Peter_Young

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Reviews

Drishyam
(2015)

A great leading man for a taut, impressively complicated script
Okay, without further ado - this is a phenomenally entertaining film. The script is so well constructed that once it enters the suspense zone, there's no looking back. Yes, the film takes some time to pick up so as to provide some background of the characters and establish some familiarity with their everyday life, but when it gets past that, it's one hell of a ride.

I'm sure the scenes with the guy who comes to visit with the phone in his hands and the mother and daughter's pleas to take mercy on them will throw some people off. In many ways this scene seems to be taken right from a primitive masala film of the 1980s. It takes great cultural perspective to understand this sentiment if you are removed from that mindset.

But once it's done, the film is a treat all through. The proceedings, turns and twists are absolutely fun to watch and there's hardly a dull moment after some point. Yes, there are some exaggerations here and there, and some of the slow-motion sequences are amusing as is some of the scores, but everything is within context and these do not damage the overall product.

Ajay Devgan, as always, is tremendous. Credible, real, charismatic and enjoyably subdued in his mission. Shriya Saran is stunningly beautiful as his wife. Tabu is always a great addition and when she gets a role like this one, which she shows to be equally good at, she is a delight. Drishyam is fantastic suspense thriller and quite an intriguing and thought-provoking watch.

Lakshmi
(2014)

Tough viewing, horrid, and not a perfect film, but also quite inspiring
Lakshmi is the story of titular character played by Monali Thakur, a 14-year-old girl who is abducted and sold trafficked into prostitution in a Hyderabadi brothel. The film is a harrowing account of the exploitation of young girls into prostitution. The portrayal of the brothel is an antithesis of the countless romanticised stories of what popular Hindi cinema used to show as courtesans, who dance and sing and who are overall very stereotypical filmi figures the kind of which you won't see here. The brothel is very much a real place which gathers some demonic humans who mercilessly trade young girls' bodies. The main madame, played by Shefali Shah, is testament to that, as she is a real person, who is cruel and kind in equal doses. She can be loving and caring one moment, and absolutely wicked and vicious the next, because that's what the job calls for, and she has a young daughter whose future depends on this very job. She is a very effective manager, as terrifying as it may sound, and Shah is brilliant in this difficult role, as usual.

Lakshmi is directed by Nagesh Kukunoor, who also plays the cruel trader and head of the brothel, along with his elder brother, Reddy, played by the great Satish Kaushik in a role that epitomises a wolf in sheep's clothing. Kukunoor does his best to give the brothel a horrific feel of authenticity, but while it could be mistaken as a realistic portrayal, it is much subtler than one would expect. The tough viewing is more due to the story itself, the characters and the dialogue, but the film remains quite clean and spares the viewers the horrid, disturbing pictures of films like, say, Bandit Queen. More than anything, the story takes a cathartic turn of events somewhere post interval where it turns into a standard courtroom drama which sadly isn't the most convincing you'll see. I think Kukunoor, being the director he is, could have done a better job with the material. The title character is played by the well-known singer. She does really well playing the girl's innocence and does look the part even if not exactly so young. The film is a good watch.

The Fame Game
(2022)

A tribute to an icon
The Fame Game is slick and professional, and in this regard, it is one of the most visually impressive series. Indeed, when the sets, the camera work are so good and the production values are so high, much can be forgiven in view of the ensuing visual treat, but then the content is not up to that level. Okay, the show ranges from passable to watchable to enjoyable, it's never bad, but it's not fully realised. You always keep waiting for something to happen, not necessarily an answer to your questions or solutions to the conflicts and mysteries, but some dramatic poignancy that just doesn't come along. Sometimes you just pass through it without any thrill even despite its lavish technical advances. Given the story and the premise, the show could have been made into a rather gripping enterprise, but it lacks the power to captivate and enthrall or keep viewers on the edge of their seats badly wanting to get right to the next episode. Sadly it rarely happens.

Does it mean the show is not worth it? Well, it is. As said above, the show is a true visual delight and is wonderfully photographed, which makes up for many of its flaws. But then we have the woman around whose character, charisma, stardom and presence, this entire thing exists in the first place. The Fame Game is not a show on its own as it is a tribute to the iconic status of one of Indian cinema's great leading ladies. In this regard it is no different than many of the films she was in throughout her career. She looks wonderful, and is naturally convincing, but her character lacks the fiery traits that made her so popular in her heyday. Maybe it's just the lack of depth in the character and the script in general, but I wish more use was made of her talent instead of making her this middle-aged filmstar character lost amid a bunch of sociopaths and privileged idiots. With the rise of brilliant roles given to women her age, she deserved better, but it's still a nice watch.

Khujli
(2017)

Heartwarming and comical, but not fully realised
Okay, the film is about a middle-aged couple who decide to experiment and try out new sexual ideas through role playing and the use of handcuffs and other BDSM gadgets in an attempt to rekindle their past passion and add some spice and fantasy back into their sexual life. The results are rather amusing.

The film is very comical but it's a little slow and lacking in real content. I wish it had delved into their past through some of their conversations. That said, the familiarity and the camaraderie between the husband and wife is brilliantly captured, and that's where the film scores. Jackie Shroff and Neena Gupta are wonderful and moving in their beautiful performances to make it worth a watch.

