It wouldn’t be right to do a themed week around the musical and not cover at least one Bollywood film, an industry whose entire production in every genre seems to be somehow informed by the genetic material of the musical. It just so happens that some of them are rather closer to the form than others, and this film is at heart a film about music and the performance of it, as well as being something of a musical.
I suppose I was primed beforehand to be resistant to what appears (and, to a certain extent, is) the Bollywood reimagining of 8 Mile, with its aspirant rapper Murad (Ranveer Singh), who has to be coaxed into performing and then finds himself on stage trying out for the big time, with moneyed half-American hangers-on tempting him with their aspirational lifestyles. But really, this is a film that’s far more in its element when it’s dealing with the slums that Murad has come out of, about his secret relationship with Safeena (Alia Bhatt, whom I adore) — whose family are wealthier and whose parents would never consent to their being together — and about the difficulties he has just trying to live his life. After all, he has friends who are mixed up in carjacking and drug dealing, and so their easy access to money at times becomes too tempting. In some ways, class seems even more ingrained into the Indian films I’ve seen than in any other cinema, and it’s explicitly addressed here by the director Zoya Akhtar, as are the double-standards of Murad’s father, who has married a much younger second wife and then treats his first one badly — his actions are hardly excused, but we do get a glimpse into the grinding poverty and lack of opportunities he’s been given in life, and the extent to which he has given up hope of it ever changing. Given the film’s big-budget production background, none of this context was ever likely to be as gritty and depressing as it could be, but all the themes are very much there. Still, for all that, and for all the enjoyment in its big musical competition scenes, any lead character who could even think about cheating on Alia Bhatt will never fully have my sympathy.
Director Zoya Akhtar ज़ोया अख़्तर; Writers Akhtar and Reema Kagti ৰীমা কাগতি; Cinematographer Jay Oza जय ओझा; Starring Ranveer Singh रणवीर सिंह, Alia Bhatt आलिया भट्ट; Length 153 minutes.
Seen at Cineworld Wood Green, London, Wednesday 20 February 2019.
This isn’t perfect as a film, far from it — our heroine (Kauri, or “Koko” for short, played by the lovely Alia Bhatt) spends much of the time acting like an entitled brat, for which there’s an explanatory backstory near the end which is far too neat and allows for a perfunctory ending that stretches credulity — but I really liked this film. It has its heart in the right place. Maybe it’s better to say what it’s not: it’s not a film in which a wayward heroine is cured by a hunky love interest (though the reliable Shah Rukh Khan does play a key role as a therapist, while the film at one point even suggests Kauri may be lesbian, and there’s a little coda that plays with gender identity); and it’s also not a film that stigmatises mental health issues (even if I don’t believe Khan’s therapy sessions at all). It has visual flair, and I really wished Kaira’s job as a cinematographer were more developed than the opening half hour, but it shows plenty of promise.
Director/Writer Gauri Shinde गौरी शिंदे; Cinematographer Laxman Utekar लक्ष्मण उतेकर; Starring Alia Bhatt आलिया भट्ट, Shah Rukh Khan शाहरुख़ ख़ान; Length 150 minutes.
Seen at Cineworld O2 Greenwich, London, Monday 28 November 2016.
As a period-set detective film, this looks fabulous, as if a lot of money has been spent to recreate a sense of Calcutta in the 1940s. As the title character, Sushant Singh Rajput looks the part, fresh out of wherever detectives go to the school and eager to work. Aided by his geeky-looking sidekick Ajit (Anand Tiwari), Byomkesh soon comes up against a cabal of nefarious sorts. The film is heavy on plot, and if you’re not paying attention, you’re liable to lose track of who’s doing what to whom for what reason — and I’m not always convinced it’s particularly interesting if you do keep track — but just on the handsomeness of the sets and the costumes, this is a pleasant enough film to pass the time.
Director Dibakar Banerjee दिबाकर बेनर्जी; Writers Banerjee and Urmi Juvekar दिबाकर बेनर्जी (based on the novels সত্যান্বেষী Satyanweshi and অর্থমনর্থম Arthamanartham by Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay শরদিন্দু বন্দ্যোপাধ্যায়); Cinematographer Nikos Andritsakis Νίκος Ανδριτσάκης; Starring Sushant Singh Rajput सुशांत सिंह राजपूत, Anand Tiwari आनंद तिवारी, Swastika Mukherjee স্বস্তিকা মুখোপাধ্যায়; Length 147 minutes.
Seen at home (Netflix streaming), London, Friday 1 January 2016.
