Shubh Mangal Saavdhan Review

Tamil filmmaker, R S Prasanna, heads to B-town with his debut Hindi feature Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, which is a remake of Prasanna’s 2013 Tamil movie Kalyana Samayal Sadhan. A rom-com at heart, the movie deals with the issue of erectile dysfunction, a growing concern among the young office-going population in urban centres.

I went into the theatre with very little expectation and with a very basic idea (as much I as could glean from the trailers) about the movie. And I am glad to say it didn’t disappoint. In fact, even if I had gone with a bit of expectation, given the effective pairing of Ayushmannn Khurrana and Bhumi Pednekar (Dum Laga Ke Haisha) and the fact that it has been produced by Anand L Rai, there is not a lot to be disappointed with in the movie.

Shubh Mangal Saavdhan tells the story of Mudit (Khurrana), who falls for Sugandha (Pednekar) and is soon (in a matter of a few funny scenes and probably a song) engaged to her. There is not much in way of complication for the two (unless you count Sugandha’s “na-mein-haan” or whatever logic) until one night in the absence of Sugandha’s family, they discover in the heat of a novice sexual encounter that nothing else apart from awkwardness rises. What follows is Mudit and Sugandha’s humorous yet determined attempt at getting married despite external and internal impediments.

Most of the humour in the movie comes from the fact that it is strangely nostalgic in the use of innuendos, at least in spirit (remember flowers making out?). While the innuendos are not that shy, they do not reach the vulgarity of Pahlaj Nihalani’s “Khada hai” song. The innuendos range from giggle-evoking to the absurd AIBish manhood analogies. Besides it also offers humour on the meta level – Vicky Donor. But what makes the film really worthy of a watch is its criticism of how society sees masculinity. And although the movie suffers from a lackluster final act, it is nevertheless highly entertaining, thanks to strong performances from the leads and the supporting cast and humour (bodering on the absurd and at times threatening to throw it off the rails), which mostly works in its favour.

Jagga Jasoos aims high but misses the mark

It is astonishing that in an industry (Hindi film – better known as Bollywood) where films without songs are an anomaly, very, very few films actually employ songs to drive the narrative, let alone try a musical: where songs are not only organic to the story but also embody the essence of the world the characters of the musical inhabit. In fact, song and dance go so hand in hand with Hindi films (true for all Indian films) that in the west or for that matter any part of the world where these films are seen (and loved) it is taken for granted that they are all musicals. Which is far from the truth.

Well, Jagga Jasoos, the newest offering from director Anurag Basu, is here to give the audience a taste of what a musical is like; it is the only attempt at the genre ‘I’ remember since Jaan-e-Mann (2006), which again is not the best of examples. Jagga Jasoos tries and does well, but unfortunately only till the first act, after which it is a long way downhill only to catch my interest again (I’ll talk about it later in the review)! SPOILERS ahead!

The film opens with a delightful shot of rural Purulia (in 1995 or so) and introduces us to Bagchi (played excellently by Saswata Chaterjee) aka Tutti Futti and Badluck Bagchi, whose status as the mascot of bad luck results in a classic goof up that sets the ball in motion. Then jump to present day Kolkata Book Fair where Katrina Kaif’s character, the narrator, introduces children to the books (I believe comics because that would be an obvious nod to Tintin) of Jagga Jasoos (Ranbir Kapoor), the eponymous hero. She takes the young fans down the memory lane of Jagga, a stammering orphan who is adopted by a kind and goofy man, Bagchi, who give him lessons for life (including sing-your-speech-to-stop-stammer lesson) and then mysteriously disappearing, abandoning him at a boarding school. At school Jagga develops a knack for detective work largely because he was shy enough to be alone and curious enough to make 2+2=4. Then voila! all of a sudden he’s all popular in school, confident and Sherlock-smart, while being shy and awkward only at the convenience of the script. Numerous things follow: he meets a journalist, Shruti (Katrina Kaif), stumbles on an arms trade trail, finds connection between the dissapearance of his foster-father and the arms trade plot point, goes on a quest to find him. Too much happening to give a damn about.