No Smoking
(2007)

Chaotic, and while it's supposed to be, it loses the point
Okay, yes, the film is quite innovative and clearly experimental in its attempt to employ a dizzy blend of reality and fantasy with dark comedy and psychological drama. The film doesn't have much of a story actually, it's just a collection of symbols and psychedelic events. The film isn't unwatchable, actually the opposite, but its purpose is questionable and sadly it's not fully realised. John Abraham is quite decent, but he is not strong enough an actor for this sort of part, although he's quite effective within the context of the film. Paresh Rawal obviously does better. Sadly the film doesn't live up to its own premise and becomes overly self-indulgent, much to the point of turning into a messy mishmash in ways that make it quite challenging to follow. Still, it is technically brilliant and, as said above, quite watchable despite being, at the end of the day, just another film with pretensions. Anurag Kashyap can do better than this pretentious compilation of nonsensical, wannabe profound turns, but it's a forgivable experiment and I see some like it more than I think it deserves, so good for them.

Kaun? Kaisey?
(1983)

An entertaining whodunnit
Anil Ganguly, a very good director who repertoire comprises of some wonderful classics such as Kora Kagaz, Tapasya, and some entertaining films such as Trishna, directs an unusual Hindi film - a murder mystery the title of which pretty much sums up the story, who and how. The detective in this film is none other than the star of the day, Mithun Chakraborty, who does wonderfully in a restrained act.

Anything that's shot in Shimla like this one is worth the watch for me, especially in snowy winters. The views and the landscapes serve a wonderful backdrop for the story. So do the sets, the classical design of which makes for cozy, authentic homes well suited for the kind of suspense we have here. Even the action is minimal, and the film is relatively short. A lesser known film but definitely worth a watch.

Roop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja
(1993)

But Sridevi...
The film is a very typical mainstream masala potboiler which just gets worse as it goes by and how. Towards the end it really becomes such a mess it's almost completely unwatchable. But Sridevi, its leading lady, makes everything in it less important to matter and be discussed in the first place. The film could be edited just to create a collection of Sridevi's moments on screen, as a tribute to her wonderful charisma. A gifted comedienne, Sridevi owns the film and makes the audience laugh all through, with her hilarious impersonations throughout, including one of a street-smart Madrasi woman or a Japanese geisha. It's evident how much fun she seemed to have playing this role; it shows big time, but her ability to be so uninhibited in front of the camera is even more impressive. It's too bad the film does not live up to her talent, as it had often happened in her career and film choices.

Murder
(2004)

Sensationalist but entertaining
Okay, I don't know what's the big deal about a film which revolves around the story of an unfaithful wife. I do understand that a film with so many kissing scenes is not something Hindi filmgoers are used to, but it's hardly the erotic film some called it although there are some erotic scenes. In its defense, the film is shot pretty aesthetically and generally it's a very good technical work. Of course, like many Mahesh Bhatt-produced films which just seek to create buzz to attract more viewers, the use of love scenes in this one is similarly made for purely sensationalist reasons rather than art, but it works and makes it refreshingly enjoyable so why not use it.

The film has been described as a remake of Unfaithful, but I see more similarity with the 1962 classic Gumrah, which has been remade into several, lesser good remakes such as Bewafa in 2005. Anyhow, the film is really enjoyable - as a thriller, as a story, and basically as entertainment. The highly attractive leading lady Mallika Sherawat became quite an unusual star and sex symbol following this film, and it's easy to see why because she really is sizzling here. The film has nice music by Anu Malik, and the film develops pretty well, and by the end it even accumulates enough substance to conclude on a predictable note basically. Nothing great but quite a fun watch.

Kishen Kanhaiya
(1990)

Another example of Indian cinema's age-old obsession: double roles
Indeed, if a mainstream Bollywood star of the 1970-90s hasn't played dual roles at least once in his or her career, there must be something wrong with them. Playing double roles was, if you like, the litmus test of a film star's acting talent and ability to carry a film on his or her shoulders. This is one of the age-old obsessions of commercial Hindi cinema which is getting some revival off late, too, in films like Tanu Weds Manu Returns. Mostly such films were about twins lost at birth, then there's the parent/child lookalikes, and while many of them are entertaining, not all of them are of great quality. As a matter of fact, examples of such films where everything, from script to acting, is up to the mark, are few and far between. Seeta Aur Geeta is one such film - made by the great Ramesh Sippy, it is pure quality entertainment with a brilliant performance by Hema Malini.

Does Kishen Kanhaiya live up to the fame of some of the famous twin movies? Not really, but it's not bad either. Anil Kapoor is an enjoyable actor, and Rakesh Roshan sure knew how to make use of his star quality on screen, although it hardly rings true that twins would be identical even in the size of their mustache! In style and execution, this film falls along the lines of ChaalBaaz, with some exaggerated elements and slapstick comedy. But Kishen Kanhaiya is slightly better, and more because it doesn't just rely on the twin story. The film's recurring tune, later shown in the "Krishna" song, is very nice, and "Kuch Ho Gaya Kya Ho Gaya" is fun. It has a brilliant wide-eyed villain in Amrish Puri and above all, it has Madhuri Dixit, who just can't be relegated to pretty ornament as with her natural presence and stunning beauty almost steals the show. A nice show, then.

