Friday, October 9, 2015


Release date:
October 9, 2015
Sanjay Gupta

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Irrfan Khan, Shabana Azmi, Chandan Roy Sanyal, Atul Kulkarni, Jackie Shroff

Fly-by-night feminists are India’s latest social trend. They’re the ones who have no particular commitment to women’s rights or may even be closeted misogynists, but mouth what they consider politically correct lines anyway, because feminism is the fad of the day.

How can you tell that they are not committed? That’s easy. Because liars and fakes almost inevitably inadvertently reveal their true colours through their own words.

It’s this fashionable fake feminism that produced that silly, mixed-up Vogue Empower commercial featuring pretty visuals of Deepika Padukone and other women flashing by with a pretentious voiceover defending, among other things, a wife’s right to cheat on her husband. Umm, would the commercial makers have publicly defended a man’s right to cheat on his wife?

Jazbaa, a remake of the South Korean film Seven Days, is born of this trend. After 20 years of depicting women as nothing but sexy bodies and glam objects in a world run by men, director Sanjay Gupta is now advocating women’s rights. He fails to mask his true convictions though.

So, while Jazbaa’s central character is a strong woman, he reassures his traditional audience that all’s well with their world by ending on a tight close-up of a supporting male character as he explains why he let the woman he loves walk away. Arrey, mohabbat hai isiliye toh jaane diya,” he says, “Zidd hoti toh abhi baahon mein hoti,” which roughly translates to, “She’s my love, that’s why I let her go. If she was a mere obsession she would have been in my arms now.” Her own agency be damned. Not surprisingly, the predominantly male audience in the hall where I watched this film cheered at this line, after having watched the previous two hours in silence.

Jazbaa makes all the right noises about rape, with a victim’s mother telling a lawyer that what she did in open court was no different from what the rapist did to her daughter in a closed room. At the same time, the film needlessly keeps replaying the rape scene under the pretext of adding a new piece to the puzzle each time, though in truth only one revelation is made through all those retellings. If the depiction of that scene had been more explicit, I suspect the mood in my local theatre may have been more jubilant. As it happens, this is Sanjay playing at being a feminist, so he does not go all the way on that front either. The result: it is neither all-out sleazy nor sensitive.  

Jazbaa also appears to make the right noises about female foeticide, but a conversation about a  son-obsessed husband asking his wife to abort a female foetus sounds discomfittingly close to being anti-abortion as much as it is anti-sex-selective-abortion. The film is also irritatingly conventional in its deification of mothers and its dismissiveness towards paternal love. Wish Team Jazbaa had given more thought to its messaging on such crucial, complex issues.

The story is  about an extremely successful lawyer called Anuradha Verma (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) who has no qualms about defending the scum of the earth, as long as they pay her fee. Anuradha is a single mother. One day her little daughter Sanaya (Sara Arjun) is kidnapped by a stranger who demands as ransom that she should fight to free a man called Niyaaz (Chandan Roy Sanyal) who is on death row for raping and murdering a young artist called Sia (Priya Banerjee).

Anuradha has just days to cobble together a credible defence. She is assisted in this by her friend and secret admirer Yohann (Irrfan Khan) who has been suspended from the Mumbai Police on corruption charges. Other players in this script include Sia’s mother Garima Choudhry (Shabana Azmi), her lawyer (Atul Kulkarni) and a politician called Mahesh Makhlai (Jackie Shroff).

In this sea of usually wonderful supporting actors, the only notable performance comes from Irrfan who has the panache to pull off the dialoguebaazi his character is endowed with. Besides, he is so charming that it’s tough to be angry even when he utters that final bombastic line.

Aishwarya immerses herself in the role, and for the most part is impressive as Anuradha. She also looks stunning and appears comfortable throwing punches in a scene where she confronts a villain. Too often though she confuses emoting with screaming out loud. There is one moment when she briefly spots her abducted daughter, and wails and wails and wails in a scene that is so elongated and then later repeated that it is evident the director was impressed with it. In fact, it’s her low point in the film, especially since Irrfan enters the picture at the end of the replay and has his own emotional outburst – in one fell swoop, he overshadows her as a performer. Still, hats off to her for having risked appearing in the same frame as one of the country’s most gifted actors. Besides, Ash does feisty nicely and I enjoyed her eloquence in Jazbaa’s courtroom.

It’s confused philosophy notwithstanding, Jazbaa is well-paced and often engaging till the last 15 minutes when too many twists pile up. Yes, one pivotal revelation comes as a surprise, but if you think about it, the plot makes no sense and is riddled with loopholes. For instance, if you are a famous person who does not want your connection to a crime to become public, why would you sit in the audience in court during the trial? If not to manipulate us, why would a major character’s face suggest that a person is dead, when he could not have thought so?

And then there are questions that reveal the big zero that is the film’s plot: If a lawyer is unscrupulous enough to take up any paying case, why bother with a convoluted scheme to get her to take up yours? Even if you don’t want her to know that you are paying for Niyaaz’s defence, could you not have sent someone to front you and hire her services directly?

All the megawatt casting, stylish camerawork and blue-gray tints in the world cannot alter the fact that when it comes down to brass tacks and a scrutiny of the climax, Jazbaa is a hollow film.

Rating (out of five): **

Footnote: I didn’t notice whether they got their opening credits right, but Aishwarya’s name is misspelt – as Aishwariya – in the closing credits. Perhaps viewers will forgive this lack of finesse, I don’t know, but I’ve been a sub-editor and such carelessness just kills me.

