Friday, July 3, 2015

REVIEW 339: GUDDU RANGEELA

Release date:
July 3, 2015
Director:
Subhash Kapoor
Cast:




Language:
Arshad Warsi, Amit Sadh, Aditi Rao Hydari, Ronit Roy, Rajeev Gupta, Dibyendu Bhattacharya, Amit Sial, Brijendra Kala, Sree Swara Dubey, Achint Kaur   
Hindi


Last week’s release Miss Tanakpur Haazir Ho struggled to tell a serious story through the medium of comedy. The director of that film would be well advised to watch Guddu Rangeela. This week’s big release is a satirical thriller and consequently a roller-coaster of sorts, swinging from laughter to tears to hope to laughter to heartbreak to seething rage and then back to laughter again, unobjectionable for the most part, and largely staying focused on its central theme: the stranglehold that khap panchayats have on rural societies and state-level politics in Haryana.

For that feat alone it is worth watching.

That’s not all. Among the other reasons that make Guddu Rangeela supremely watchable, there is Arshad Warsi, an actor so charming, so likeable and so natural before the camera that his mere presence on screen is worth the price of a ticket even for a bad film (which this one is not).

Arshad here plays a small-time singer whose stage shows are a front for his work as a small-time crook. Rangeela’s partner in crime is his much younger brother Guddu (Amit Sadh). Their bête noir is the local politician Billu Pehelwan (Ronit Roy). The three get embroiled in a kidnapping that involves a teacher called Baby (Aditi Rao Hydari), a goon called Gora Bangali (Dibyendu Bhattacharya) and the caretaker of a bungalow in Shimla (Brijendra Kala).

Director Subhash Kapoor is credited with Guddu Rangeela’s story, screenplay and dialogues. He has a smooth storytelling style. Satire is his MO as we already know from Phas Gaye Re Obama and Jolly LLB. And he has a feel for the real India, which was most evident in Jolly LLB’s small-town courtroom shorn of all the glamour, bombast and cliched posturing that mainstream Bollywood has lent to the Indian judiciary. There was no “dhaai kilo ka haath” in sight there; only fumbling lawyers, a judge who would not stop eating and Arshad’s warm smile.

If only Subhash had stuck to his strengths – humour and realism – Guddu Rangeela would have been a flawlessly smooth ride. Sadly, he occasionally dilutes the film’s impact with elements that don’t fit the overall tone. For instance, the two romantic songs thrust into the proceedings, one per woman in the lead cast as if that’s a mandatory requirement. I’m not campaigning here for a songless Bollywood, but for songs suited to the narrative, like the hilarious “mowdern” bhajan Maata ka email that Rangeela sings at the start and the delightfully kitschy title track.

The humour in Guddu Rangeela is harmless, with one exception. It is unlikely that if a woman in the film had been raped, we would have been given a scene featuring her friends laughing at her wounded vagina. Why then is it okay to make a joke about a man who has been similarly violated? I understand what the director was trying to do there – he was showing us friends trying to lighten the mood around a man in agony. It might have been a good idea to devote more thought to that situation though, considering that the real world too tends to react with amusement when confronted with the reality of sexual assault on men. That scene is a marked contrast to the inoffensive nature of the rest of the film about which the worst thing that can be said is that it ends with a sexist joke about ghosts and wives already publicised in a trailer.

It’s also hard to understand the compulsion to serve up a love story whenever a woman is  around. It’s as if a female presence must be justified with a romantic angle. The liaison between Guddu and Baby here is incongruous and contrived, since there’s little chemistry between them, they barely speak, they have nothing in common and nothing can explain the ‘relationship’ that blossoms apart from an assumption some people seem to make that when a physically attractive human male and female are in the same frame, lowwwe is inevitable. Fact: it is not.

Far more interesting is the chemistry between Arshad and Amit. Rangeela and Guddu are sweetly in sync and well-suited to the older man-younger man bonding at the heart of the story.

The two of them and other motifs scattered through the film are deliberately designed to be reminiscent of Jai and Veeru in Sholay. The motorbike with the sidecar, the background score and the long-drawn-out climactic aerial shot of the dustbowl that is the Haryana countryside – it’s both amusing and endearing to see the film maker’s ode to one of the greatest Indian gangster films ever made, considering the contrasting tenor of the two films.