Dost
(1989)

Very low-quality cinema but could be enjoyed by Mithun fans
Yes, and I'm quite a fan of Mithun Chakraborty, one of the great actors of Indian cinema in my book, and obviously a big star in his own right. The good thing is that his fans can pick from a vast list of films in the long filmography of this very prolific actor. And it's therefore highly understandable how this poor film is forgotten. Being a fan myself I can say that even though the film is not up to the mark and even a little bad, it could be partially enjoyable for Mithun fans and can be watched once. It is the kind of regular masala film which, when taken for what it is, might make for a nice watch.

The film repeats many of the regular cliches, including ridiculous action, exaggerated melodrama, and some tedious attempts at comedy, although the comedy is by Asrani and Kader Khan, who are very very good. Indeed, when seen in the right context, it really cab be fun. It also has a villain in the form of Amjad Khan and all these stereotypical characters surround Bollywood's age-old obsession with elephants, which is amusingly repetitive but forgivable. Among the redeeming elements, R. D. Burman is the composer, so you can imagine the good stuff coming. "Dil To Chahe Yeh Hamara" tops them all.

Insaaf Main Karoonga
(1985)

Very watchable if not the best quality
Insaaf Main Karoonga has pretty much many of the negative common tropes of commercial Hindi films, including ridiculous action, an elderly hero, a cliched portrayal of rape and revenge. Having said that, it is slightly better than most of Rajesh Khanna's films of the time. Yes, the casting of a middle-aged Khanna in this role of a young bachelor really makes it all quite comical, but performance-wise he's pretty good and does his best to help the story develop, and indeed does develop quite well. Of course, the exggerated, starry mannerisms are a little off, but that's the style dictated by the times and almost no one is to blame here, really. The pretty leading ladies are there to support him, and the entire track with his wife is quite sad even though the film is not convincing enough. The music by Bappi Lahiri is melodious. With some additional work on the script and the casting, the film could have been much better, but it's not bad at all.

Jalsa
(2022)

Slick and professional thriller cum moral drama with excellent performances
Jalsa is a highly engaging and unsettling moral drama as it is a captivating a gripping thriller. The film is in many ways an effective commentary on the easy way out for those in power, against the helplessness of the common man if front of the gigantic system. It also shows the hypocrisy of the so-called responsible sectors of society, whose ideology cannot stand when put to the test of a contradicting reality or circumstance.

Technically, the film is a delight. It is excellently shot, with slick cinematography, sound and camera work. The dialogue is very good but what's great, is the actual minimal use of it when the visuals offer greater insight into the development of the story and the characters' state of mind. The film is carried by two central female characters who are on opposite sides of the barricades.

Vidya Balan is in top form in a very difficult role which demands exactly what actresses of her calibre can give. Conflicted, confused, ridden with fury, worry and guilt, and constantly at the height of emotional pressure, Balan captures with sheer realism the multi-layered complexity of this grayish character, which most people would find highly unlikable while perhaps at the same time feel for her condition.

But it is Shefali Shah who gives the film its dramatic poignancy and makes what could have been just a thriller into a touching, involving human story. A fascinating actress with tremendous range, measure and the most resonant of facial expressions, her use of her eyes and sometimes just her presence alone achieves so much more than many other actresses ever could with tons of dialogue.

Both Balan and Shah are so immersed in their parts it would be surprising if they weren't emotionally drained after playing their respective parts. They are supported by a host of fantastic character actors, all of whom perform brilliantly. The legendary Rohini Hattangadi is also here and she shines in the little she's given. Jalsa is an entertaining and effective story well depicted on screen.

Bandini
(1963)

Nutan, the caged queen of acting, in one of the best performances ever recorded on Indian film
Bimal Roy gives the audience a rare glimpse into life in the female prison. At once we are given a fair representation of those people who are never represented, and when they are, always with unidimensional, black-or-white binary characters. Here Roy presents a group of women, without delving into the exact reasons for their imprisonment. Their characters are not romanticised, their crimes are not cleaned, but indeed, they are humanised, which is an altogether different thing, just as they should be because they are human even if some or most of them are there for good reason. This is where the protagonist Kalyani is found, and her story is very conflicting to the average viewer. On the one hand, she is radiantly lovely, gentle and looks as pure as the driven snow. On the other, she is a murderer, which is a fact. Is it okay to like her or sympthise with her? Is anything other than self-defense could justify what she did? Or could we just forgive her?

Nutan is astonishing. Her naturalistic performance is the ultimate antithesis of any stylized acting one can think of and the strongest stamp on the conviction that less is more as here, through sheer minimalism, she masters what few of the best actresses could. Tremendously understated and nuanced, remarkably realistic, beautifully poised, and quietly powerful, she disappears into the most alarming depths of Kalyani and not for a second does she indulge in self-victimization even when it would have appeared the easiest and most natural option. Her expressions are stunning - the rage, the anger, the indifference, the guilt, and finally the dilemma, all rally with brilliant intensity in her eyes. Kalyani is a phenomenal character both in terms of how well it's written but obviously more because of how perfectly it's acted by a woman whose work here easily ranks among the best performances in Indian cinema.

