Tag Archives: Namit Das

Movie Review: Pataakha (2018)

3 Stars (out of 4)

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Director Vishal Bhardwaj is a master world-builder, designing rich spaces for his characters to inhabit and filling them with evocative music of his own creation. Pataakha (“Firecracker“) is the latest example of Bhardwaj’s formidable skill.

Based on the short story Do Behnein (“Two Sisters“) by Charan Singh Pathik, Pataakha‘s plot is simple. Badki (Radhika Madan) and her younger sister Chhutki (Sanya Malhotra) are constantly at war, each blaming the other for her sorry lot in life. But when they set out to achieve their dreams independently, they discover they need each other more than they thought.

The tale feels like a familiar parable, something one might expect to find in a storybook for children, were it not for all the swearing and fighting. Badki and Chhutki are their small Rajasthani town’s source of entertainment, their curse-filled brawls drawing enthusiastic crowds. Every fight ends with the girls’ father, Bechara Bapu (Vijay Raaz), dragging his daughters home — but not before getting battered in the melee himself.

Adding to Pataakha‘s folkloric feeling is the presence of a trickster character, an itinerant jack-of-all trades named Dipper (Sunil Grover), whose joy in life is instigating fights between the sisters. He snitches on them to each other, and he invents conflict when things are too peaceful. When Badki and Chhutki get boyfriends — Jagan (Namit Das) and Vishnu (Abhishek Duhan), respectively — it gives Dipper more fuel to stoke the fires of war.

Bhardwaj is clearly fond of both the character of Dipper and the actor who plays him. This may be more perception than reality, but it’s almost like Grover’s face is in sharper focus than the other actors’ — and it certainly seems like he gets more closeups. Whether that’s true or not, my attention always gravitated toward Dipper, just to see what he was going to do or how he would react, no matter what other chaos was happening on screen.

For so much attention to be given to a secondary character — as delightful as he is — hints at Pataakha‘s biggest problem: there isn’t enough material to warrant a full-length feature film. Trimming the runtime by thirty minutes would’ve been a start, but Pataakha‘s story would feel most at home as part of a collection of short stories.

It’s by the strength of Bhardwaj’s world-building and the performances he gets from his actors that Pataakha is as enjoyable as it is. Raaz is charming as the girls’ flawed father, who lectures them on the dangers of smoking by showing them the warnings on a half-empty packet of cigarettes he pulls from his own pocket. Madan and Malhotra give it their all in what must have been a fun but exhausting shoot, spending most of their screentime fighting, screaming, and crying as they do. Das and Duhan are solid in their supporting roles.

The movie’s showstopping item number, “Hello Hello,” is another highlight. Written by Bhardwaj and performed by his wife, Rekha, the sexy song is brought to life by the incomparable Malaika Arora. Unlike many lesser item numbers, cinematographer Ranjan Palit keeps his camera a respectful distance from Arora, without zooming in on particular body parts. This is not just a matter of decency but an acknowledgement that, when Arora dances, you need to see her from head to toe.

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Movie Review: Ankhon Dekhi (2014)

AnkhonDekhi4 Stars (out of 4)

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“I don’t think we should look for messages in films,” said filmmaker Rajat Kapoor at the Chicago South Asian Film Festival press conference this past weekend. “It’s reductionist.” Such a sentiment suits Kapoor’s movie Ankhon Dekhi (“Through My Own Eyes“), which closed the 2014 festival. It’s a film that is at its most moving when it is simply experienced.

Veteran character actor Sanjay Mishra plays Raje, a middle-aged man with a comfortable life and a family he loves. He lives in a small flat in Delhi with his own wife and kids, plus his younger brother, Rishi (Kapoor), Rishi’s wife, and their son.

When the gossipy priest’s son exposes Raje’s daughter Rita’s (Maya Sarao) romantic relationship with Ajju (Namit Das), Raje meets the boyfriend to see if he’s as much of a lout as everyone says he is. Raje discovers that Ajju is a harmless puppy dog of a man. This causes Raje to commit himself to only trusting that which he sees for himself.

This new governing principle makes it hard for Raje to continue working as a travel agent. How can he tell a customer how long a flight to a foreign country will take when he’s never made the trip himself? Worse, Raje’s new way of operating creates a rift between him and Rishi.

Ankhon Dekhi doesn’t attempt to make sweeping philosophical statements through Raje’s choices. The characters discuss broad issues, such as the aspects of language that are more convenient than they are accurate, but Kapoor avoids tying up the narrative with a tidy moral lesson.

Instead, the movie feels like a window into Raje’s life for a short period of time. We see how his values affect his family and how they influence his neighbors. He gains a loyal following at the barbershop, and his acolytes sometimes take his ideas to ridiculous extremes.

There are breathtaking moments in Ankhon Dekhi, when the cast and crew function in complete harmony. Look around in busy scenes such as when Raje holds court in his living room and notice how perfectly every supporting actor is executing his or her role. The acolytes listen to Raje attentively; Rita listens disinterestedly; Raje’s wife (Seema Pahwa) frustratedly tries to do her chores with a house full of people.

Such scenes highlight just how hard it is to make a really good movie. The right actors need to be cast. They need to have clear motivation in every scene, no matter how small their roles are. The director has to get the technical aspects of the shot just right.

There are many such perfect scenes in Ankhon Dekhi. It’s a remarkable achievement for Kapoor, who wrote the film, in addition to directing and acting in it. It’s impossible to imagine anyone executing the role of Raje better than Mishra. Ankhon Dekhi is a delight to watch.

