Tag Archives: Anurag Basu

Movie Review: Ludo (2020)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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The movie Ludo uses its namesake board game as a metaphor for life, its characters one dice roll away from fortune or ruin. Writer-director Anurag Basu’s black comedy is beautifully made and laugh-out-loud funny.

Anyone who has played the games Aggravation, Sorry!, or Trouble is familiar with how Ludo works. Players from four different colored corners of the game board roll dice, moving their pieces around the board in the hopes of being the first to get all their pieces safely “home.” Basu assigns different characters to the colored corners, and they meet up with one another throughout the story. Right at the center is Sattu Bhaiya (Pankaj Tripathi), a hard-to-kill gangster with ties to all of them.

In the red corner is Sattu’s former right-hand man Bittu (Abhishek Bachchan), fresh out of prison and eager confront his old boss. Bittu charges in after a meeting between Sattu and the yellow corner’s Akash (Aditya Roy Kapur), who needs Sattu’s help removing a sex tape from the internet. The blue corner’s Rahul (Rohit Suresh Saraf) is at Sattu’s hideout as well, having been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

An explosion sets the characters off in different directions. Rahul drives off with some of Sattu’s stolen cash and a cute, opportunistic nurse named Sheeja (Pearle Maaney). Akash also hits the road, joined by Shruti (Sanya Malhotra) the woman from the sex tape who’s due to marry someone else in a matter of days. Bittu’s plan to find a way back into the life of the wife who left him while he was in jail and the young daughter who doesn’t remember him is derailed when he meets another precocious little girl, Mini (Inayat Verma), who needs help faking her own kidnapping in order to get her distracted parents’ attention.

While all this is happening, the characters from the green corner are trying to get out of their own mess. Alu (Rajkummar Rao) has been in love with Pinky (Fatima Sana Shaikh) since childhood, although she never reciprocated his feelings. Pinky turns up with her baby to ask for Alu’s help getting her husband Manohar (Paritosh Tripathi) out of jail, where he languishes, wrongly accused of a murder committed by Sattu.

Director Basu doesn’t judge his characters for wanting what they want, even if what they want isn’t exactly good for them. Alu is the best example of this. He knows his one-sided devotion to Pinky gets him into trouble and keeps him perpetually single, but he’s miserable when she’s not around. Is it so bad for him to not want to feel awful?

Bittu’s story is the most complicated and emotional. He spent six years waiting to get back to his daughter — who was an infant when he went to prison — but she doesn’t know he exists. She thinks Bittu’s ex-wife’s new husband is her father. Spending time with Mini gives Bittu a chance to act in a fatherly role, making him question whether what he wants for himself is really what’s best for his daughter.

Bachchan’s performance when he’s playing Bittu the Gangster comes off as more pouty than menacing, but he’s terrific as Bittu the Dad. Little Inayat Verma is impossibly adorable, and she and Bachchan are so much fun together. Yet we know their relationship is only temporary. Almost all of Bittu’s options will leave him brokenhearted.

Given Pankaj Tripathi’s recent track record of stealing virtually every movie he’s in, Basu wisely put Tripathi in the middle of things from the start. His character’s introduction — dramatically exposing his inner thigh to pull a gun from a leg holster — is perfection. After the cute pairing of Bittu and Mini, Sattu is part of the film’s second best partnership. While he’s bedridden, Sattu forms a friendship with no-nonsense nurse Lata Kutty (Shalini Vatsa), one of the few people he can’t intimidate. It’s unexpected and delightful.

To keep his dark comedy from becoming too dark, Basu amplifies its other elements. Bright colors differentiate the storylines, but they also cheer up even violent scenes. Character closeups feel a little closer than normal. The excellent soundtrack and score by Pritam are prominent in the mix, setting the tone overtly. Ludo is loud, both aurally and visually, but it feels just right.

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Movie Review: Jagga Jasoos (2017)

2 Stars (out of 4)

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Jagga Jasoos is an ambitious movie that I’d love to rate more highly. There were portions of the film that I liked very much, and I appreciate the world director Anurag Basu built and the way he told his story. Yet Jagga Jasoos is bloated with material and far too long.

Jagga Jasoos opens with a framing device featuring Katrina Kaif’s character Shruti as a children’s entertainer and author of a comic book series about her friend Jagga, a teenage detective. A troop of kids under her direction reenact scenes from the comics, before the action transitions to the world of the books, starting with Jagga’s childhood and his adoption by a man he calls TutiFuti (Saswata Chatterjee, best known to Bollywood fans for playing the unassuming assassin Bob Biswas in Kahaani).

TutiFuti coaches young Jagga to sing as a way to overcome the boy’s stutter, a device that enables Jagga Jasoos to be a traditional musical, with much of the plot and dialogue sung rather than spoken. The movie is punctuated by standalone tunes to accompany dance numbers and montages, with the best of those songs being the forlorn “Phir Wahi.”

TutiFuti is called away on a secret mission by a man known as Blackmail Sinha (Shaurab Shukla), leaving Jagga to grow up alone in a boarding school. By the time he reaches his teenage years, Jagga (now played by Ranbir Kapoor) has developed a knack for solving mysteries.

He stumbles onto an arms-smuggling caper with international implications, involving a journalist — Shruti — and possibly even TutiFuti. Shruti and Jagga travel to Africa to find TutiFuti and uncover the secret mission he’s been on for so many years.

