Tag Archives: Prateik Babbar

Movie Review: Cobalt Blue (2022)

1.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Authors don’t often direct the movie versions of their books, and perhaps with good reason. The Netflix Original film Cobalt Blue — based on a novel written by Sachin Kundalkar, who also directed the movie — could have benefited from an outsider’s perspective.

The story takes place in 1996 in Kerala. Literature student Tanay (Neelay Mehendale) lives with his grandparents, parents, brother Aseem (Anant V Joshi), and sister Anuja (Anjali Sivaraman). When the grandparents die, Tanay’s parents rent their vacant room to a paying guest, who is never named (played by Prateik Babbar).

The Guest is an artsy beefcake, prone to shirtlessness. His looks draw the admiration of Anuja and the other young women in the neighborhood, as well as Tanay. The Guest correctly interprets Tanay’s constant hovering as romantic interest, and the two have sex. Tanay is in love, but the Guest is coy about his feelings.

Meanwhile, Tanay’s parents are trying to find a groom for tomboy Anuja. She wants to take her field hockey career to the next level, but her parents insist that she start looking and acting like their idea of a proper lady.

While I’ve not read the book on which Cobalt Blue is based, I suspect much of the dialogue is taken directly from it, because it sounds like dialogue written to be read, and not actually spoken. Few of the conversations in the film actually sound conversational. Most lines are delivered with flat affect and punctuated with unnatural dramatic pauses.

The performances across the board are quite stiff, but none more so than that by Mehendale as Tanay. His posture and gait are so rigid as to make Buckingham Palace guards look relaxed by comparison. On top of that, some of his facial expressions — especially in the final shot of the film — are plain odd.

This is Mehendale’s first film, but his inexperience isn’t solely to blame for his awkward performance. That’s on the director, who should have given him better guidance. Kundalkar himself is not new behind the camera, with eight Marathi and Hindi films under his belt before this one.

Considering that Kundalkar wrote the book on which this movie based and adapted the screenplay himself, it’s reasonable to conclude that this is precisely the film he wanted to make. But its flaws feel like issues that could have been rectified by someone with a fresh perspective — someone who hasn’t had these characters in his head for more than two decades. The film has interesting things to say about the loneliness of being gay in a time before widespread internet access. The story isn’t the problem, just the way it’s presented.


Movie Review: Dum Maaro Dum (2011)

1 Star (out of 4)

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Copious amounts of sex, drugs, rock n’ roll, fights, chases and torture fail to liven up the dull and disorganized Dum Maaro Dum.

An opening shot of a dead body, accompanied by a voiceover by Abhishek Bachchan about the deadly drug trade in Goa, suggest a riveting tale of murder and corruption in a beachfront paradise. As soon as the opening credits finish, boredom sets in.

The movie is immediately mired in the backstory of one of the side characters, a teen named Lorry (Prateik Babbar). Lorry can’t afford to join his girlfriend at college in America, so he accepts a job as a drug mule, in order to earn the money for tuition. What I just summarized in one sentence takes up 25 minutes of screentime.

Twitchy-looking Lorry gets busted at the Goa airport by Kamath (Bachchan), a formerly corrupt vice cop trying to redeem himself after the accidental deaths of his wife and son. Kamath sends Lorry to jail, but the kid won’t reveal the whereabouts of the mysterious drug kingpin “Michael Barbosa.”

Kamath gets help from a musician name Joki (Rana Daggubati) in exchange for leniency for Lorry. Joki’s ex-girlfriend, Zoe (Bipasha Basu), is currently seeing another major drug dealer, Lorsa Biscuta (Aditya Pancholi). If anyone knows where Barbosa is, it’s Biscuta.

The plot isn’t nearly as straightforward as the above recap. There are flashbacks to pointless backstory, which prevents giving the characters enough time to grow (and grow on us) as events unfold in the modern-day.