There are plenty of characters minor, major and numerous story threads and a lot of back and forth non-linear narrative stuff, which I kind of liked and I think worked for the movie because it is a movie about a sleuth and, let us face it, with a linear approach the plot with so many threads to follow would have resulted in a snoozefest. The movie takes a lot of time setting up things, too much time even for origin-story standards. Yet it is this part that I enjoyed the most in the movie. Jagga, in between flashbacks, solves two cases in the first act and these are staged amazingly to music and lyrics. I would have preferred these two cases to make up the whole movie instead of using them as a set up for something grand, which sadly doesn’t materialize. The next act that follows seems tired, with absolutely no steam left in it barring a few moments of fun (few being “Sab Daru Pi Ke Khaana Kha Ke Chale Gaye” song and Saurabh Shukla’s villianous turn). 

Another problem with this film is that while all the other actors perform really well, Katrina Kaif manages to mess up scenes which would otherwise have been fun to watch. This has been said a lot of time, I know, but my problem is not with Katrina’s performance alone, it is the casting choice that bothers me. I think she was a miscast as Shruti here and it really affected the whole experience of the movie. Besides her character was very underdeveloped as the rest of the characters in the movie, even Jagga’s. The only character arc Shruti completes is turning from a damsel in distress to a sidekick (who is the butt of most of the slapstick ridicules in the movie) and losing all interest in her quest to expose the arms dealers (for goodness’ sake! they killed her boyfriend! and there is also something called love for profession), letting the man of the movie, Jagga’s quest the centre stage. Really sad!

The globetrotting adventure that follows in the second act is beautiful to look at, as was the choice of settings in India, with lush greens of Assam and Purulia to the sands of Africa. Beautiful cinematography! However, this picturesqueness, our ‘good-looking’ lead pair and really good performances from Ranbir Kapoor, Saurabh Shukla, Saswata, and Rajatava Dutta, and some genuinely amazing moments fail to lift this overlong, unnecessarily convoluted film with underdeveloped characters from an average affair to an exceptional piece of film, which it had the potential to be had the producers been more confident of the movie and not crammed so much in one movie. Could have explored the character and his adventures in sequels, which this movie hints at. I would so go and watch the sequel despite the uneven experience with this one because it is revealed at the end that Nawazuddin Siddiqui plays the main bad guy, who is polycephalic, and has kidnapped Jagga and his father. Talk about cliffhangers! Move over Bahubali!

Globe – Short Film


Globe: A Short Film

Untitled design (4)

Globe opens up with a teacher in the classroom, drawing a circle and saying that “This is Earth and the Earth is round.” The camera pans across to Siddhant, a little boy who repeats in the singsong manner without really understanding what this is all about. This is typical of any child. It made me wonder that this might be about the education system in India. It is only a matter of few minutes when you realize that this is about so much more. It is only the innocence and intrigue of a child’s mind that can make us sit back and think about the gravity of any situation. Globe deals with a similar theme.
The film progresses as Siddhant tries to understand Earth from the perspective of the elders around him. He gets answers but does not really satiate his inquisitive mind. It is only…

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‘What is Done is Done!’ is an interesting darkly humorous reimagining of ‘Macbeth’


What is Done is Done! is only the second Shakespearean adaptation with clowns (director – Rajat Kapoor) that I have had the pleasure to watch – the first being Nothing Like Lear. Shakespeare has been around for a really long time, alive in text books, movie adaptations, references both literary and popular, in fact he has seeped into our lives with the subtlety of everyday speech, which, unsurprisingly, owes a lot to the Bard. But such familiarity does not make it easy to shed any new light on Shakespeare’s plays. And it is precisely on this note that the play begins.

Two clowns (Vinay Pathak and Jim Sarbh) enter the stage and recount how they came to be the producers of this production within a production. The anecdote involves two instances of Rajat Kapoor being kicked in the arse (not my words) – first by the Royal Shakespeare Society that did not quite warm up to the idea of clowning with a great tragedy like Macbeth and instead of appropriating funds for the play, contributed the aforementioned grant; and second by circus authorities that found Kapoor’s reading of the play not very deep (again, not my words). It is easy to adapt a play as popular as Macbeth, one of the two clowns observes; the audience laughs, hopefully, knowing that it is just the opposite. Adapting any play by Shakespeare is a big burden on the playwright and the director. How do you add a new perspective to it? How do you do justice to the themes of the play by reimagining it? How do you squeeze in references to our times without distracting the audience from the main plot?  What is Done is Done! mostly succeeds at these, but it does not truly matches the balance that it achieved with the marriage of the themes of the text and the times we live in in Nothing Like Lear.