A word here about Amit... No actually he merits a paragraph. In a journey that has included TV, the small part a journalist in Maximum (2011) and one of the leads in Kai Po Che (2013), this young actor has displayed potential worth watching out for. In the mildly crude, buffoonish Guddu, it is impossible to spot the sedate Omi from Kai Po Che. Here’s looking at you, kid!

The scene-stealer among the supporting cast is Rajeev Gupta who was so impactful in tiny roles in the Saheb Biwi aur Gangster films that it’s hard to understand why we don’t see more of him in Bollywood. Ditto for Sree Swara Dubey whose charisma was memorable in a brief appearance in D-Day (2013). She is noticeable here even in a fleeting role. He is a hoot as the corrupt cop Gulab Singh, delivering the world’s funniest Antakshari scene in partnership with Amit.

Aditi Rao Hydari is the only one who looks lost. Brijendra Kala delivers a pleasant change from the comical bit part player he has been in too many films. And Ronit Roy is suitably menacing.

For the most part then, Guddu Rangeela remains engaging because of the balancing act it achieves between its grim subject and its light touch. It also repeatedly throws up twists when you are not looking for any. This continues until the plot becomes a stretch towards the end, right from the point when a woman delivers a feminist sermon to a murderous panchayat – so believable, na? Then it turns out that Guddu and Rangeela’s seemingly  grand scheme to corner Billu Pehelwan had feet of clay. And oh yes, their accomplices turn up to support them in a shootout in the end, but we get no inkling of how they figured out where the two would be.

All complaints about Guddu Rangeela though are overshadowed by what’s worth recommending in it. Even when the film flounders, Arshad and Amit remain immensely watchable. Rangeela and Guddu never fail to elicit laughs or tug at the heart strings although, as the title track tells us, “Dono pakke ddheet hain / Aansu peete neat hain…” Such likeable rascals, those two!

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

CBFC Rating (India):

U/A
Running time:
124 minutes



Sunday, June 28, 2015

REVIEW 338: MISS TANAKPUR HAAZIR HO

Release date:
June 26, 2015
Director:
Vinod Kapri
Cast:


Language:
Annu Kapoor, Ravi Kishen, Om Puri, Sanjai Mishra, Rahul Bagga, Hrishita Bhatt
Hindi


Just reading this film’s credit rolls is enough to bring on an attack of the giggles. When they’re at their best, and given a good script, the four leading men of Miss Tanakpur Haazir Ho have killer comic timing. As luck would have it, the writing and acting hit the bull’s eye all the way up to the interval. The result is unmitigated comedy in the foreground without being insensitive to the tragedy in the background, of a young woman forced into marriage with an old man who gives vent to his frustration over his sexual impotence by physically abusing her.

Striking that balance is an art, and writer-director Vinod Kapri has a steady hand on his brush in the first hour.

The woman in question is Maya (Hrishita Bhatt), wife of the ageing and corrupt pradhaan Sualaal Gandass (Annu Kapoor). Maya finds solace in the arms of a village youth called Arjun (Rahul Bagga) whenever her husband is away from home. The wily Gandass and his sidekick (Ravi Kishen) have a third cohort in their dubious games: the local holy man (Sanjai Mishra).

So far so good. The reason why the film works up to this point is that while it does evoke laughter in the first half, it does not seek to do so at Maya or Arjun’s expense. The gags are derived from mocking the villains or having a chuckle at the eccentricities of the locals.

Around interval time though, a chain of circumstances leads to Arjun being falsely accused of raping a buffalo, and that’s when it all goes downhill. From that moment on, as the situation turns grim all around, Vinod seems unsure about what tone to go with. He appears to want to stick to comedy, but does not have the finesse to handle such a grave subject through that genre.