Like many a Bollywood romcom (at least of the ones I’ve seen this year), this is glitzy, glossy, silly and set in an magical exotical foreign wonderland. Which would be Yorkshire, obviously. So we get the mist hanging close to the green fields, horse-riding and tweedy ensembles, people rolling around in Rolls’s, and humble homes straight out of Downton Abbey (although it seems the main mansion setting was filmed in Poland). There’s a dance sequence set in a barn, where everyone’s dressed up in their best Barbour, while the bride-to-be (Sanah Kapoor) jumps up on some kind of draycart outfitted with handpulls and bottles of real ale. It is, if I haven’t covered this already, dreadfully silly. But that’s fine, really, or at least it’s fine with me. The film is at least up-front about its wistful magical dream world, as via a short animated sequence it sets up how our heroine Alia (the winning and delightful Alia Bhatt) can’t ever get to sleep and has dreams drawn for her by her apparently-adoptive father Bipin, played by Pankaj Kapur, the actual father of the film’s male lead, Shahid Kapoor (playing wedding planner Jagjinder Joginder). There are periodic little outbreaks of this kind of animated fantasia world, but mostly the suspension-of-disbelief is at the vast enormity of the grandness or the blinginess of the bling (the gold-plated Magnum revolver constantly waved around by the film’s nominal bad guy, Mr Fundwani, is only the most ridiculous — that is until a diamond-encrusted pump-action shotgun arrives). It doesn’t all work — there’s a pair of txt-speaking girls whose stereotypical vapidity quickly gets wearing — but when it does, as in a fantastic battle-of-the-sexes dance number, it really can be quite special. Somehow by the end (just of that song, frankly), they’ve managed to lampoon laddish bantz, fat-shaming, rape culture and fit in a line about the groom-to-be being a “misogynistic prat” (although even he turns out to be not irredeemable). After a string of serious-hued nonsense, it’s refreshing to find this level of escapism, but I concede not everyone may be so charmed.
Director Vikas Bahl विकास बहल; Writer Anvita Dutt Guptan अन्विता दत्त; Cinematographer Anil Mehta अनिल मेहता; Starring Alia Bhatt आलिया भट्ट, Shahid Kapoor शाहिद कपूर, Pankaj Kapur पंकज कपूर, Sanah Kapoor सनाह कपूर; Length 144 minutes.
Seen at Cineworld Wood Green, London, Monday 2 November 2015.
As a sweeping period romantic epic set in the 1870s in the historical province of Awadh or Oudh in North India (the modern Uttar Pradesh), this hits all the requisite costume and set design boxes. After all, the resources of Bollywood film production can at least be relied on for exquisite costuming. The cinematography too is pretty lush, heavy on the soft-focus settings and filming in grand old buildings — even if there’s some use of slightly dubious landscape paintings as backdrops in the nabob’s stately home. Speaking of him (and I’m not sure “nabob” is exactly the right term, what with my admittedly not being much of an expert on this historical period, to say the least), the very English Mr Cavendish is a proper stage villain, all but twirling his moustache as he plots the division of the region, which is split between Hindus and Muslims, whom it is suggested have been living side by side in relative harmony up until this point. Our hero is a Muslim, Ameer (Imran Abbas), recently returned from receiving his education in England and dressed up as the colonial puppet ruler, who only slowly comes to comprehend the devastation wrought to his region by the English. His tutor in this regard — and eventually his love interest — is Noor (Pernia Qureshi), a dancer and stately courtesan, keen to overthrow the tyrannical outsiders. Everything progresses from here by episodic means, woven together by director Muzaffar Ali, who also appears as a mysterious elderly figure pulling strings in the background, though the action never really seems to spark off as it should do. The acting (and dancing) is restrained and elegant, almost too much so for the roiling melodrama of the setting, and it’s only Cavendish who seems to betray much anger (disconcertingly, this is largely directed at his mistress). While Jaanisaar is certainly not withouts its merits, it seems almost too bloodless to do justice to such a tumultuous period of history.
Director Muzaffar Ali مظفر علی; Writers Javed Siddiqui جاوید صدیقی, Shama Zaidi شمع زیدی and Ali; Cinematographer Gianni Giannelli; Starring Imran Abbas عمران عباس نقوی, Pernia Qureshi पर्निया कुरैशी, Muzaffar Ali مظفر علی; Length 124 minutes.
Seen at Cineworld Ilford, London, Thursday 16 July 2015.
As my knowledge of popular Indian cinema is still in its infancy, my understanding from commentary I found on the internet is that this film is a Bollywood (i.e. Hindi language) debut from Punjabi director Smeep Kang, but otherwise bears the stylistic imprint of films from that part of the world (the north-west of the country and Pakistan). It stars Punjabi singer Gippy Grewal as dashing divorcee Rajbir looking to remarry the sensible lawyer Gurpreet, though the actor playing her (Tina Ahuja) almost fades into the background, since most of the comedic to-do is given over to Rajbir’s philandering boss Ajit (Dharmendra, a stalwart of both Hindi and Punjabi cinema) and his ex-wife Neha (Geeta Basra), a colourful figure who is set on Rajbir’s alimony payments. There’s little point in me trying to recount the plot, which involves all kinds of slapstick endeavours by Rajbir to set up Neha with a new husband (not to mention playing match-maker and breaker with Ajit, Ajit’s wife, the local police sergeant, and others). Even the film seems to whizz through the various possible pairings with undue haste and little attention to believability, stopping entirely at one point, as is customary, to fit in what amounts to a music video. It’s probably a stretch to have set up the almost 80-year-old Dharmendra as a charming lothario, much though he’s looking good for his age, and too many of the slapstick setpieces are a stretch even for a script this slapdash. Added to this the comedy musical cues start to get wearing over the length of the film. That said, it coasts through on the photogenic charm of its leads, making it difficult to take against it too strongly.