The jokes, mostly in parts where the two clown-producers have a go at the audience, felt a bit familiar, even though a few quips about certain recent developments were genuinely funny. These comic interludes (a highly inappropriate term to be used for a play that weaves in and out of the funny, the tragic and the downright scary almost seamlessly, but for these interludes)  seemed like scenes of comic relief that were confused if they belonged to Shakespeare or Marlowe (the latter’s are quite crudely woven into the plot).

I liked that these scenes acted like a chorus, bridging the gap between the play’s themes and situations of our times and asking certain questions. But what I did not like was they tried to answer these, at times quite obviously.

However, the play shone the brightest at the moments of its tragic intensity and because of its darkly humorous tone. Ranvir Shorey delivered a very nuanced performance as Macky B (Macbeth), switching his comic garb for his tragic ones and vice versa, without much effort. The rest of the cast were also up to the task and gave highly convincing performances.

There were certain parts/elements in the play that I really enjoyed. One where the entire cast poses together for a photograph and says ‘anachronism’ instead of ‘cheese’. One cannot but gleefully recall the most famous anachronism in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar – of the clock striking 3. The use of three actors (who also played the three witches) to play Lady Macbeth at the same time, something I do not know (I would not count on my limited knowledge though) if it ever has been done, was very interesting keeping in mind the emotional disintegration she ungoes later in the play. The dagger scene. The cinematic murder-ambush-torture scenes (one is even in slow-mo). How certain scenes/actions were used to foreshadow events in the future. Macbeth-Banquo-Macbeth-Lady Macbeth scenes.

I would recommened this play to everyone who enjoy good theatre. Catch it the next time the troupe comes to your city.



Why we need queer spaces in tattooing [excerpt]

[This is an excerpt from my article published in Tattoo Cultr. Read the full article here.]

Tattoos, as a representative form of a counter-discourse, have surprisingly entered into the popular idiom of things cool, so much so that one might find its counter-culture tag unnecessary. However, to cram the art of tattoos in the chock-a-bloc normative singularity of popular culture would be a gross mistake, for the simple reason that tattoos are not the product of the hollow fetishisms of the star-worshipping, hashtag spewing (okay, hashtags are good but not the excess of it), self(ie)-obsessed, diversity-disapproving, whitewashing (not just Hollywood, , un-fair and un-lovely) culture.

Nothing Like Lear -Review

Image Courtesy – Madhurima Dutta

Nothing Like Lear is for all intents and purposes both like and unlike King Lear. But of course I was not to find this out until the one man troupe, Vinay Pathak, grabbed me by my ‘guts’.

It was the 27th of November, a Sunday, and we – me and two of my companions – had got ourselves tickets for balcony, which was lighter on our pockets, at Kamani Audotorium on Copernicus Marg, New Delhi; but as one of my companions pointed out, it would have had marred the experience, for she had not brought her glasses with her. Call it our sheer luck or the bane of demonitisation or the lack of love for good theatre, not many people turned up for the play; so we were, by default, offered seats at the side stalls towards the front.

Minutes into the play, and I realised that perhaps my companion was right, that we all must have missed quite a bit of the aura that Mr Pathak just “zapped” into the moment he, albeit quite inconspicuously, arrived on the stage.

“The show hasn’t started yet,” he reassured the audience, who were caught off guard by his sudden appearance on the stage. He shambled across the stage in a large pair of clown shoes and carrying a suitcase, making light talk with the audience and giving suggestions as to things they could do before the play actually started, like “Send that last SMS,” or “You should always carry a book to the theatre.” I could already feel a player warming up before hijacking the entire game. And that’s exactly what Mr Pathak did; his jokes became bolder and bawdier (mostly at the audience’s expense), once the audience was lulled into a sense of enjoying innocuous quips, and very subtly “commenced” the play.