Bandini is a classic piece of art, and a true visual, emotional and intellectual experience. The cinematography and camera work are stupendous, and the lighting is especially impressive in the way it's used to highlight the story, the characters, and their situation. It's obviously almost impossible to watch the film without forming an opinion about Kalyani's act, whether to resent or forgive. Other than that, like many viewers, probably, I wish the ending had been the other way around. But Roy chose the way I think he knew would be less popular. Ashok Kumar and particularly a tremendously handsome and likable Dharmendra provide fantastic support. The film remains Bimal Roy's crowning glory, but even despite how good the film itself is, the lead female performance remains its prime asset. An actress who transcends time, Nutan dominates her scenes, she dominates Bandini, and she was clearly one actress fully versed in the craft of acting.

Thappad
(2020)

A moving and involving moral drama about marriage
In relationships, domestic violence, especially against women, is a complete no-no. The trick in this absorbing, objective film is that the incident where the husband slaps his wife is apparently a one-time fault committed in a moment of fury. Many watching this film, especially in view of the other terrible characters presented in it, know right away that for many women he could be quite a dream husband. A good guy overall, quite successful, working a prestigious, well-paying job, loves his wife, respects her parents, and never raised his hand on her except for this one time that he lost it. But he lost it after all. And this incident is powerful enough to shake the foundation of their life together.

Having mentioned the so-called qualities of the husband, it's easy to predict comments by those who symptahise with him and complain about the film's righteous moral standard, especially those living in India and, in all fairness, often just people living in the real world with full awareness that no such thing as perfect exists and sometimes, as he says, it happens; and that second chances must be given otherwise no marriage will ever sustain the test of time and life. Those critical of the wife's decision may also call her a privileged, spoilt urban woman who doesn't know what true struggle is, which is funny because it implies that common misdemeanors should be normalised because it's hard to fight them.

But the film puts the wife's mental state so well in context that you can really feel everything she is going through with great precision. The director clearly makes efforts to answer many of the questions viewers who disagree with the wife's reaction might have. It's not just the slap (which is enraging, and the way it's portrayed is absolutely phenomenal); as we all can see, it's actually more about everything around it from the husband's end - the carelessness, the indifference, the lack of introspection and regret, how callous he was not just towards his actions and her situation, but how self-absorbed he is throughout the process. Above all, his inherent position that he is higher in stature.

This film thus becomes a wonderful glimpse into a woman's mind. She knows that this incident is indicative of her position in his life, and it is a matter of her dignity and self-esteem, which she doesn't want to lose to someone who clearly doesn't deserve it. In one scene actually, the film's leading lady says she doesn't want to lose her value in her own eyes. It is a wonderful sentence which actually represents many of the cases of strong women who become battered wives and can do nothing about it, precisely because they gradually lose their own sense of self. In this regard, Thappad is a revolutionary film, and its heroine is a real heroine, who may inspire millions of women of different classes of society.

The film is a fascinating cultural insight into the new India, its changing face, and the generational differences between the older and younger members of each of the families presented. More than anything, we see that some things are not a matter of age or generations, but just a matter of morals and humanity, as seen in the leading lady's father, a man of high principles and a strong moral convictions. To achieve this, the film employs a host of talented actors who all work tremendously well as a group as well as individually to deliver the goods. The music, the cinematography and the setting are spot on. "Ek Tukda Dhoop" is a wonderful, poignant song which enhances the film.

Taapsee Pannu gives a winning performance in a role that requires her to work a lot with her inner self. She is nuanced and convincing. Her character is a true example of the right combination between fragility and strength. I just wish she had not overplayed at times the righteousness of it, but this is really a good turn. In the role of the husband, Pavail Gulati does exceedingly well. Dia Mirza is radiantly natural. Kumud Mishra and Ratna Pathak are quite good but Tanvi Azmi, as she does in most of her films off-late, is amazingly real and wonderfully restrained. While I didn't like Taapsee's monologue to her, it was still worth watching for Azmi's brilliant eyes. Watch Thappad, for many reasons.

Delhi Crime
(2019)

A fascinating show which is brilliant in all aspects, difficult but tremendously rewarding
Delhi Crime is a phenomenal film series which works both as a taut suspense thriller, a touching and heartbreaking human story, and a hard-hitting social drama. The show, which narrates the investigation following an unimaginably brutal gang rape perpetrated against a young woman, exposes images of pure, horrific barbarism in the midst of a democratic state which doesn't have enough enforcement of law and order. But then it shows that there's still hope. This hope does not necessarily come from the country's lawmakers and political authorities as it does from ordinary citizens and especially the selfless service of groups of devoted individuals who work for the police and who give their lives to make justice prevail.

The series is a wonderful commentary on the restricted budgetary resources at the disposal of those who are in charge of the case, namely the police; the limited manpower assigned to them; and the pressure, both political, public, as well as from the media, which stands in the way of proper investigation of the incident in question. The show is particularly critical of the media, its enraging tendency to resort to fake news and click baits in times when not much information is available, with some members of the media being actually portrayed as true, pathetic scavengers. But then, the importance of public discourse and protest is asserted all through, and then again, the hard work of true police officers is there to save the day.

That's where our heroine, DCP Vartika Chaturvedi, is placed. And it is through her dedication and perseverance that this story moves forward. Her selfless commitment to the mission affects and drives everyone around. The film places emphasis on the terrific work of the police, and while it is not an easy watch the whole time through, with some harrowing, horrifying portions, it actually manages to be quite inspiring and uplifting. Technically the film is superb - the cinematography is top-notch, the sound is fantastic, and the film is tremendously realistic and credible all the way through. The dialogue is tremendously authentic, and the setting provides the viewers with a fascinating insight of the Indian police and its daily practice.

