Lost is a fitting title for Yami Gautam’s latest drama, because that’s how I felt when the movie was over.
Gautam plays Vidhi, an investigative journalist in Kolkata who stumbles onto a story when she meets Namita (Honey Jain) at a police station. Namita’s brother Ishan (Tushar Pandey) — a street performer who produces plays about Dalit rights — has been missing for two weeks. His disappearance came during a rough patch with his girlfriend Ankita (Piaa Bajpai), a news anchor who recently accepted a job and an apartment from politician Ranjan Varman (Rahul Khanna). But Ankita never reported Ishan missing.
Before Vidhi can dig in to the disappearance, a story is leaked that Ishan is involved with a Maoist group accused of terrorism. With Ankita refusing to answer her phone calls, Vidhi figures she might as well seek out the Maoist leader to confirm or deny Ishan’s involvement.
Lost is a very busy film. It speed-runs a plot that is dense with details but light on character motivation and devoid of atmosphere. Calling it a thriller is being extremely generous, since it lacks any tension whatsoever.
The only scenes that are allowed to breathe are between Vidhi and her grandfather Nanu (Pankaj Kapur), with whom she lives. She bounces ideas about the case off of him and he tries to pretend that he’s not worried about her safety, despite noticing two creeps taking photos of their house. The two actors have an easy rapport that helps regulate the story’s pace.
One way to improve Lost would have been to have Kapur play Vidhi’s father, and to eliminate her parents from the story entirely. Their absence could’ve freed up time for plot development elsewhere. Besides, Kapur is only thirty-four years older than Gautam, and the actors cast to play her parents are styled to look just as old as Kapur anyway.
There’s also an under-cooked subplot with Vidhi and her long-distance boyfriend Jeet (Neil Bhoopalam), who is coming to realize that relocating to be with a woman who’s addicted to her job might not be a great idea. The only good thing to come from his involvement in the story is an early scene in a restaurant where they discuss Ishan’s case. A song plays with on-the-nose lyrics like, “The road is dark and dangerous. You might get killed.” Vidhi hears this upbeat ditty and decides it’s time to dance. For a movie that lacks subtext, this feels appropriate.
Shaandaar (“Fabulous“) is not as polished as director Vikas Bahl’s runaway hit from 2014, Queen, yet there’s plenty to like in this romantic comedy. Bahl’s unique vision warrants a viewing.
Driving to his eldest daughter’s wedding at an English palace, Bipin (Pankaj Kapur) literally runs into a haughty motorcyclist (played by Shahid Kapoor). They engage in a war of words, inflamed by the googly eyes the biker makes at Bipin’s younger daughter, Alia (Alia Bhatt).
Bipin is dismayed when the biker turns out to be the family’s wedding coordinator, Jagjinder Joginder. Jagjinder immediately charms the bride-to-be, Isha (Sanah Kapoor), and her tough-as-nails grandmother (Sushma Seth).
As if the troublesome wedding coordinator weren’t bad enough, Bipin’s future in-laws — the Fundwanis — are a bunch of tacky boors. The groom-to-be, Robin (Vikas Verma), is a musclebound narcissist who shows up to his own wedding shirtless.
Shaandaar has a number of selling points. The relationship Bipin shares with his daughters is warm, though he’s particularly fond of Alia, whom he adopted as a little girl. Alia and Isha are protective of one another, especially since Isha’s mother and grandmother are quick to remind Alia that she is not Bipin’s biological child.
Alia and Shahid make a fun and attractive couple. Though both of their characters are precocious, Alia’s eyes twinkle with a particular mischievousness. Their frequent daydreams manifest in the form of flashbacks and hallucinations. When Jagjinder first sees Alia, he’s so smitten that he sees the dragonflies embroidered on her sweater take flight and swarm colorfully about her.
Some of the film’s flashbacks are animated, with Naseeruddin Shah on voiceover duty. The very opening to Shaandaar is a cartoon retelling of Alia’s adoption that explains the tension within the family. Though clever, the sequence is overly long.
That’s perhaps Shaandaar‘s single biggest problem: it’s too long. There are a number of scenes that should have been cut, since they fail to advance the plot or tell us anything about the characters that we don’t already know.
On a couple of occasions, the film’s negative characters — like Grandma, Robin, and Harry Fundwani (Sanjay Kapoor) — use offensive insults. For example, Harry asks a squinting Jagjinder if he is Chinese. The use of these insults is supposed to reflect poorly upon the speaker, but there’s ample evidence that the villains are the villains. The movie doesn’t need to trade in harmful stereotypes in order to establish that.