Worse, the film seems unsure about whether bestiality is a grave subject at all. It even gets confused about what the issue at hand is. I thought the combined themes were spousal abuse and systemic corruption until a voiceover in the end announced that Miss Tanakpur was a film about the frivolous cases that crowd Indian courts. A fabricated charge of bestiality was a poor example to pick then, since there is little awareness about this crime in India and a majority of the audience would probably not have a position on it. As a consequence, the impression created – irrespective of the intent – is that the very accusation of a man raping a buffalo is a joke.

Does Team Tanakpur believe that such sexual perversion does not exist or is bestiality not to be deemed a perversion at all? Or do they think human beings should be allowed to do as they please with animals?

It is clear that the film does not want to make light of domestic violence or make wisecracks about rape in general. Its position on bestiality though is less clear, and it does seem at times to be amused by the phenomenon. Sadly, it ends  up trivialising both. Having enjoyed the first half of Miss Tanakpur Haazir Ho very much, it feels bad to say this, but methinks there is a special place in hell reserved for folk who make light of sexual crimes.

I’m not turning this review into a lesson on bestiality. Suffice it to say that having sex with animals is outlawed in some parts of the world (India included) while others have debated the matter. Miss Tanakpur Haazir Ho could have sparked off a discussion on the subject, but in its confusion about the tone it should take and in the absence of a commitment to the cause it seems to be espousing, it ends up being a lukewarm film.

Let’s be clear about this: it is both possible and acceptable to use humour to throw light on the most sombre of themes. Doing so, however, requires incredible skill of the kind Roberto Benigni displayed when he set an entire comedy in a concentration camp in Italy during World War II, in his lovely multiple-award-winning 1997 film Life Is Beautiful. More recently, (though not on a par with LIB) Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg used laughter to take the mickey out of North Korea’s Kim Jong-un in the highly controversial The Interview last year.

Step 1 towards pulling off such a blend is conviction. Step 2 is courage of conviction. Step 3 is great writing abilities. Miss Tanakpur Haazir Ho falters at Step 1. What a lost opportunity it is.

Rating (out of five): *

CBFC Rating (India):

U
Running time:
141 minutes


Photograph courtesy: Effective Communication

Friday, June 26, 2015

REVIEW 337: BELASESHE

Release date:
June 26, 2015
Director:
Nandita Roy, Shiboprosad Mukherjee
Cast:







Language:
Soumitra Chatterjee, Swatilekha Sengupta, Shankar Chakraborty, Indrani Dutta, Aparajita Auddy, Kharaj Mukherjee, Rituparna Sengupta, Sujoy Prasad Chatterjee, Indrajit Chakraborty, Monami Ghosh, Anindya Chatterjee
Bengali


SPOILERS AHEAD:

There is a warmth that envelops the heart of a certain kind of film buff when a veteran actor walks on to the screen. I confess I am that kind – emotional to the point of being schmaltzy. But even the pleasure of seeing the legendary Soumitra Chatterjee – reunited here with Swatilekha Sengupta, heroine of Satyajit Ray’s Ghare Baire – is insufficient compensation for Belaseshe’s painfully traditionalist view of marriage and almost laughable endorsement of socially dictated pre-designated gender roles within the institution.

Tagore’s The Home And The World on which Ghare Baire was based, gave us a husband who wanted his wife to have a life beyond the home. At one point, it seems that Biswanath Majumdar (Soumitra’s character in Belaseshe) shares that mindset. But Tagore and Ray were not faking liberalism; Belaseshe is. And so, in the end, Biswanath explains that he has come to realise a wife’s role in a marriage is inside the house and the husband’s role is outside.

What a disappointing, conventional conclusion from a film that starts out asking tough questions!

Soumitra here plays an old man who shocks his family by announcing that he wants a divorce from his wife of almost 50 years. Biswanath does not hate Arati (Swatilekha). He simply believes they have become a habit with each other in a loveless marriage that is not worth preserving. When she recounts the pleasant times they’ve had together, he tells her he thinks she loves domestic life rather than him. In a nation that deifies marriage and motherhood, how often do you see a mainstream film with the courage to articulate such thoughts?

Biswanath even alludes to his sexual needs and her disinterest. How often do you hear an old couple discuss such matters in an Indian film?