Shefali Shah, one of India's finest actresses, delivers a powerhouse performance with not a single false note. Her extraordinarily charismatic and imperious presence never takes away from her constant understanding of the human core that drives this character, resulting in a true portrait of strength and compassion. Just an expression in her eyes speaks more than a million words. The way she captures Vartika's tough exterior, soft inside, and steadfast determination, is one of the great assets of this phenomenal show. But while she leads the film, she is one of a host of brilliant actors, all of whom make Delhi Crime one of the greatest treasures of Indian filmmaking, which the country can only be proud of.

Talvar
(2015)

Consistently enjoyable but could have been better
Meghna Gulzar's film is a bumpy ride but it's consistently watchable and enjoyable. The film's first portions are a bit messy and require patience and attention, but once it picks up there's no looking back. Interestingly, the film is not written as a taut thriller but rather an absorbing suspense. The Rashomon effect works in its favour, but sometimes something is missing, and above all, the ending will leave most viewers dissatisfied and quite disturbed given the direction the story adapts throughout the film and its development.

Technically the film is quite impressive - the cinematography is effective and the sets are most real, helping the director achieve the film's authentic feel and almost documentary-like delivery. The acting is very good especially among the minor players, like the maids and the staff. Irrfan leads the cast with a fantastic performance, as usual, achieving everything with great minimalism. Konkona is given a thankless role and she's almost a prop. Tabu must have been just a favour to a friend. But Talvar works, despite its misgivings.

Astitva
(2000)

An interesting moral melodrama with a fantastic lead performance by Tabu
Okay, very simple - after years of marriage, a man finds out his wife cheated on him and that the boy he raised and considered his son is not his biological child. The film addresses gender inequality with stress on the unbearable double standard with which the sins of men and women are treated by the hypocrite male-dominated society. In this regard, this film's standpoint is quite refreshing, but then, not enough. Firstly, the film makes great efforts to emphasise how wrong it was on the wife's part specifically because she is a woman. And then a big leap is taken to almost legitimize adultery. One must remember, the husband's regressive views notwithstanding, the wife's actions are purely unacceptable. That she has made a mistake in a moment of weakness and decided to hide it is understandable, but that she had a son from this extramarital affair and kept it a secret for decades from her unsuspecting husband - much less so. But then the balance is there and it's well thought out.

I thoroughly enjoyed Mahesh Manjrekar's Astitva. There is conflict here, a great moral one, and the viewers must have conflicting views when confronted by the story and its well-formed foundation. I liked the fact that the film didn't turn the husband into a complete antagonist in order to convey its feminist message. There are some glitches here and there, mostly technical, in terms of dubbing and sound, but the film works. It is simple and realistic and works as both a human story and a psychological, suspenseful drama. Astitva greatly benefits from Tabu's presence and her extraordinarily brave performance for that time. She is highly nuanced and believable, and her monologue by the end of the film is brilliant, in terms of both writing and dialogue and especially in view of her acting and conviction in it. Sachin Khedekar is effective, and so is Mohnish Bahl. It is the appearance of Namrata Shirodkar which is a bit of a stretch, but the film is still concluded well, and kudos to Tabu anyway.

Gulaab Gang
(2014)

A corny approach to a good subject, but Juhi Chawla saves the day
Madhuri Dixit and Juhi Chawla, two big stars of the late 1980-90s, vied for top slots in an industry which has a common habit of pitting one star against the other. But they actually were so different. The former is a huge megastar, quite a cultural icon, charismatic and sincere in her screen portrayals, a stupendous dancer and amazingly beautiful. The latter is quirky, very beautiful and attractive, a natural performer known for her bubbly personality, and above all a gifted comedienne who later upgraded her talent with phenomenal performances in offbeat films. While later decades saw rivals of sorts often act together in films (see the famous Preity Zinta-Rani Mukerji pairing in many films where most of the time the former somehow got better parts), Dixit and Chawla never worked together.

And you would expect that when the time came to cast them together in a film, these two formidable ladies would be given something at least as good as much of the stuff coming out today in Hindi cinema. But sadly, the filmmakers took these two stars and, in a weird sort of choice, decided to keep the film in the 1990s in terms of both style and narrative as well as stereotypes that come with it. Gulaab Gang is supposedly based on the real-life vigilante female group Gulabi Gang. Now, I know that many consider this group of women quite heroic, but I wouldn't think of turning them into wild action stars on film. While the film has some great colour and cinematographic work, it is amazingly regressive in terms of filmmaking and the ladies can't help it enough. Or maybe they can? Well, partly.

So, Dixit's charisma is undoubted, and she sure is an actress who knows her stuff. She is very good here but then she is clearly not very good at picking her films. In an age when contemporaries have been able to enjoy the benefits of the changing face of Indian cinema and experiment with better roles, she picks a part which is supposedly based on a real-life figure but eventually is just a recap of countless roles played by Hindi film heroines in the 1980s and early 1990s. The action sequences are really ridiculous in their absurdity. It almost feels like Hindi cinema went a few decades back in a weird tribute to the horrendous films made back then. Worse even is the quality of the dance numbers, which do not exhibit the real dancing skills of the great dancing queen that is Madhuri Dixit.