Once into the meat of the play, I started to look for strands that would somehow connect the string of jokes to the bard’s original that this play, even as its title denounces any resemblance, is supposedly based on. For in its deliberate negation there is an acceptance, an idebtedness to Shakespeare’s play – upon seeing the “Nothing” in the title, one is inadvertently reminded of the famous line from King Lear, “Nothing will come of nothing.” And this is where the likeness to King Lear begins.

Even though this was a one man show and largely comic, the themes of Shakespeare’s play found their way into this absurdist interpretation. Besides a tragic undercurrent forever ran through the surface of the play, and it frequently burst out with such force and vitality that it left the audience, well at least me, with goosebumps. Handling such sudden shifts in tone, and that too for nearly 90 minutes, is a daunting task, but such is the talent of Mr Pathak that he makes this look like a walk in the park, except for moments when I thought I heard him drop the character’s prescribed accent. But this is hardly a blemish on a performance so magnificent that the entire audience accorded him a well-deserved standing ovation at the end, for a good 5 minutes!

Here, I must admit that even though Mr Pathak is the one who carries the play on his reliable shoulders, jumping from one shade of character to another with a frenzy associated with dissociative disorders, Mr Rajat Kapoor, the play’s writer and director, is equally deserving of every bit of praise for infusing the sense of dissociation of tonality into the play itself. It is the genius of Mr Kapoor that we get to see King Lear through the eyes of a fool (clown), who embodies the persona of the narrator (apparently an unreliable one), Edmund, Gloucester, King Lear and, of course, the Fool, while also being a contemporary social commentary on the way we treat the old. The major themes of King Lear – filial ingratitude, sight and blindness, jealousy, existentialism, father-child relationship – are all addressed with due reverence to Shakespeare’s play.

Even though I am a fan of Rajat Kapoor, I had not expected to be surprised by Nothing Like Lear. But it did.  It was like watching Mr Kapoor’s Mithya, a gem of a movie, which I consider as the best example of a genre-hopper from Hindi Cinema. Both the works are unpredictable to the truest sense of the term and both of them delve deeply in existentialist philosophy (besides this play too can be seen as a genre-hopper, but I am unsure whether this term could be applied to plays as well). And when I finally got the chance to meet Mr Kapoor, who was humbly standing outside the theatre greeting the audience, I could not help telling him how much I loved Mithya; to which he gave a nod of approval and allowed a hint of surprise to flash across his otherwise calm face.

[If this play comes to your city, please do yourself a favour – watch it!]

What Tattoos Mean – my views as an outsider

A few weeks ago I had submitted a write up to Tattoo Cultr , on what tattoos mean to an outsider. This post was influenced by my personal views on tattooing and its relevance. Although I have never got around to getting a tattoo done, I would not deny that the idea never crossed my mind. In fact, at one point I really was game for it, but unfortunately it never clicked. Here is why tattooing had me, it still does, intrigued.

The Poetry of ‘Masaan’

Bollywood-Masaan-Film-Review-Rating-Box-Office-Collection-Hit-FlopI write this post a day after watching Masaannot because I needed time to overcome the emotional impact of the movie to analyse it more objectively, but for the evocative poetry that renders each and every strand of emotion in the film, endearing (and that had me looking up the poets on the internet). Poetry not just of the great Urdu poets – Brij Narayan Chakbast, Dushyant Kumar, Bashir Badr – that were used in the film, but also of Varun Grover’s soul-strumming lyrics: he has deftly woven his passionate words around that marvel of a line by Dushyant Kumar – Tu kisi rail si guzarti hai, main kisi pul sa thartharaata hoon  (O, how I shudder like a bridge when, like a train, you rumble by).

The simile becomes all the more potent in the film with the romance between Deepak (Vicky Kaushal) and Shaalu (Shweta Tripathi). The great social and cultural divide that pose as a certain impediment to the joyous union of the lovers – caste – stands as one of the many symbols of the undying tradition that spawned along the banks of the river Ganga thousands of years ago.  Deepak belongs to the Dom community while Shaalu is from a higher rung of the caste ladder. Coming from a completely different background, Deepak, otherwise confident, is apprehensive of the perky, poetry-reciting Shaalu. The conversations between them, which have been realised in a very convincing manner, reiterate the cultural gorge between them.

