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Yaaree Sort of ‘Movie Reviews’ Category

Oct
09

It sounds twisted to put it this way, but a major reason we go to the movies (film noirs, gangster dramas, adulterous romantic thrillers) is to live out vicarious fantasies of taboo behavior. The plot of a movie matters (sort of), but in another way it’s just an excuse. Sitting there in the dark, gazing up at the screen, we want to be that clandestine lover, that danger junkie, that grandiose addict-victim, that seeker of crimes of passion. “The Girl on the Train,” an adaptation of Paula Hawkins’ prismatic but heavy-breathing 2015 bestseller, is at heart a murder mystery, yet in many ways that’s the film’s most routine aspect. The director, Tate Taylor (“The Help”), stages it as a series of voluptuous vignettes in which three women, who all reside in the idyllically posh and leafy New York suburb of Ardsley-on-Hudson, lay bare their forbidden yearnings and secret inner lives. As a big-screen thriller, “The Girl on the Train” is just so-so, but taken as 112 minutes of upscale psychodramatic confessional bad-behavior porn, it generates a voyeuristic zing that’s sure to carry audiences along.

The title character, Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt), is a complete wreck — and from the start, that’s one of the fantasies that’s being played out. (You will know what it is to hit rock bottom!) When we meet her, she’s riding the train back from Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan, fixating on a woman she doesn’t even know — Megan Hipwell (Haley Bennett), an elegant cornfed blonde standing on the second-floor balcony of her splendid rustic home, just across the train tracks, looking like the woman who has it all. Rachel is the woman who lost it all. She was married to Tom (Justin Theroux), a protective shark, and they were in the middle of launching the perfect suburban existence, but she couldn’t get pregnant, and that’s when the drinking started. In flashback, the movie shows us tantrums, rages, blackouts, all of which have delivered Rachel to the identity she occupies now: an isolated divorcée, sitting on the train guzzling cheap vodka out of her designer water bottle. She’s a pretty far-gone alcoholic, and Blunt, in a perilously effective performance, plays her with a cold, slack woe that makes it look as if her facial features are slowly coming apart.

© Provided by Variety

Rachel has no idea that Megan, the object of her identification, has any connection to her. But oh, are they connected! Everyone in “The Girl on the Train” is connected, to the point that the movie has a turbulently incestuous small-town-soap-opera quality. Think “Peyton Place” as staged by the Adrian Lyne of “Fatal Attraction.” It may be intentional that the characters even kind of look alike. Megan, a former fixture on the art-gallery scene, with an untamed wild streak (and therefore bored as hell as a trophy wife in the ‘burbs), has been working as a nanny for Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), who has the same angelic locks and confectionary skin tone. It’s part of the film’s deadpan if not quite satirical vision that they seem to belong to the same tribe of postfeminist Stepford princesses.

Anna is the woman who stole Rachel’s husband (she’s living the life Rachel wanted to), and it has driven Rachel cuckoo with self-hatred. Blunt’s performance is a masochistic revel, but she’s such a tender and lyrical actress that she makes even Rachel’s lowball actions sympathetic. We can’t help but root for her, even when she seems to be a drunken destroyer with borderline personality disorder. At one point, she stands in a bathroom, smearing the mirror with lipstick, letting out the rage she feels at her ex-, and it’s a cathartic moment.

Taylor did a superb job of directing “The Help,” using his sympathetic identification with the women on screen to save it from being just another racial message movie, and here, working from a script by the kink-friendly Erin Cressida Wilson (“Secretary”), and utilizing the radiant close-up cinematography of Charlotte Bruus Christensen, he shows a similar impulse. “The Girl on the Train” is sexy, brutal, diary-of-a-mad-housewife trash made with a distinctive creamy classy empathy. When Megan announces that she has landed a gallery job and needs to quit her nanny position that day, leaving Anna and her baby in the lurch, the two of them get into a tense exchange about the hidden perils of being a stay-at-home mom, and this has to be the first contempo noir that features a deep-dish dialogue about that. It’s a scene that resets the stakes.