Juhi Chawla, on the other hand, is tremendous. It's amazing how brilliantly she manages to maintain her famous, lovably vivacious persona while playing a monstrous woman so immoral and drunk with power, and make it feel so real. Her every expression is a sight to behold, and the hidden intentions in her smiles are quite chilling. It's a feat that only a natural performer like Chawla can achieve, of being both enjoyable and quite intimidating in this otherwise stereotypical part, and she is doubtlessly the film's ultimate star whose absence from the screen makes the show almost worthless. Between the fake action sequences and the clichéd proceedings, she becomes Gulaab Gang's sole redeeming quality. You almost love to hate her. Watch this film for her ceaselessly entertaining villainous turn.

Dastak
(1996)

A nice debut by stunning Sushmita Sen, but not much else
I can't believe how often a competent director like Mahesh Bhatt fell into the territory of derivative, cliched commercial filmmaking, especially when he made suspense thrillers like Gumrah (which was awful) and the current film, which is similarly unoriginal and not very good. The film was clearly made just to mark the debut of the beautiful Sushmita Sen, who was crowned Miss Universe just two years earlier. In this regard, it's not bad at all. Sen is not just beautiful but also a very talented actress with graceful screen presence. But Bhatt's direction is very poor here, and it just doesn't work. The second half is obviously stronger than the first, as it's where most of the action takes place, but it's still not as gripping as it could and should have been despite Sharad Kapoor's very good performance as the obsessive antagonist (seems to have been inspired by Shahrukh Khan's previous villainous turns in Darr and Anjaam).

Ajeeb Daastaans
(2021)

Only half good, only half strange
This sort of narrative is quite to my liking, because it tells short, concise stories and doesn't engage viewers in long developments. In so doing, it allows for an easy watch. Does the movie itself live up to the benefit of such a narrative? Not necessarily. First, the film's name translates as "Strange Stories". Ironically, the first two stories are strange but not good, the latter two are better but not strange at all. But let's go straight to the business:

The first episode: Majnu

A nice conclusion is all this episode has going for it. Otherwise, it's a rather poor show with some ridiculous twists which are unintentionally funny if not laughable. Fatima Sana Shaikh plays a role which requires someone with tremendous sex appeal. Maybe Nushrat Bharucha who acts in the next episode would have been a greater choice for this film. Overall it's a watchable tale of revenge, but it has all the possible cliches that we've seen before, as manifest in the roles of Jaideep Ahlawat and Armaan Ralhan.

The second episode: Khilauna

A watchable but poorly concluded episode which is not particularly convincing and above all quite cliché. Nushrat Bharucha is quite attractive, but she doesn't seem to have the right sensibilities to play this lower middle-class worker and is presented as overly sophisticated. She is still good carrying the film on her shoulders. The little girl is cute, but the conclusion is just not convincing enough and feels very derivative.

The third episode: Geeli Pucchi

Let's start with what matters most: Konkona Sen Sharma is the main attraction of this episode. She is nothing short of stupendous playing the tough feisty woman, which is rarely represented in Hindi films, and not for a second does she ever overdo it, not the masculine traits, not the tone, not the lack of confidence and not the emotions. Everything is incredibly measured and real. Does the episode live up to the heights of her performance? Sadly, not much. It does address themes of caste, sexuality, class, gender issues and so on, but something is missing, the overall feel is too grim, and the story does not fully captivate. It could be the slow development (despite being a short episode after all) or the weaker performance of Aditi Rao Hydarim, but having said all that, it is very rewarding, and way to go Konkona.

The fourth episode: Ankahi

The best episode in the film, beautifully filmed, thought out and performed. Shefali Shah is one of the finest actors I can imagine - real, intense, amazingly expressive yet brilliantly balanced, with extraordinary range and understanding of the human condition. Her portrayal of Natasha is beautifully nuanced and credible. And more than anything, she is given a fantastic coactor in Manav Kaul, who is tremendous and greatly likable as her deaf friend-cum-lover. He is consistently in sync with his character. These two form a great pair and their romance is portrayed beautifully. Natasha's struggle at home is also handled well, especially her relationship with her daughter. Ankahi concludes on a rather sad, ironic note, but it is rewarding enough and was definitely worth the wait.

Ajeeb Daastaans is a collection of short films which have nothing in common and which fluctuate considerably in their quality. Above all, most of them have nothing weird about them so the film doesn't even live up to its name (if you want to see a film that remains true to its premise, watch Damián Szifron's 2014 Argentine masterwork Relatos salvajes (2014)). The latter two episodes are the best, especially the final one, but as a whole, the entire thing is not very good.

Kahaani 2
(2016)

Not a patch on its supposed prequel, but very enjoyable nonetheless
Kahaani 2 is what they call a spiritual sequel. Here too we have a leading lady named Vidya and that's probably where the connection between the first and the second film rests. But the film is really enjoyable - a tense thriller and even more tense psychological drama, the story of which unfolds in pieces with nice twists and turns and great suspense. Now, right, the entire child abuse track is not given enough depth and is even quite simplistically handled, but then the film makes up for it with great suspense. Sujoy Ghosh shows to have quite a knack for this kind of cinema and his skill shows at all levels even if the film could have been better.

