effort of quality cinema in Bollywood.  Back to Back releases in a week may indicate that Shri Advani over estimated his prowess in the field of direction.  Regretably he has botched up both stories – one which was a classic and the other that had a lot of promise.