“The Girl on the Train” is grounded in the tranquil house-beautiful fetishism of the Hudson Valley suburbs, to the point that you sometimes feel you’re watching “Pottery Barn Catalogue: The Movie.” For a while, though, we seem to be trapped in a spin on “Fatal Attraction” in which the aggrieved feminine stalker is the heroine. How badly does Rachel act? She sneaks into her tastefully exquisite former home, where Tom and Anna now live (it’s the paradise she was kicked out of), and coddles their infant in the backyard, pretending it’s the child she couldn’t have. She drinks like a homeless derelict, inviting the stares of passengers on the train. And, in fact, she nearly is homeless: She’s been crashing for two years on a spare bed offered by a friend, and the reason she joins the commuter horde traveling into Manhattan each morning has nothing to do with the PR job she once held. Everything snaps when she oversees the mysterious Megan kissing a stranger, betraying her husband. Just like Rachel was betrayed! Shortly after that, she returns late at night, only now she’s a mess, her hair and clothing caked with blood and mud. On that very night, Megan goes missing. Rachel, of course, has blacked out what happened, but she’s haunted by an image of herself approaching Megan, raising a weapon…

As a novel, “The Girl on the Train” is told by a series of unreliable narrators, and that’s part of its post-“Gone Girl” fragmentary anomie. It’s a structural gambit that carries a whiff of ideology, a sense of women being forced to live divided and tattered lives. In the movie, the unreliability factor plays differently. It comes down to this: We’re shown a bunch of stuff, and we therefore believe it, but the stuff we’re shown may not, in fact, have happened. It’s not all that different from what the book did, yet somehow, in a movie, it comes off as more of a cheat. The audience feels like it’s been played. From what’s presented, it appears highly possible that Rachel is guilty of murder, but that’s partly because the local cops, led by a detective played by the always acerbically sharp and appealing Allison Janney, seem better at random hunches than they are at forensics.

Blunt, who plays half her scenes looking like she’s holding back tears (or maybe screams), is a luminous actress who’s been in need of a role that allows her to get past her slight decorousness, and this is that role. It should, at last, elevate her star. “The Girl on the Train” gets less convincing as it goes along — the climax, which features a man, two women, and a kitchen utensil, is borderline camp — yet the movie has just enough intrigue, and has been made with enough craft, to disguise (for a while) the late-night cable-thriller mechanics it ultimately succumbs to. It delivers a sense of hidden dark lives, which is why it should have no trouble connecting at the box office. Put in demographic terms, a movie like this one fills an essential niche for women moviegoers, and they will likely revel in every sneaky, lurid moment of it. But that same audience should also realize that it ultimately deserves better than decently executed female-gaze victimization pulp.

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Sep
25

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CAST: Shreyas Talpade, Manjari Phadnis, Hemant Pandey, Rajesh Sharma
DIRECTION:Ajit Sinha
GENRE:Drama
DURATION:1 hour 47 minutes
SHOW TIMINGS IN YOUR CITY
STORY: We know that the Taj Mahal was built by Shah Jahan but did you know that the land, on which it was built, belonged to a Maharashtrian farmer? Well, at least that’s what the film wants us to believe.

REVIEW: Tukaram (Shreyas Talpade) dressed in a kurta-pyjama-jacket and Sundari (Manjari Phadnis) in a low-waist nauvari sari, pitch a tent on the banks of Yamuna in the sweltering Agra-heat, laying claim to the land that the Taj Mahal stands on. As if that isn’t unbelievable enough, there emerges proof, in the form of an age-old letter signed by Emperor Humayun, to back the claim.

 The hullabaloo draws media attention and puts pressure on the government to resolve the dispute. A jail-mantri named Visarjan Yadav, the Chief Minister, the leader of the opposition, a top-cop and a social worker; all of them get involved and this, as expected, leads to more problems than solutions. The film then follows the beaten path; one that involves cliches and used-to-death situations.

Ever since the film starts, one thing is clear that there’s an underlying motive behind Tukaram and Sundari’s actions. But the filmmaker conveniently keeps that reserved for the climax. Not that the motive explains much but well, at least we get to know the makers’ reason behind making us endure the 100-odd minutes of illogical genius.

As the protagonist, Shreyas goes overboard with forced-humour. His Marathi manoos impersonation doesn’t help things either. Manjari looks beautiful but falls short when it comes to showcasing her acting chops. Hemant Pandey gets his act right though.

Wah Taj aims to put focus on the pitiable conditions of farmers and the devil-may-care approach of the government machinery. The end result, however, is a film that has its heart in the right place but nothing new to offer. A few scenes, like the one in the courtroom, stand out in this otherwise average attempt. You can risk watching it once.