As expected, Vidya Balan is brilliant playing a woman who finds purpose in life and turns her biggest weakness into her prime strength. She is consistently in sync with her character and her involvement is very convincing. She is totally matched by Arjun Rampal, who is more of a supporting actor on paper but in actual fact he is as much a hero in this film as his female counterpart. The film ends on a nice note and it reveals the film's smart writing leading to a very good film. The film might not enjoy the aesthetic and cinematographic brilliance of its prequel but it's enjoyable from start to end and is altogether a good watch.

NH10
(2015)

A strong thriller with an interestingly disturbing cultural backdrop and a nice turn by Anushka Sharma
NH10 might take time to pick up, but when it does, there's no looking back for it. The film is a taut thriller with an interesting background of honour killing and a disturbing glimpse into societies that are incredibly primitive and backwards in terms of morality, values and their twisted mentality. This of course infuses NH10 with several harrowing sequences of sadistic violence which are unbearable to watch but also gives it a sense of hard-hitting brutality that makes the portrayal of areas that are known to all as having quite a few problems of this sort very credible.

This is where our leading heroine and her annoyingly stubborn husband find themselves. And their story is handled with great tension, where the writing makes the viewers really care for them and wish for their survival under such impossible circumstances. The film doesn't have a dull moment in this sense, and its many twists and turns secure a good watch which is bound to keep anyone on the edge of their seats even if it doesn't necessarily always ring true. It is towards the end where a good twist, despite its cathartic nature, follows an age-old format.

Remember the many female revenge films with Rekha, Dimple Kapadia and the likes? Remember how the kindhearted Rekha in Khoon Bhari Maang finds new purpose in life and returns to take revenge on the one who pushed her to the crocodiles? And what about sweet, demure Madhuri Dixit transformed into a merciless avenger in Anjaam? It's amazing how NH10, even if just for a few moments, manages to pay tribute to this famous wave of female-centric action films which allowed so many leading ladies to "experiment".

But unlike most of these films, which were quite bad and ridiculous (those mentioned above are quite good actually), NH10 has the advantage of being quite good and in so being it makes great use of what could have been Ab Insaaf Hoga (1995, with Rekha) or Gumrah (1993, with Sridevi), which are not up to the mark. In this sense, it is closer to Ek Haseena Thi with Urmila Matondkar as it keeps the quality on. And it gives the leading lady, the talented Anushka Sharma to shine through as both the racy city girl and the modern Jhansi Rani.

And she does. NH10, with all its qualities, is Anushak Sharma's film, and she is thoroughly convincing in this self-produced star vehicle, performing naturally and capturing with conviction the development of the character. Neil Bhoopalam as her husband Arjun is also very strong although as a character he is quite irritating at times. The supporting cast playing the group of goons is excellent, and the spectacular Deepti Naval, manages to leave a mark with another five-minute role as she always does. Watch NH10, it's a cinematic experience.

Pyaar Mein Twist
(2005)

For the two stars
A wonderful, wonderful premise where an out-and-out mainstream Hindi film revolves around the romantic relationship between two middle-aged people. Both are in their mid-to-late 40s (or probably more, in his case), both are widowed and have grown up kids. Their relationship is just beautifully portrayed, and yes, there's indeed an added value in portraying the romantic affair between two people of their age, making it far more interesting and refreshing than your run-of-the-mill mainstream rom-coms. The big flaw in this film is that despite the modern setting of new-age, urban families, at the end of the day when the relationship between the two leads is revealed, it becomes an issue among the kids, which is weird. I highly doubt any person of their social milieu would consider it wrong. In this regard, a fresh concept goes really downhill by becoming a reversed version of Bobby, where instead of parents, it is the children who oppose the relationship, which doesn't really ring true.

Where the film does score is in the casting of the two leads, Rishi Kapoor and Dimple Kapadia. The two have a perfect chemistry which takes one right back to the magic of their Bobby days in the early 1970s (I think Saagar wasn't a very successful film in this regard). Kapadia is a delight, just a delight all the way - stunning, with extraordinarily commanding screen presence, and always so real. The late Rishi Kapoor was at his very best in the latter phase of his career as a character actor, as it brought the best in him and revealed his true acting prowess otherwise hidden under the fake 'hero' persona that he as every other Hindi film star had to playact. He is just excellent here, and it was just the beginning of many great performances that would follow. Indeed, the pairing of the two is marvelous, as they bring experience, familiarity and great nostalgic value. It really is reason enough to watch this otherwise poor film.

The same cannot be necessarily said about the younger players, whose character are caricatures of selfish youngsters. Instead of making a film that would totally rest on the extraordinary pairing of the two main stars, and there's plenty to rest on considering how good they are, the film succumbs to the commercial film format by enhancing the stories of the young players. In so doing, it shows how lacking in confidence it is and how little it trusts its stars to captivate the audiences. On top of that, the young players are sadly just not up to the mark so instead of contributing to the film with their youthful presence, they actually take away a lot from its credibility and depth and make the entire product quite messy and lacking in focus and conviction. As said above, it is not their fault, the characters are just badly written. But who cares anyway, sometimes even weak films like this are more interesting to see than other seemingly better films when they have what this film has, a great nostalgic pair.