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Movie Review: Ghanchakkar (2013)

Ghanchakkar-poster3 Stars (out of 4)

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Would the presence of gun-toting goons really make it easier to remember a critical piece of information? Probably not, yet that’s the situation in which Emraan Hashmi’s character finds himself in Ghanchakkar.

Hashmi plays Sanju, a safe-cracker happily retired from his life of crime. An associate passes his name along to a pair of crooks — Pandit (Rajesh Sharma) and Idris (Namit Das) — who offer to make Sanju rich with “one last job.” Sanju’s tacky, fashion-victim wife, Neetu (Vidya Balan), encourages him to take the job so that they can buy a nice apartment and a big-screen TV. The TV sells Sanju on the idea.

The bank robbery scene is hilarious thanks to some masterful camerawork that makes the most of the celebrity masks the crooks are wearing. Following the heist, the Pandit tells Sanju to stash the money until the police give up on their investigation.

When Pandit and Idris come to collect their share of the loot three months later, Sanju claims that he doesn’t recognize them and that he doesn’t remember hiding any money. Both Neetu and Sanju’s doctor confirm that he had an accident that caused “anteretrograde amnesia.” Sanju can remember things from before the heist, but he has trouble recalling anything since then.

Since Sanju’s accident isn’t shown on screen, the audience is put in the same position as Pandit and Idris: we have to take Sanju’s word that it actually happened. Hot-tempered Idris would just as soon kill Sanju, but Pandit has the two of them move in with the couple so that they can keep and eye on Sanju and help him remember where he hid their money.

The performances by the main cast members are terrific. Even though there’s a chance that Sanju could be faking his amnesia — duping the audience as well as Pandit and Idris — Hashmi makes Sanju so sympathetic that we want to believe him. As the pressure mounts and the film’s tone changes from comical to serious, Sanju’s manners and appearance grow wilder. His grim, wordless performance during a song montage just before the climax is captivating.

Balan gets to have fun as Neetu. The character’s gaudy, trendy outfits are hysterical, as are her mood swings. She’s so self-interested that it’s distinctly possible she’s taking advantage of Sanju’s memory loss. And the movie’s best fight scene is when Neetu attacks her unwanted houseguests with a broom.

Sharma and Das are great as Pandit and Idris, respectively. They’re not menacing enough to seem like real threats to the married couple, though there’s always the chance Idris could act impulsively without Pandit’s calming influence.

What keeps Ghanchakkar from achieving greatness is an ending that feels too convenient. There’s no sense of inevitability, a feeling of the pieces falling into place. The movie highlights many circumstances that could be either coincidences or evidence of a conspiracy, but it never really resolves which is which.

Further, the movie plays loose with Sanju’s amnesia. While it’s clear that he remembers who he is (unlike with retrograde amnesia), the doctor says that Sanju’s memory could disappear completely at any time, without provocation. Since he’s been fine in the three months since his accident, that seems unrealistic.

There are also a number of scenes in which Sanju takes pills for his memory loss. What are they supposed to do? Cure it? Stabilize the memories he has? If his entire memory could fail him at any time, why bother with the pills? By giving Sanju’s memory loss such wide parameters, it seems less like a legitimate problem and more like a convenient plot device.

Quibbles aside, Ghanchakkar is funny and smart and features some top-notch acting. It’s worth checking out if you’re in the mood for something a little quirky.

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Movie Review: Wake Up Sid (2009)

wakeupsid3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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I’m always apprehensive when the lead character in Hindi film is a rich kid. In a typical masala movie, the rich kid has great-looking friends, a hot car and becomes a vice president at a huge corporation right out of college. It’s a life that many filmmakers assume that the rest of us wish we were living.

Wake Up Sid is more sophisticated than that. Although the main character, Sid, has a cool car, his life seems like that of a real person, and not some fantasy character.

As the film begins, Sid (Ranbir Kapoor) celebrates taking his final exams with his two best friends, Laxmi (Shikha Talsania) and Rishi (Namit Das). In a rare display of realism in casting, Sid’s friends — and the rest of his classmates — aren’t all potential Miss Indias or cool dudes. They look like regular college kids. Laxmi is smart but struggles with her weight, and Rishi is an average-looking guy eager to propose to his girlfriend.

While partying, Sid meets Aisha (Konkona Sen Sharma). It’s her first day in Mumbai, where she hopes to become a journalist. Sid shows her the town after agreeing that they will nothing more than friends. He bails on his job at his dad’s bathroom fixture company to help Aisha get settled in Mumbai.

Then Sid learns that he’s failed his exams, while Laxmi and Rishi have passed and graduated. He vents his anger against them and his parents as well, who kick him out of the house and cut him off financially. He moves in with Aisha, only to discover that he has no ambition and no life skills. For the first time, Sid has to learn responsibility and find a direction.

The film ends the way you expect it to, but the way it gets there is refreshing. Early in the movie, there’s little to like about Sid. He’s fun, but he’s spoiled and ungrateful. His tense relationship with his mother feels especially realistic; he’s mean to her in a way that only an angry teen (or in Sid’s case, a spoiled twenty-year-old) can be.

As his character develops, Sid learns empathy from Laxmi, the value of friendship from Rishi, and self-sufficiency from Aisha. Sid’s maturity is so stunted that he celebrates every minor step toward independence as though he just discovered electricity.

Director Ayan Mukerji is patient enough to give the audience an accurate picture of who Sid is and then takes the time to show Sid’s incremental progress, without the movie ever feeling slow. There are a few musical montages, but no unnecessary dance numbers to stop the movie’s momentum.