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Sep
25

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CAST: Riteish Deshmukh, Nargis Fakhri, Dharmesh
DIRECTION:Ravi Jadhav
GENRE:Musical
DURATION:2 hours 18 minutes

STORY : The quintessential Mumbaiyya music of a few Banjo players, led by Taraat (Riteish Deshmukh) catches the fancy of a budding American singer Chris (Nargis Fakhri). She travels to Mumbai all the way from New York to hunt for Taraat and his quirky coterie, hoping to take their music international. But given their social and financial background, can the men live up to Chris’ expectations?

REVIEW : Director Ravi Jadhav, who has some outstanding Marathi films to his name (like Natarang), captures the pulse of Mumbai and the city’s buzzing chawl culture in Banjo with simplicity and a dash of humour. His characters exude the quintessential middle-class values, which are bound to resonate with many. The underprivileged are not conditioned to dream big, so even their wishes are realistic. One of the characters innocently asks a waiter at a posh club, if he could take some champagne home for his father. Though commercial in approach, Jadhav keeps things unpretentious and thus relatable.

 While the story is pretty formulaic (a bunch of street musicians making it big by winning against all odds), the execution and supporting performances are heartfelt. The music could have been better though. Addition of unnecessary drama and random events in the second half slows down the pace considerably, also making the film a tad cliched. The gorgeous Nargis overdoes the American accent but grows on you eventually.

And last but not the least, it’s time we play the dhol, tasha, tutari, lejhim and banjo for apla Riteish. Sporting a stylish man bun, it’s refreshing to see him break away from the usual multistarrers and play a slice-of-life, lead character in a Hindi film. A small-time extortionist cum musician, Taraat is all heart. Riteish essays this brash yet vulnerable character effortlessly, proving that he can hold a film on his own if given the right opportunity. The film’s cinematography is splendid as well.

If you are familiar with Mumbai’s working-class neighbourhoods, where the hearts of the poor are bigger than the pay packages of those residing in the mushrooming high-rises, you’ll be able to notice the beauty of Banjo. It also makes you respect the street musicians a little more.

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Sep
02

Yea Toh Two Much Ho Gayaa Movie Review

, Sep 2, 2016, 05.26PM IST

CRITIC’S RATING: 2.5/5
AVG READERS’ RATING: 2.7/5

CAST:Jimmy Shergill, Arbaaz Khan, Pooja Chopra, Bruna Abdullah
DIRECTION:Anwer Khan
GENRE:Comedy
DURATION:2 hours

STORY: Acting on instinct, Mann bashes up a guy who eve-teases his girlfriend. Unfortunately, the guy turns out to be the younger brother of a gangster in Thailand. Will Mann suffer the same fate or will luck favour him?

REVIEW: Scenic locales, beautiful ladies, comedy and action; Yea Toh Too Much Ho Gayaa (YTTMHG) has everything that goes into making an entertainer. Yet, it doesn’t really entertain.

Mann (Jimmy) is looking to make it big in Thailand but after the encounter with the gangster’s (Arbaaz) younger brother, his life is at risk. His girlfriend Tina (Bruna) convinces him that in order to escape the gangster’s wrath, he must go back to India. On the other hand, Mann’s twin brother Mohan embarks on a mission to bring his brother back to India too. Call it coincidence or a chance turn of events (or lazy scripting), while Mann lands in India to meet his brother and mother (Zarina), Mohan ends up in Thailand. Now, both the brothers have to resolve problems plaguing their lives, only, by swapping identities.

Many might consider watching Jimmy Shergill in a double role a treat, but even the talented actor (multiplied by two) can’t salvage a film that’s predictable. Unlike most of his other films though, Jimmy gets the girl this time. But to ensure that, he has to do something he’s clearly uncomfortable with – dance.

Arbaaz Khan maintains the same expression throughout. Bruna Abdullah and Pooja Chopra just add the glam factor and nothing else to the film. Patchy editing and stereotyped characters hamper YTTMHG further.

The film suffers from a wannabe syndrome. It wants to do a lot but only ends up making the viewer say ‘Yea toh too much ho gaya’.

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Aug
31

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Filmmaker Omung Kumar brings on screen his second biopic after the super success of Mary Kom starring Priyanka Chopra.