Robin’s character is the most offensive. His whole storyline is that he doesn’t want to marry Isha because she is overweight, and he makes sure that everyone knows that he finds her unappealing. While Isha has a moment of triumph later in the film, it feels as though it comes at too high a cost.
In fact, it’s time to retire the trope that marrying an overweight woman is a form of punishment. Movies like Dum Laga Ke Haisha and even Shaandaar empower their female characters, but too often the trope is used as a punchline. Akshay Kumar’s character in Singh Is Bliing flees the state rather than marry a heavy woman. It’s a tired plot device. Bollywood storytellers need to find a new reason for male characters not to want to marry female characters, preferably one that doesn’t have to do with the female characters’ looks.
As narrowly defined by her appearance as her character is, Sanah Kapoor is really terrific as Isha. Sanah comes across naturally, despite this being her first film. Perhaps acting alongside her brother (Shahid) and father (Pankaj) helped evoke such a comfortable, charming performance.
Another highlight of Shaandaar is the choreography by Bosco-Caesar that accompanies Amit Trivedi’s catchy tunes. It’s hard to resist dancing along to “Shaam Shaandaar” and “Gulaabo.”
Shaandaar warrants a special warning for international viewers like myself. The movie is less accessible than other mainstream Hindi films. From a practical standpoint, the English subtitles appear on screen in a white font with no drop-shadow, rendering them invisible against light backgrounds. When the characters speak in English, the words spoken are often different from those written in the subtitles.
There are additional problems from a contextual standpoint. Harry — the head of the Fundwani family — talks incessantly about his status as a “Sindhi” ambassador and his feeling that every person of repute is a “Sindhi.” The significance of being a Sindhi isn’t explained at all, which is frustrating, because this is all Harry ever talks about.
Because of Shaandaar‘s flaws, it can’t be called a complete success. It fulfills genre obligations by being both funny and romantic, but it’s definitely not a movie for everyone. Still, it doesn’t look like any other romantic comedies out there, and it deserves accolades for that. If only more filmmakers were as ambitious as Vikas Bahl.
“No one deserves an incomplete love story.” Finding Fanny humorously and thoughtfully explores the ways that waiting for an answer suspends us in time.
The above quote is spoken by the film’s narrator, Angie (Deepika Padukone), a 26-year-old widow living in Pocolim, a tiny town in Goa. Life’s forward progress stopped for Angie when her husband (Ranveer Singh) choked to death on their wedding cake, though she’s serene about her situation. She lives with her mother-in-law, Rosie (Dimple Kapadia), the queen bee of Pocolim.
Angie’s best friend is Ferdie (Naseeruddin Shah), the town’s mailman. His forward progress stopped forty-six years ago when he wrote a letter proposing marriage to a girl named Fanny Fernandez, but never received a response. He’s the only boy in the church choir with white hair.
One night, the letter Ferdie mailed to Fanny is slipped under his door, unopened and undelivered. Angie organizes a trip to help Ferdie find Fanny and discover what her answer would have been. She enlists the help of her mother-in-law, her recently returned childhood sweetheart, Savio (Arjun Kapoor), and Don Pedro, (Pankaj Kapur), a visiting artist obsessed with voluptuous Rosie and owner of the town’s only car.
Of course the brief road trip winds up far more complicated than expected, and tensions flare within the group. Ferdie reveals to Savio the reason why his formerly close friendship with Rosie ended, and Savio fights with Angie about what would’ve happened had he married her instead. Don Pedro’s lecherous ogling of Rosie doesn’t help matters.
Finding Fanny is a beautiful looking film, thanks to cinematographer Anil Mehta. There are lots of wonderful individual shots — Angie’s face as she stares pensively out the open car window, for example — as well as wide shots showing the vastness of the world outside of Pocolim that never before interested Rosie, Ferdie, or Angie. The visual beauty is enhanced by Mathias Duplessy’s vibrant score.
The actors keep their performances subdued. Much is communicated non-verbally, especially by the expressive faces of Padukone and Shah. At the same time, the characters are all funny, none more so than Kapadia’s Rosie. The members of the traveling party are eccentrics, not outrageous goofballs or weirdos.