While hers is a relatively tepid character, she too raises a valid point when, in response to his complaint that she was not available for romance in their younger days, she asks him how she could have possibly spared the time when she was looking after his ailing dad.

These are all issues worth addressing. Is raising a family the sole purpose of marriage? Or should companionship be the primary goal? Is procreation the only purpose of sex? Is sex to be treated as dispensable in a marriage once you’ve had the number of children you want?

Biswanath’s decision to divorce Arati and the impact on their children could have led to a deep, much-needed exploration of the pluses and minuses of marriage along with these crucial questions. What we get after the initial promise though, are cliches, conformism, a cringe-worthy romanticisation of wifely slavishness and a transparent effort to trivialise modernity.

In a scene clearly intended to be highly romantic, Arati seeks to illustrate her love for Biswanath by revealing that she used to pick up the wet towels he would leave around after bathing and re-use them herself, to imbibe the smell of him; she would also eat his leftovers after each meal.

If you are moved by her revelation, forgive me for saying this… Ugh.

Before you present a counter argument, let me pre-empt it: I have no doubt relationships like Biswanath and Arati’s do exist. The issue is that the film pretends at the start to be questioning such marriages, then goes down the same old beaten track of glorifying them.

No effort is spared to please conservatives who are opposed to a dissection of marriage, who deny the intrinsically patriarchal nature of the institution, who believe every marriage is worth preserving at all costs, and who see procreation and child-rearing as the noblest of all causes, to be ranked way above friendship in a marriage, companionship, sexual pleasure and happiness.

Director duo Nandita Roy and Shiboprosad Mukherjee’s Belaseshe is not the liberal film it projects itself as being. Nowhere is this clearer than with the difference in its treatment of male and female infidelity. Biswanath and Arati’s son Barin (Shankar Chakraborty) and daughter Mili (Rituparna Sengupta) are both having extra-marital affairs, yet the film makes only brief references to Barin’s indiscretion and ultimate penitence, whereas it dwells at length on Mili’s unfaithfulness and later gives us elongated scenes of her remorse.

In the end, Biswanath does precisely what he claimed he was against at first. He said he was anti a marriage being nothing more than a habit you’re afraid to break; yet when he returns to Arati it is because he misses the presence of the person who would pick up his dirty clothes after him and always knew where his shoes were. Just as he wanted, she has become independent in his absence. He, however, is too dependent on her for his daily needs. Is that what makes a marriage worth holding on to? Why not hire an efficient maid instead of getting a wife? Biswanath seems to have forgotten by then that he had himself earlier made this point to the dutiful Arati.

There is also a clever attempt to deify tradition as symbolised by the old couple, while making light of modernity, personified by their youngest daughter Piu (Monami Ghosh) and her husband Palash (Anindya Chatterjee). The effort to lend gravitas to Biswanath and Arati while comedifying Piu and Palash is unmistakable. The youngsters are both TV producers. Their milieu is treated with the same disdainful attitude that makes the elderly in the real world routinely say, “Aajkal ke bachchon ka kya kehna?” (What is one to say of today’s generation?) Palash comes across as a buffoon. And from Piu’s tongue emerges such trite lines as this one: We are constantly social networking but there is no networking in this room. 

The cast is a mixed bag. Soumitra’s sensitive face is always a joy to watch and despite the faux liberalism of Belaseshe, it is hard not to be drawn to his Biswanath. Swatilekha has her moments but for the most part is deadpan. Of their children and children’s spouses, the most convincing performances come from Shankar as Barin, Indrani Dutta playing his wife, Rituparna as Mili and Indrajit Chakraborty making a brief appearance as her boyfriend. Aparajita Auddy, Kharaj Mukherjee, Sujoy Prasad Chatterjee and Anindya caricature their characters, which is a factor as much of the faulty writing as of their acting. Monami and the grandchildren fare better.

This is a theme that called for greater honesty of purpose and delicacy in approach. What we get instead is a please-all balancing act, verbosity and literalness. Despite the presence of Soumitra-da and the promising premise, Belaseshe is an unremarkable film.

Rating (out of five): **

CBFC Rating (India):

U
Running time:
141 minutes

Photograph courtesy: Eros International