Sarbjit is based on a true story of an Indian farmer who accidentally entered Pakistan and was accused of being a spy without proper investigations. It is also the story of his elder sister who knocked on doors of every government babu so that she can release her brother from his three decades of imprisonment. 

Here’s my review for the Aishwarya Rai Bachchan-Randeep Hooda starrer…

What’s it about

A Punjabi farmer, Sarbjit (Randeep Hooda) lands in Pakistani jail in 1990, after drunkenly crossing the border (there was no fence then, even though India and Pakistan had fought two wars by that period). He is wrongly accused by the Pakistani police of being one Ranjith Singh Mattu, a mastermind behind a couple of terrorist attacks there. In the meantime, his elder sister Dalbir (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) and his wife (Richa Chadha) are searching for him everywhere, but can’t find any clue. A year later, Dalbir gets a letter from Pakistan which had been covertly written by Sarbjit, thereby informing her of his miserable plight. From thereon starts Dalbir’s incessant struggle to get her brother out of Pakistan that goes on for years and years, because both India and Pakistan are bothered with much bigger matters in hand. And if you know the real story of Sarbjit, you know how this will end….but not before lots of melodrama, bombastic dialogues and Aishwarya’s trademark screaming!

What’s hot

Sarbjit’s life is a tale that every Indian needs to know, and we need to laud Omung Kumar for bringing his story out to the common man. While we are still debating whether India needs to play cricket with Pakistan, what we forget is that there are so many Indians languishing in their jails for years, and vice versa. We don’t know whether they are innocent or not, and thanks to Indo-Pak cold vibes, we are sure justice wouldn’t have meted to them in the way they deserved. There are still claims out there that Sarbjit could really be a spy (His Wikipedia page still calls him an Indian terrorist), but what if he really was innocent? Then wasn’t the 30-odd years he spent in their jail and later to be killed mercilessly a huge punishment for one night of drunken revelry? This is the pertinent question that the makers want to ask us, and they fairly succeed in that. It also helps that Randeep Hooda gives an earnest performance as the ill-fated Sarbjit. Though he looks a bit artificial in the pre-jail portions, he compensates for that by giving a heart wrenching rendition of a man languishing behind bars of a foreign country for three decades, for supposedly wrong reasons. His jail scenes are very hard to stomach, and we wish if the makers had given his arc more meat, this would have been a better film. There is a scene in the film where he meets his entire family who visits him in jail after 20 years; he is admirably heartrending in that scene! Aishwarya Rai Bachchan also gives  a credible performance as his elder sister, and is the film’s real hero. Her ageing makeup has been done well, and so was Randeep’s weakened prisoner look. Ash is best in her quieter moments, though the makers insist that she scream a lot and channel her inner Sunny Deol (saw the same pattern in Jazbaa as well…we wonder why!). It’s in these scenes that she jars. Richa Chadha, though saddled with a limited role, is admirable, especially in a scene where she confronts her sister-in-law about a drastic step she tried to take. Darshan Kumar shines in a small role.

What’s not

Omung Kumar needs to appreciated for choosing real-life stories for his films, be it his previous Mary Kom or Sarbjit. However, he really needs to polish his storytelling skills to put his point across effectively. Sarbjit suffers from the same ailments that Mary Kom had – overuse of melodrama, contrived narrative and bombastic dialogues. Mary Kom being an inspirational tale, sails through safely. But Sarbjit’s story is already tragic so unnecessary melodrama and haphazard narrative only spoil the broth. For example, the film starts on the right note when Sarbjit goes missing and Dalbir and the rest are searching for him, quite worried about his plight. However, the film immediately goes into flashback mode straight into a wedding song, thereby blowing away all tensions it had built till then. Even in the later portions, Dalbir’s struggles to get her brother out and the politicians’ apathy towards her situation should have had a strong impact on the viewers. But the lackluster storytelling, supported by soap-style background score, loses whatever effect these scenes should have generated. Even the editing plays villain, as scenes just drag on and on, to the point of sheer boredom. There is a scene in the later part of the film where Sarbjit and his sister have a heart-to-heart conversation. It begins well with Sarbjit lashing out at his own fate, but then the scene is stretched so much that we lose interest in his plight, and wish for the film to give him some mercy asap. We already had a biopic earlier this year, Neerja, that also had a tragic tale at its core, yet it did not resort to melodrama to invoke emotions from us. Yet we left the theatres with moist eyes, because of superb performances and taut storytelling. Sarbjit has the former quality, but falters in the latter.