The glaring exception to the subtly rule is a Russian man who now owns Fanny’s childhood home. His delivery is so loud and exaggerated in comparison to the other performances that it feels out-of-place.
Perhaps the film’s biggest fault lies in the development of Angie’s character (though that’s not a slight on Padukone’s terrific portrayal). It’s obvious what every other character wants: Savio wants Angie; Don Pedro wants Rosie; Ferdie wants the Fanny of his memories; and Rosie wants to live a dignified life that she controls.
It’s never clear what Angie wants, other than to reunite Ferdie with Fanny. She speaks in important-sounding vagaries that don’t really mean anything. Is the point that she’s still too young to know what she wants? That we should be at peace with what we have? I was never sure. That’s a letdown for a character who’s not only the film’s narrator, but also the most important person in the lives of Ferdie, Rosie, and Savio.
Still, Finding Fanny is one of the more intriguing movies to come out of Bollywood this year. The fact that the dialogue is in English just adds to the intrigue. It’s unique, enjoyable, and worth a watch.
In my attempt to find the best way to explain why I like an unconventional movie like Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola as much as I do, I found my answer in my review of director Vishal Bhardwaj’s previous effort, the magnificent 7 Khoon Maaf:
“7 Khoon Maaf is an all-or-nothing film. It either works for you or it doesn’t. Its strangeness will be a turn-off for some viewers, while others will lament a lack of explosive action scenes. But, if you’re in the mood for something a little different, beware: Susanna might just steal your heart.”
I feel the same way about Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola (MKBKM, henceforth). I love it, but I understand why some people won’t. It’s a slow burn, with characters that are hard to pin down and a few odd elements that have to be accepted on faith rather than understood with reason. I think it’s fabulous.
The plot of MKBKM is the opposite of high-concept. In short, the story is about a wealthy man’s attempt to convert his land and the small village that sits on it into a massive factory, shopping mall, and apartment complex. Naturally, the villagers object to the plan, as do the man’s servants, his daughter, and strangely enough, the man himself.
See, the rich man, Mandola (Pankaj Kapur) has a dual personality: he’s a ruthless, ambitious tycoon in the sober light of day, and a populist by night, once he starts drinking. His handler, Matru (Imran Khan), is supposed to keep Mandola away from liquor. But Matru has little incentive to do so, as Mandola is a nicer guy when he’s drunk. Early in the film, an inebriated Mandola leads the villagers in a protest outside the gates of his own mansion, until he sobers up and realizes what he’s doing.
Mandola wants the factory in part to woo a fetching government minister, Chaudhari Devi (Shabana Azmi), and also to secure a prosperous future for his only daughter, Bijlee (Anushka Sharma). He’s gone so far as to get Bijlee engaged to the minister’s son, Baadal (Arya Babbar), who, Matru repeatedly reminds Bijlee, is an idiot. Matru and Bijlee are, of course, a far more appropriate couple, despite their differences in economic class.
Bhardwaj includes a number of quirky elements in the film to elevate it beyond a simple parable about the dangers of progress at any cost. A scene in which Mandola confirms his plans with Chaudhari explicitly evokes images of the witches in Macbeth and takes place amid ruins on a hilltop reminiscent of Weathertop in The Fellowship of the Ring.
Promos for MKBKM featured one of the recurring visual themes: a life-sized hot pink buffalo that Mandola sees whenever his longing for his beloved liquor becomes too strong.
My favorite oddball touch is the way Bhardwaj deals with something that would’ve been a throw-away gag in any other movie. When Baadal first sees Bijlee in the movie, he’s accompanied by an African folk dance group that he purchased in an attempt to impress her. Rather than just disappear after the joke is over, the folk group remains through the rest of the film. They take over a room in Mandola’s mansion, join in dance numbers, and protest alongside the villagers.
That detail alone makes the movie for me. What else would one expect to happen to a foreign dance group transported to rural India? Bhardwaj — who co-wrote the screenplay with Abhishek Chaubey — takes a practical problem and turns it to his advantage.
The performances are great throughout: Pankaj Kapur growls his way through his dialog as cantankerous Mandola; Anushka Sharma is as spunky and lovable as ever; Azmi and Babbar are appropriately diabolical; and Imran Khan is clever and sexy as a budding revolutionary, whose sidekicks include an old man, a blind preteen, and a transvestite.
Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola is a must see. Even if you don’t love it, you won’t see anything else quite like it.