The whimsy factor is high in Jagga Jasoos, not only because of all the singing but because of a visual style reminiscent of director Wes Anderson (whom Jagga Jasoos cinematographer Ravi Varman praises in the Scroll.in interview linked to below). Basu incorporates a number of comparatively low-tech special effects — such as deliberately using obvious stock footage of African animals or showing a plane flying over a map instead of actual land — for a fresh take on retro movie-making. The modern CGI effects that aim for realism and fall short draw more attention to themselves than effects that are intentionally outmoded.

Jagga Jasoos is at its best when Jagga and Shruti are together in his hometown along the border with Myanmar. The town and school have their own charms that help to create an immersive environment. When the duo leave town, they leave that quaintness behind for a plot that is grander in scale but less engrossing.

Removing geographical boundaries frees Basu to inject untold (and unnecessary) amounts of quirkiness into the film, particularly regarding the unseen criminal mastermind Bashir Alexander. By the time Jagga and Shruti board Bashir Alexander’s personal circus train, I had reached my limit.

Disney India would’ve been better off splitting its swan song into two films, a la Baahubali, rather than making one film to serve as both a setup for a hopeful sequel and a catch-all in case box office numbers deem a sequel unwarranted. Forcing Basu to cram as many ideas as possible into one film not only inflates the runtime beyond a reasonable limit, but it cuts short plot development in favor of visual spectacle. I’m still not sure what Blackmail Sinha’s goal was or who he was working for, and the framing device isn’t well explained either. Shruti’s students sing a song about not caring about the world’s troubles because they are protected by a “sign on the door,” but it’s unclear to what they refer.

For all its ambition and innovative ideas, Jagga Jasoos isn’t the movie — or movies — it could have been.

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Movie Review: Barfi! (2012)

4 Stars (out of 4)

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Like its namesake confection, Barfi! is certainly sweet. Not a frothy sweetness but a complex one with real depth and substance. Barfi! is not to be missed.

The film defies convention yet feels familiar. Flashbacks within flashbacks within flashforwards play with typical narrative format in a way that works better than it should.

The bulk of the action alternates between two times and places — 1972 and 1978, Darjeeling and Kolkata — framed by scenes set in the present day. The film’s narrator, Shruti (Ileana D’Cruz), recalls how her life changed in 1972 when her family moved from Kolkata to Darjeeling and she met Barfi (Ranbir Kapoor).

“Barfi” is how the deaf young man pronounces his given name, Murphy, so everyone calls him by his nickname. Unemployed Barfi spends his days making mischief around town, to the consternation of police inspector Dutta (Saurabh Shukla). Though he has a crush on Shruti, Barfi settles for friendship with her, because she is engaged. The two spend their days racing bicycles and bumming rides on train cars, falling in love in the process.

In the hands of a writer-director less skilled than Anurag Basu, Barfi’s penchant for mischief could be a cheap way to substitute quirkiness for character development. That’s not the case here. Barfi acts like an overgrown child because no one expects anything from him. He’s the town’s beloved mascot, cared for by his doting father, but that’s it.

Barfi’s outsider status makes a romantic match with Shruti impossible, even if she didn’t have a perfect-on-paper fiance waiting for her back in Kolkata. There’s no way her parents would accept a deaf son-in-law, even if the reason they give is their desire to spare her from the harsh judgements of society.

Shruti herself fails Barfi’s loyalty test. She lets go of his hand and leaps from his side as a light pole falls toward them. Having doctored the light pole himself, Barfi knows they were never in any danger. Like others before her, Shruti abandoned Barfi at the first sign of danger.

The one person to pass the loyalty test is Jhilmil (Priyanka Chopra), the autistic granddaughter of a wealthy local man. Having spent most of her childhood at a sanitarium — so as not to embarrass her snooty parents — she’s summoned to the side of her ailing grandfather. Barfi’s father is the grandfather’s driver, and Barfi and Jhilmil were childhood friends.

Jhilmil’s parents are no less embarrassed by their now-adult daughter when she returns. Jhilmil shuns almost all physical contact, screams and panics when she gets mud on her shoes, and loudly sings along with the band at a society party. The only person in Darjeeling who warms to Jhilmil is Barfi. Caring for her gives him purpose, and he provides her with a sense of security.

These themes — security and purpose — are universal, and those are the main challenges for Barfi and Jhilmil, not their special needs. Basu writes the characters as real people, not as a collection of physical and mental issues to be triumphed over. Shruti — the “normal” character among the three — is actually the most flawed, in that she lacks courage.

D’Cruz, an actress who has predominantly worked in Telugu films thus far, is a fine avatar for the audience. She nicely portrays the conflict inside Shruti, who would like to follow her heart but lacks the will to do it.

Ranbir Kapoor is the only actor who could have played Barfi. He has great physicality, both in scenes where he runs from Inspector Dutta (Saurabh Shukla is also great in the film) and where he bares his soul to Shruti using only gestures, no words. Kapoor makes Barfi more than just a lovable rascal.

But the standout performance in the film is by Priyanka Chopra. I’ve long appreciated the risks she takes in the roles she chooses, even if they don’t always work out. Playing an autistic woman could have gone poorly, but Chopra is perfect.

Like Kapoor, Chopra has very little dialog in the film. Jhilmil spends most of the time staring at the ground or observing the action around her, yet Chopra makes it easy to read Jhilmil’s emotions. Chopra’s depiction of autistic characteristics is accurate and respectful. Despite having a condition that makes forming emotional connections with other people difficult, there’s a lot to love about Jhilmil.

Other things to love about Barfi! include the beautiful scenery and music. Transitions between scenes are frequently accomplished by a pan over the silhouettes of three musicians — a guitarist, a violinist, and an accordion player — who seem to follow the characters everywhere.

Barfi! is a really special film. I laughed out loud, I cried, and I would happily watch it again tomorrow.

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