This presents a serious problem, as Kamath — the presumptive, though not explicitly defined, lead character — is a monster. In addition to Kamath’s corrupt past and his penchant for beating up suspects, he sodomizes a drug runner with a pistol in order to make the guy confess. The movie’s villains may rack up a higher body count, but Kamath’s methods are more brutal and vile.

Substituting backstory for character development brings the action of the film to a crawl. Boring exposition about events not germane to the current situation is punctuated by party scenes, sex scenes and fight scenes. If you spend most of the film rudely texting on your cell phone, only to look up when the music cues something exciting on-screen, you might be fooled into thinking Dum Maaro Dum is an exciting movie.

The climax of the movie is actually pretty clever — so much so that the producers canceled the gala premiere in order to preserve the secret ending. But it seems as though writer Shridhar Raghavan started with the climax and struggled to craft the story that leads up to it.

Perhaps the poster tells us everything we need to know about Dum Maaro Dum. The poster features the svelte torso of Deepika Padukone, who makes a special appearance in a performance of the title track. Padukone is onscreen for all of five minutes, in a dance number that happens one hour and 45 minutes into the film. It is the best part of the movie.


Movie Review: Dhobi Ghat (2011)

4 Stars (out of 4)

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I live in a busy Chicago suburb with 150,000 residents. Despite living in a condominium building with several other families, I can go days without talking to anyone besides my husband. I see the UPS delivery man more often than my friends, who are scattered across the metro area.

This is the type of modern, urban isolation that writer-director Kiran Rao captures in her debut effort, Dhobi Ghat (Mumbai Diaries). All four of Dhobi Ghat‘s main characters are, in their own ways, isolated, despite living in crowded Mumbai.

Rather than impose a convenient narrative upon the four lead characters, Rao’s plot drops in on them during a specific period in their lives and leaves before delivering a tidy ending. It feels more like a documentary than a fictional film.

Adding to the documentary feel, the film opens with home movie footage shot from the backseat of a taxi, by a woman we later learn is Yasmin (Kriti Malhotra). Having recently moved to Mumbai after getting married, she records mundane scenes from her new life to send to her brother back home.

Brooding artist Arun (Aamir Khan) finds some of Yasmin’s video letters and forms something of an obsession with the woman on the tapes. His video obsession is more convenient than a relationship with a real woman, such as American investment banker Shai (Monica Dogra), who’s herself a bit obsessed with Arun.

Shai befriends the young man who does her laundry, aspiring actor Mannu (Prateik Babbar). Mannu, who also does Arun’s laundry, quickly develops a crush on Shai.

There’s an emotional distance between all of the characters, and Rao uses the camera to emphasize it. The characters are shown through windows or through the lens of amateur photographer Shai’s camera. Their reactions are captured in the reflections of mirrors.

The relationship between Shai and Mannu is the most interesting. How deep can their friendship be when he works for her? Is he really her peer? Shai doesn’t give it much thought. Mannu does.

Prateik Babbar is perfect as Mannu: a handsome guy whose shy nature and low social rank have made him incongruously meek. Khan, Dogra and Malhotra are compelling as the other leads, making as much out of their silent moments as they do out of their dialog.

Dhobi Ghat is a remarkably quiet movie. Not exactly quiet, but absent most of the usual sound effects and musical score. Much of the background noise is provided by urban sounds: rain, traffic, old movie music played on a record player in a nearby apartment.

Mumbai itself has a starring role in Dhobi Ghat. The film is shot in locations around the city, not on movie sets. There’s no attempt to hide Mumbai’s flaws, which serve to make the city more appealing and familiar, even to one who’s never been there.

Aamir Khan used his star power to force Indian multiplexes to show Dhobi Ghat without the usual intermission break. It may have cost the theaters some concession sales, but it allowed the movie to flow for its entire 100 minute runtime. An interval would broken the movie’s spell.

Should Dhobi Ghat succeed at the box office, it could persuade more Indian filmmakers to craft shorter films meant to be viewed in one sitting. Rao’s economy of characters, plot and runtime demonstrate how less can often be much more.