The songs often add spoilsport in the proceedings, especially the Tung Lak song. Though the Dard songs fleetingly touches your heart…

Except for the character played by Darshan Kumar, the rest of the Pakistanis are shown as emotionless traitors, while Indian politicians don’t care a damn! This is not me telling, but the film’s not so hidden message!

What to do

Sarbjit should have been the film that could have brought out issues of human rights being oppressed in favour of political games, but what it turns out to be is a nearly three hours of inconsistent and flawed storytelling. Watch the film purely for the performances, especially Randeep’s and the core plot!

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Aug
30

Several films are scheduled to release around the same time this Eid, splitting audiences and screen time

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Come September, the cinematic calendar is overflowing. Eid-ul-Azha festivities ensure a few days’ holiday and movie producers are well aware of the lucrative potential of an off-duty, euphoric audience.

Even as the landscape fills up with braying cattle, cinemas are about to get crowded with a spate of much awaited-movies, offering ‘pre-booking’ and ‘booking’ options.

And you can bet on plenty of full focuses up ahead. After trundling through a milieu of desultory flops, cinema is suddenly looking interesting.

Jawad Bashir’s Teri Meri Love Story releases in early September and following it are a range of local big banners nudging against each other for ‘hit’ status during Eid: ARY Films’ Janaan, Urdu1’s Actor In Law and Geo Films’ Zindagi Kitni Haseen Hay.

Jawad Bashir's 'Teri Meri Love Story'
Jawad Bashir’s ‘Teri Meri Love Story’

Also swooping in are heavy-duty contenders from Bollywood: Sonakshi Sinha-starrer Akira in early September; on the weekend before Eid, Nawazuddin Siddiqui-starrer Freaky Ali and Baar Baar Dekho, featuring Sidharth Malhotra and Katrina Kaif and right after Eid, Amitabh Bachchan’s Pink.

Forget a meat-infested diet; cinema buffs may as well while away their entire holidays at the movies. They’ve suffered enough – winding their way through a Hotal, deciphering aMah e Meer and hijrat-ing out of the cinemas during Hijrat. Now, they have a range of options available to them and so far, they all look promising. “It’s Eid, let’s enjoy it!” declares Mohsin Yaseen, General Manager Operations at Cinepax Cinemas.

Mohsin has reason to celebrate, with Cinepax owning two-screen and five-screen multiplexes as well as conventional single screen cinemas in multiple cities across the country. “We’re expecting 1950 shows to be seen nationwide from 9th till the 19th of September,” he predicts. “That’s an audience of more than 200,000 people and an attendance of at least 70%.”

But it is doubtful that movie producers will revel in the same kind of profits. Should one good movie have had released on Eid, audiences would have filtered in to see it repetitively.

Now, with so many options, only a limited number of screens will be allocated per movie, thereby restricting viewership. Revenues can hardly be expected to maximize, regardless of how good the movie is. It may still be a ‘hit’ – but it may not be able to bring in the box office revenue worthy of ‘super hits’.

Katrina's 'Kala Chashma' loaded Baar Baar Dekho just might take the home run!
Katrina’s ‘Kala Chashma’ loaded Baar Baar Dekho just might take the home run!

Looking at the bigger picture, cinema is dependent on movies earning huge revenues and producers reinvesting this money to create more movies. Lower profits earned per movie doesn’t bode too well for an industry that has only just managed to get to its feet, ambling slowly on the uphill path to revival.

Devising dates carefully

Backtracking to the recent past, there have been times when filmmakers have postponed movie releases in order to avoid clashes with other local releases and capitalize on earnings. Last Eid-ul-Azha, director Asim Raza delayed the release of his Ho Mann Jahaan so that it would not come into cinemas at the same time as Jawani Phir Nahi Ani, also scheduled for that Eid.

“Film release dates need to be decided intelligently as it takes a lot of hard work and investment to put together a movie. It goes to waste if the film does not get enough screens to reach out to audiences,” explains Asim. “Also, we cannot afford to have too many flops on our hands at this point in time. Otherwise, the little bit of confidence that we have gained as an ‘industry’ will come down crashing and intelligent investors will run away.”