Dil Dhadakne Do
(2015)

Enjoyably watchable, but ultimately just a slightly poor film about rich people
Money runs the world, as they say. Like many Hindi films, this film has a simple plotline, only that it tells its story through the lives of outrageously wealthy people. Many have accused Zoya Akhtar of focusing many of her films on the rich and famous, but I see no problem in that. Yash Chopra made the most beautiful films centering on the lives of upper-class, urban people. The problem is that Dil Dhadakane Do is just not as good as it could have been. First, I really don't get the message that Akhtar was trying to convey here. Was it that rich people have problems too? Yes, we know that already, and besides that, thousands of soap operas did this before. Was it that rich people tend to be shallow with no values? That's the silliest kind stereotype I can think of (although it often turns out to be true). And yet, indeed, most of the characters in this slightly poor film are uni-dimensional, boring, and their struggle is mostly unconvincing. It is in the portrayal of human relationships, which this film seeks to deal with, where this film did not always ring true. Having said that, DDD remains a consistently watchable film. It is beautifully shot, which is a big bonus, and the photography of the different, breathtaking locales, as well as the sailing ship most of the story takes place in, is excellent. I like the concept that there aren't really any leading stars in the sense that the old couple is the lead pair just as the brother and sister are.

Indeed, the ensemble cast makes for a nice watch although, as stated above, their characters are just, simply put, not very easy to relate to (not because they're rich but just because often they're either not well written or not very well played). Among the good players, Shefali Shah, one of India's most natural, instinctive actresses, shines through and is always believable and truthful. She can obviously always be counted on to deliver, and she does here with her extraordinary expressions. Anil Kapoor is over-expressive most of the time but suits the role. Priyanka Chopra and Ranveer Singh have good chemistry as siblings and are shown to be troubled and introverted just as kids with such parents could end up being. Chopra is successfully conflicted although she struggles where it takes to register the real complexity of her character, Ranveer Singh is reserved and subdues to good effect. Bit turns from Farhan Akhtar and Anushka Sharma are pretty good, and Sharma in particular is always natural and easy on the camera. Rahul Bose is wasted and so is Zarina Wahab, although they're both very good. Generally, the cast do their best, although sadly it's the script that falters and often makes some of them look unnatural. Some of the situations which naturally should have been emotional just don't manage. But the film is enjoyable in spite of its flaws and it is quite a nice ride which flows well.

Gully Boy
(2019)

"Change your reality to match your dreams"
Gully Boy is an extraordinary film about a young Muslim student from the slums of Mumbai, who is a fan of hip-hop music and who keeps secret his dreams to make it big in the rap music scene. It is the kind of film that hooks you right from the first moments and just keeps growing on you as it goes on. The story, the setting, the cinematography, the music, the characters, and the narrative all contribute to the film's unusual feel in equal parts. The Dharavi slums of Mumbai where the film is set are shot beautifully - the congested streets, overcrowded with a diverse population of individuals, much to the point where poverty, and often sad pictures thereof, is presented as almost culturally exotic. It's amazing though that specifically these disheartening, seemingly impossible areas bring forth heartening messages of hope and opportunity where neither dire straits nor harsh realities can take them away.

The film's narrative style is fantastic - it IS music. Its youthful, modern feel is there all through and, even those not particularly fond of rap music, are very likely to enjoy the rhythm and the many songs which decorate the proceedings in ways one could not imagine. The lyrics of the songs, as well as the rap sequences as performed by the characters of the film, turn out to be symbolic and poetic and very true of the challenging conditions of the speakers in question. The cinematography is stupendous, the lighting and diverse shots make it quite a visual treat in many ways and, as mentioned above, even despite the setting of not the prettiest locales. Apart from Ranveer Singh as Murad, the film's leading actor who's an aspiring singer, and Safeena, his charming and headstrong girlfriend, every character is given a story, which is part of the entire picture of a society often immersed in its primitive ways, like, for one, his bigamous father or her conservative parents.

And the acting, as part of this entire picture, is spot on. Every member of the cast is natural to the hilt. Singh obviously leads the cast with an excellent performance. His portrayal of his character's reserved nature, insecurity, and then his inner self-belief in his ability to make it, is fantastic. In a smaller part, Alia Bhatt is wonderful as the free-spirited Sakeena, and she almost steals the thunder as she is highly relatable, convincing and above all enjoyable in how ambitious, determined and madly in love she is. Without taking anything away from the two leads, the supporting cast is full of stupendous character actors, led by a brilliant Amruta Subhash in a heartbreaking portrayal of Murad's mother. Vijay Raaz, as her abusive and adulterous husband, is superb, and so is Vijay Varma, as the troublemaker Moeen. Siddhant Chaturvedi is a nice find as he fits the role and does exceedingly although he does look over-confident at points, and Kalki is given a thankless role though she's good.

Gully Boy is a rare combination of top-notch acting, story, music, and soul. It works as both a musical, a sports film of sorts, and a human drama. In the end, it's just very inspiring. For director Zoya Akhtar, this is clearly the best film of her career, as no film of hers, even the most celebrated and acclaimed (and some, overrated), reached the merit and beauty of this one. This film has clearly a lot invested into, and not just money but hard work in studying and preparing, because it takes us into the world as those who too often are deemed transparent, and it makes them matter. Many years ago, a movement of Indian films known as parallel cinema was producing films which often sought to give voice to the voiceless, namely people from the slums. It's nice seeing that their stories have crossed the boundaries of what was called "offbeat cinema" and is now given importance by mainstream filmmakers. That mass audiences find their stories valuable is not surprising, but Indian cinema is maturing, and it's great.

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