CBFC Rating (India):

Running time:
122 minutes

Friday, October 2, 2015


Release date:
October 2, 2015

Akshay Kumar, Amy Jackson, Lara Dutta, Kay Kay Menon, Pradeep Rawat, Anil Mange, Arfi Lamba, Rati Agnihotri, Kunal Kapoor

The wisest thing to do when you make a film this silly is to flaunt your silliness with pride and not pretend to be anything else. Singh Is Bliing does precisely that.

And so, though it has the IQ of a boiled potato and a plot thinner than the slim heroine, the film gets by on the combined strength of its unabashedness, Akshay Kumar’s charisma and complete surrender to the madness of the plot, a supporting cast featuring excellent comedians – in particular Ms Lara Dutta – and situations that are funny, even if often cliched.

At the centre of it all is Raftaar Singh, an ironic choice of name since he is intellectually slow. Raftaar (Akshay) is a well-meaning buffoon in Punjab’s Bassi Pathanan village. He is spoilt by his mother (Rati Agnihotri) and constantly chided by his father for his inability to ever complete a given task. Desperate to reform him, Dad packs him off to Goa to work with an old friend.

A continent away in Romania, the villain Mark (a nicely evil Kay Kay Menon) misbehaves with Sara (Amy Jackson), daughter of a fellow arms dealer (Kunal Kapoor, yes Shashi Kapoor’s son – brief role, neat performance). Sara snubs Mark. She goes into hiding to save herself from the vengeful fellow, taking off for Goa where she hopes to also locate her estranged mother.

All this has been engineered to get Akshay and Amy into the same frame so they can sing, dance and fall in love. Along the way they encounter more villains, maa ka pyaar and endless khana-peena. The story – credited to Grazing Goat Pictures and not to an individual – is flimsy, but the film works because the narrative strings together one wacky comical episode after another.

Akshay is great with physical comedy, acting here not just with his face and voice, but with his entire body. Even in the supremely boring song Cinema dekhe mamma, his dance moves and gestures are a hoot. His willingness to make a fool of himself works well for Singh Is Bliing.

The 48-year-old oozes charm, which is a good thing because it would otherwise be impossible to accept a 54-year-old Rati playing his mother (biology is clearly not Prabhudheva’s strength). It’s also worth asking if the tremendously fit Akshay does not realise that he unwittingly emphasises his advancing years by playing the sweetheart of an actress 24 years his junior. It is a pity that his confidence in his stardom does not translate into acting with women his age.

Nevertheless, Akshay is one of this film’s biggest strengths. The other is Lara, who has been poorly served by Bollywood since she first entered films. Her penchant for comedy was evident in Housefull and even in the unsuccessful Jhoom Barabar Jhoom. Why doesn’t Hindi cinema have more to offer her? She is a riot in Singh Is Bliing, killing every scene in which she appears as Emily, an interpreter between Sara who can’t speak Hindi and Raftaar who doesn’t know English. Wish there was more of her in this film and in films in general.

Sara has very few dialogues, but the director makes up for that by letting her flying fists and agile limbs do the talking in scene after scene in which she bashes up bad guys. Good job, Amy! Quite unusually for Hindi cinema, far from seeking the hero’s protection, she protects him in one scene. The film also delivers a message – one that Akshay has been championing off screen too – that women must learn self-defence techniques. While it would be naïve to see this as an all-in-one solution, it is certainly one of many that could work together to end gender-related violence.

The positive messaging is a tiny step forward, since Akshay and Prabhu’s previous collaboration was the all-pervasively sexist, disturbingly misogynistic Rowdy Rathore. Not that Singh Is Bliing shrugs off sexism altogether. Disappointingly, the film features a stock joke about an overweight woman’s unsuitability for marriage and another about a woman with a blackened face.  

Singh Is Bliing’s songs are so-so, except for the hilarious Dil kare chu che in which the tune, lyrics, Akshay and wonderful Lara had me laughing so much that I got a stomach ache. Equally enjoyable is the later use of the song in the background score in a couple of juvenile scenes. Chu che is a fine example of intelligent stupidity – and no, that’s not a contradiction in terms.

All that being said, your ability to enjoy the film depends on your tolerance for Bollywood’s male-centricity and the industry’s Sikh cliche. Despite Amy’s fisticuffs and Lara’s talent, there is no question that Akshay is the centre of this universe. And though the jovial Sikh is a positive stereotype, it is exasperating that mainstream Hindi cinema refuses to portray members of the community as anything but jolly to the point of being OTT, breaking into Bhangra at the drop of a hat and/or deeply patriotic individuals waxing eloquent about nationalism and Sikh honour.

The world will perhaps end the day Bollywood delivers a grim, non-Bhangra-dancing, cowardly, unpatriotic, unfunny Sikh character. I wonder if the Sikh community will even want that. 

While we consider that question, there’s Singh Is Bliing. The name probably has some deep meaning in the minds of the film’s team, but to me all it is is an effort to remind us of Anees Bazmee’s Singh Is Kinng (2008) which remains one of Akshay’s biggest box-office successes till date. SIK was a more substantial, more memorable film. SIB’s lack of substance makes it forgettable, but while it lasts it is a pleasant, mostly harmless, rib-tickling, side-splitting affair.

Rating (out of five): **1/4

CBFC Rating (India):

Running time:
142 minutes

Photographs courtesy: 
(1) Poster & Chu che still:
(2) Picture of Akshay & Prabhudheva: Sterling Communications