Sajal Aly and Feroze Khan on the poster of 'Zindagi Kitni Haseen Hay'.
Sajal Aly and Feroze Khan on the poster of ‘Zindagi Kitni Haseen Hay’.

Similarly, Wajahat Rauf deliberately made sure that his cinematic directorial debut Karachi Se Lahore was not released on Eid last year. Instead, the movie premiered a few weeks later, happily enamoring audiences at a time when there were fewer options available to them.

“With about a dozen films released in a year, we sabotage each other’s business when we choose release dates that clash,” observes Wajahat. “Screens get divided and no one reaches the potential that they can. It is not imperative to release a movie during a festival. If the film is good, people will come to watch it regardless.”

At the other end of the spectrum, Humayun Saeed, producer of last year’s super-hit Jawani Phir Nahi Anisurmises that date clashes are bound to inevitably occur.

“Every producer would prefer a solo release but as the industry grows, it is unlikely that this will happen,” he says. “Also, just like every TV channel creates an Eid drama, production houses like to blow their trumpets with a well-publicized Eid movie release. That’s what’s happening this time, with all three local Eid releases emerging from different rival production houses. If all three movies are good, they will all do well although they may not earn as much as they could have with lesser competition.”

The bright side of the clash

How do the producers of this year’s Eid releases feel about the upcoming clash? They prefer to stay optimistic.

Fizza Ali Meerza, producer of the highly anticipated Actor In Law, released her last movie two years ago, also on Eid-ul-Azha; the very successful Na Maloom Afraad. Industry insiders claim that the filmmaker has since considered an Eid release her lucky charm. Fizza, though, says that once she commits to a release date, she adheres to it, regardless of competition.

Will Actor In Law succeed with veteran Bollywood actor Om Puri on their team?
Will Actor In Law succeed with veteran Bollywood actor Om Puri on their team?

“I announced Actor In Law’s release date nine months ago, before everyone else,” she explains. “I have commitments to my distributors, my cast and my crew and I can’t postpone dates at the nth hour. There is no doubt that business will suffer because of the date clash and it is bad for the industry, on the whole. We need to put aside egos and immediately set up a producers’ guild so that such problems don’t keep occurring.”

“It’s actually good for the audience that they will have three local movies to choose from this Eid,” Janaan’s producer Hareem Farooq points out. “The Pakistani audience is very loyal to local cinema and we have great faith in our movie. Hopefully, things will go well.”

Abdul Khaaliq Khan, the writer of Zindagi Kitni Haseen Hay, looks on the bright side. “Releasing at the same time may actually end up benefiting all three movies. When people won’t be able to get tickets for one show, they’ll end up seeing the next movie available. In this way, we’ll all benefit from the footfall.”

This cinematic overflow phenomenon, therefore, may actually bring in business for the mediocre contenders in the race.

The cast of Janaan
The cast of Janaan

But faced with so many options which movie will haul in big business and which will fade out, despite the footfall? AJanaan with its young caste and heavy duty promotional activities? A Zindagi Kitni Haseen Hay with its beautiful soundtrack and romantic plot? Or an Actor In Law with its take on social satire, boasting a cast that includes veteran Indian actor Om Puri?

Or will audiences just flock towards a Katrina Kaif in her ‘kaala chashma’? We have our nationalistic pride… but then there’s Katrina, flexing her newfound infamous abs. Perhaps, if nothing else, the release of Indian heavyweights should have been delayed to a later date.

The competition’s tough. Mohsin Yaseen argues, “In a multiplex, cinemas are smaller, with about 200 seats allotted to each screen. Everybody gets to go to the movies and business does well.”

But business could have certainly been better without this mammoth date clash. Movie producers, think it over next time.

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Aug
26

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A wedding scuttled, a suitor snubbed and a bride on the run are time-tested ingredients of a comic romp. Happy Bhag Jayegi has all this and more and yet is only mildly diverting when it isn’t overly desultory.

An Amritsar lass in love with a college mate of hers runs away from her engagement ceremony soon after the smarmy corporator she is due to marry does a full-on Sunny Deol dance of joy.

She jumps into the wrong getaway truck and ends up in Pakistan. It sets off a chain of events that sees four Indians, including the girl’s clueless dad, going round in circles in the city of Lahore.