The closest that Deepak comes to poetry is through songs – he makes a mash-up of popular Hindi film songs and lines of the great poets (mentioned above) and gifts Shaalu on her birthday. This is perhaps one of the first attempts in the film to bring about a happy marriage of the traditional and the new way of life(one of the prominent themes of the film is the conflict between the old and the new).

The music by Indian Ocean hits all the right chords. Coming from the masters of fusion rock, the music adds to the theme of the film. The sufiyana depth of the lyrics and the bold, in-your-face rhythm of rock music is apparent in all the three songs in the movie. The lyrics of Varun Grover weaves mystic and the worldly into one and that too so enchantingly that it becomes difficult to imagine the movie without the songs. In an age when the voice and intent of movies and their songs have grown so apart, the songs of Masaan restores faith in the necessity of songs in movies.

I just came across a post on Firstpost where Varun Grover has ‘decoded’ two of his songs –Mann kasturi  and Tu kisi rail si. Hum the tune and ponder on the beauty of the lyrics. Click here. 

Also, tell me what is your favourite line from the songs in the comments section below, mine is – Main hoon paani ke bulbule jaisa / Tujhe sochoon toh phoot jaata hoon.

Hamlet in Kashmir

Placards in hand, eyes drowned in tears, and a heavy weight sitting on hearts, leverage a question out of the mouths of the grief-stricken Kashmiris in Haider: hum hain ke hum nahin? (do we exist or not?). This is of course Vishal Bhardwaj’s variation on Shakespeare’s immortal line “To be, or not to be…” which Hamlet contemplates both in thought and action throughout the play. Haider (Hamlet) is Bharadwaj’s final film in the Shakespearean trilogy- Maqbool (Macbeth) and Omkara (Othello) being the other two adaptations- with the action of the film taking place in Kashmir.

It is 1995 and Kashmir is going through troubled times with separatist sentiments on the rise, criticism against AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) echoing in the valley, silenced only by frequent curfews, gun-fires and alleged disappearance of innocent Kashmiris. Haider’s father Dr. Hilal Meer, ratted on by his own brother Khurram, becomes a victim of one such routine nabbing by the Indian Army for he was harboring a terrorist in his house. Haider on his return from Aligarh engulfs himself in a relentless search for his father, and as his search furthers he is faced with many inconvenient truths, which fans his desire for revenge.

The whole of Kashmir seems to burn in the angst of existential crisis. The hum hain ke hum nahi is easily transferred to a more personal main rahoon ki main nahi, which of course is closer to Hamlet’s dilemma. Haider’s despair is reflected in the eyes of the general masses. Kashmir’s militant agitation becomes a manifestation of Haider’s scheme for revenge. Both plan to mete out punishment on the disloyal brothers. In both the case Khurram represents the disloyal brother. Just like Haider Kashmir tries to find its own course but is shackled by external forces. From Haider’s recollections we are told how he is emotionally blackmailed by his mother into going to Aligarh, and then how he is influenced by Roohdaar and other militants to pick up the gun and exact revenge from his uncle.

The movie is presented from the point of view of  Kashmiri separatists yet it is incorrect to call the movie anti-nationalist. Many have opted to boycott and tried to influence others to do the same because they feel that the movie misrepresents the Indian Army as villains of the movie. They cannot be more wrong. It is neither the army nor the militants who are the real villains of the film but the idea of revenge: Inteqam sirf inteqam paida karti hai. Bharadwaj has for that matter given credit to multiple perceptions in the film. We have Dr. Hilal Meer who is a humanitarian and does not care whether he is treating a soldier, civilian or a militant, then we have Hilal’s father Hussain Meer, who does not believe in the separatist’s violent movement : Hindustan mein bhi azadi lathiwala laya tha, bandukwala nahi. And there is Roohdaar’s and other militants’ voice who want Azadi, and the military who try to shield and  justify their inhuman acts. It is difficult to believe if all that Roohdaar tells Haider is actually true. Haider is probably used as a pawn to set the ball rolling in the larger scheme of things. His existence is still not free of external influence. It is only with the death of his mother Ghazala (Tabu) that he decides for himself to not to go ahead with his revenge.