The program begins on Friday night, October 7, with a gala presentation of Mausam. Director Pankaj Kapur will be in attendance, and the ticket price includes admission to an after-party following the movie. (I speak from experience that movie goers will likely need a drink after sitting through Mausam.)
Perhaps the real highlight of the event is the world premiere of Kshay (“Corrode”) the following night. This independent Hindi film follows a woman’s obsession with a statue of the goddess Lakshmi.
Members of Kshay‘s cast and crew will be on hand for all three of the film’s festival screenings, including director Karan Gour, a nominee in the New Directors competition. Gour will also participate in a free panel discussion on Monday titled “Beyond Bollywood,” highlighting India’s emerging independent film market.
If you plan on attending Saturday night’s premiere, arrive at least fifteen minutes early to enjoy a live performance of portions of the film’s score by a sextet of Chicago musicians.
Another festival entrant from India, Patang, has an interesting Chicago connection. Director Prashant Bhargava was born and raised on Chicago’s South Side, but chose to film his first feature entirely in Ahmedabad. Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert wrote a blog post about the movie and his decades-long friendship with Bhargava’s father, Vijay.
In the film industry, a “logline” is a single sentence that summarizes a movie’s plot. It’s an effective way to pique an audience’s interest or pitch a story to investors. Take Die Hard, for example: A cop’s attempt to reconcile with his ex-wife is derailed when her office building is taken over by terrorists.
Loglines aren’t unique to Hollywood; many great Indian movies can be succinctly summarized as well. Chak De India: The Indian Women’s Field Hockey team must overcome their own internal struggles before they can take on the rest of the world.
I’ve tried to craft a logline for Mausam, and I can’t do it. I don’t know what Mausam is about. Okay, I obviously know that it’s about two young people whose fondness for each other spans decades. So what?
In my example loglines for Die Hard and Chak De India, the conflicts that fuel the plots of both films are contained within the sentences. John McClane is at odds with both his ex-wife and the terrorists. The women’s hockey team fights internal and external battles.
Mausam‘s biggest problem is that it has no conflict. There’s no reason why the lead characters, Harry (Shahid Kapoor) and Aayat (Sonam Kapoor), can’t be together. Their parents don’t object, they’re not engaged to other people, they’re not driven apart by war or culture. Rather, their budding romance is stymied by minor obstacles and a lack of communication.
Harry and Aayat begin falling for one another in Harry’s village in Punjab, where Aayat has moved to escape violent riots in Kashmir. Then Aayat leaves in the middle of the night, without so much as leaving a note for Harry.
Seven years later (in 1999), Aayat and Harry meet again in Scotland. Actually, she spots him first but doesn’t say anything. She waits for him to notice her among all the women in Edinburgh, even though he has no reason to suspect she’d be there.
Her explanation for why she fled so suddenly years earlier? Her dad phoned and asked her to join him in Mumbai. No emergency, and she wasn’t in danger, she just moved house in the matter of a few hours on a moment’s notice.
The couple appear to be on their way to marriage when, this time, Harry is abruptly called away without time to contact Aayat.
Aayat’s excuse for not contacting Harry is difficult to believe, but Harry has no excuse at all. He has Aayat’s cell phone number, her home phone number and her home address. Rather than call Aayat to tell her why he had to leave, he phones his sister in Switzerland and tells her to go to Scotland (without calling first) and meet Aayat in person to explain what happened. Of course, Aayat has herself moved to parts unknown by then.
Harry and Aayat meet several times in subsequent years before they finally commit to a future together during a preposterous action-packed climax. The finale is so stupid, I laughed out loud.
What makes the silliness of actor Pankaj Kapur’s directorial debut such a shame is that Mausam is a great-looking movie. Harry’s hometown is a charming village out of time. There are a number of breathtaking set pieces, as when Harry races on his bicycle to catch Aayat’s departing train. Closeups of Sonam Kapoor — who’s plenty cute on her own — make her look angelic.
Kapur might yet have great success as a director, so long as someone else writes the screenplay.
Another problem that will only affect international audiences is that Mausam‘s English subtitles are translated too literally, something that doesn’t work given the different sentence structures of Hindi and English. Consequently, the jokes aren’t funny, and one must spend so much mental energy reconstructing the words into meaningful sentences that it distracts from the action on screen.
Overall, Mausam proves that style doesn’t trump substance. As gorgeous as it looks, Mausam is too boring and silly to warrant the nearly three hours of attention it requires.