The son of a Pakistani politician, his befuddled fiancee, and a garrulous cop join the riotous rigmarole and make matters worse.

Happy Bhag Jayegi falls short of being a side-splitting laugh riot because writer-director Mudassar Aziz does not make happy use of the narrative pieces available to him consistently enough to be able to deliver an outright winner.

But Happy Bhag Jayegi, which delivers harmless fun for the most part in spite of the patchy screenplay, is marked by elements that set it apart from run-of-the-mill Bollywood rom-coms. For one, a Bollywood comedy in which most of the action unfolds in Lahore is a rarity indeed.

That apart, the two women in the middle of the muddle – one Indian, the other Pakistani – hold their own as the men around them repeatedly get their knickers into a twist.

The Indian girl is the Happy of the title – Harpreet Kaur (Diana Penty) – who, despite the mounting troubles, does not regret her misadventures one bit. She is always intent on living up to her name. The Pakistani lady is Zia Rahmani (Momal Sheikh), tough-nut daughter of a Lahore business tycoon. She gives no quarters to her would-be husband and expects none.

The two men opposite them, on the other hand, are confused, if well-meaning, blokes. Bilal Ahmed (Abhay Deol) never tires of ruing his failure to follow his heart, blaming his father for yanking him away from cricket and pushing him into politics.

Gurpreet ‘Guddu’ Singh (Ali Fazal), who is left guessing over his fate after Happy jumps out her bedroom window, is equally unsure of whether he has it in him to win the girl he loves.

Guddu is supposed to be an aspiring musician but he is never seen making music. “Music mein magic hota hai,” Bilal says at one point as he hatches a plan to reunite Happy with Guddu. The magic never materializes because the music on offer is pretty pedestrian.

The villain of Happy Bhag Jayegi is Daman Singh Bagga (Jimmy Sheirgill), a small-time Amritsar politician with big-time ambitions. This guy is determined to marry Happy but is thwarted at every step. But he isn’t a gun-toting, expletive-hurling bad guy. It is with dazed, deadpan resignation that he reacts to the grave provocations he is subjected to.

The lover boy who gives the good-natured goon a run for his money is no obsessed Romeo either. Guddu allows Happy a long rope.

All through film, the dialogue writer unsurprisingly pokes fun at Pakistan but the jibes are never overtly spiteful. There isn’t much in Happy Bhag Jayegi by way of Pak-bashing that could unduly vex filmgoers across the border.

Happy Bhag Jayegi whips up a steady rhythm in the first half only to lose its way a bit in the second. The film goes all over the place once Bagga decides to follow Happy to Lahore and enlists the support of a local gang of criminals.

If Happy Bhag Jayegi does not get on one’s nerves like such half-baked attempts at hilarity tend to do, it is because it remains completely inoffensive.

It seeks to provide clean entertainment. The language is antiseptic, the women aren’t objectified, and the men aren’t lousy louts even when their actions aren’t particularly edifying. These are small mercies that add up to a lot.

Pakistanis might take umbrage to the way the Lahore cops are portrayed as a bumbling bunch. But, then, when doesn’t Hindi cinema give policemen in general the short shrift?

And then there is that grand revelation when man in uniform Usman Afridi (Piyush Mishra) refuses to travel to India because he does not want to consume ‘India ka namak’. Bilal reminds him that Pakistan imports all its salt from India. “Namak toh hum India kaa hi khate hain,” he concludes.

Abhay Deol, in his first release in two-and-a-half years, is the anchor around which Happy Bhag Jayegi pivots. He does not falter. Ali Fazal’s role is rather sketchily written, but he is perfectly in tune with the unsteady state of the mind of the character he plays.

Diana Penty, in only her second Bollywood outing, tries hard to pass off an earthy, sprightly Punjabi girl. Hers is an uneven performance. She doesn’t exactly run away with the film. Momal Sheikh, in her first big screen release, is a welcome addition to the growing tribe of Pakistani actresses trying their luck in Mumbai films.

While Jimmy Sheirgill is treated rather shabbily by the script, Piyush Mishra gets the best lines. The latter revels in the opportunity and provides the film’s brighter moments.

Happy Bhag Jayegi isn’t the kind of film that will have audiences rolling in the aisles. But it might occasionally induce faint smiles on some faces.

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