Director Smeep Kang ਸਮੀਪ ਕੰਗ; Writers Kang, Shreya Srivastava ਸ਼ਰੇਆ ਸ੍ਰੀਵਾਸਤਵ and Vaibhav Suman ਵੈਭਵ ਸੁਮਨ; Cinematographer Manoj Shaw [aka Manoj Gupta मनोज गुप्ता]; Starring Gippy Grewal ਗਿੱਪੀ ਗਰੇਵਾਲ, Geeta Basra ਗੀਤਾ ਬਸਰਾ, Dharmendra धर्मेन्द्र; Length 105 minutes.
Seen at Cineworld Ilford, London, Thursday 16 July 2015.
The most obvious point here is that Bollywood dance film ABCD 2 is hardly sparklingly original, though bringing together the modern dance film genre with Bollywood’s strong tradition of dance does seem like an obvious step (and indeed this is a sequel to 2013’s ABCD: Any Body Can Dance). So here we have a group of young dancers, led by Suresh (Varun Dhawan) and Vinnie (Shraddha Kapoor), who are at first disgraced on national TV, and then must compete at the World Championships in Las Vegas to redeem themselves, tutored by the older and mysterious Vishnu (Prabhu Deva). It steals influences most obviously from the Step Up series (whose entry last year, Step Up: All In, went to Vegas too), but also fairly liberally from most other recent young-people-compete-for-success-against-the-odds films like Pitch Perfect 2 (the bad guys are always Germans), StreetDance and Bring It On, amongst plenty of others. It’s a Disney film, so even the darker plot strands (like Vishnu’s alcoholism) never rise much above the anodyne, and everything inevitably turns out pretty well for everyone, but along the way it’s difficult to fault the infectious cheerfulness of the young cast in their many dance (and some song) sequences.
Director Remo D’Souza रेमो डीसूजा; Writer Tushar Hiranandani तुषार हीरानंदनी; Cinematographer Vijay Arora विजय अरोड़ा; Starring Varun Dhawan वरुण धवन, Shraddha Kapoor श्रद्धा कपूर, Prabhu Deva பிரபுதேவா; Length 154 minutes.
Seen at Cineworld Wood Green, London, Wednesday 24 June 2015.
There’s probably no good reason that this film should work, but somehow — despite its wealthy characters, exotic cruise-liner-set locations (primarily Istanbul), and sudsy, at times sentimental, melodrama — it does. Perhaps this is down to director Zoya Akhtar and her female co-screenwriter, and the believability of some of their characters: there’s the mother and father Neelam and Kamal (Shefali Shah and Anil Kapoor) holding their marriage together under the strain of his philandering, their daughter Ayesha (Priyanka Chopra) who runs a successful business but doesn’t love her husband, and their playboy son Kabir (Ranveer Singh) who won’t settle down like his parents want. Yet even if this could be a quality slice of televisual soap opera at times, the emphasis must still remain on the quality, beautifully filmed and acted with panache. On the downside there’s the way things resolve themselves towards a sentimental denouement, often matched with syrupy musical cues — the title does after all translate as “Let the Heart Beat” — but after almost three hours it does at least feel somewhat earned. The device of having the film narrated by the family’s dog is a little precious, too, but it allows for a fair amount of physical comedy that never quite tips into the gross-out territory that Piku unexpectedly went to earlier this year — another film with a strong female protagonist. In that role Priyanka Chopra more than holds her own, believable as a self-made woman in control of her life, even with Ranveer Singh mugging and joking winningly for the camera as her dissolute brother and a powerhouse Anil Kapoor as her controlling dad. The constant changes in tonal range can get a bit trying towards the end (surely a feature of Bollywood cinema), as we veer from light-hearted comedy to dance numbers to histrionic melodrama, but the quality of the acting and writing finally wins through.
Director Zoya Akhtar ज़ोया अख़्तर; Writers Reema Kagti ৰীমা কাগতি, Zoya Akhtar and Farhan Akhtar फरहान अख्तर; Cinematographer Carlos Catalan; Starring Priyanka Chopra प्रियंका चोपड़ा, Ranveer Singh रणवीर सिंह, Anil Kapoor अनिल कपूर, Shefali Shah शेफ़ाली शाह, Farhan Akhtar फरहान अख्तर; Length 170 minutes.
Seen at Cineworld Wood Green, London, Monday 8 June 2015.
I may go to see a lot of films, but the Indian film industry (Bollywood, if you will, at least when describing Hindi-language film production) is still largely a mystery to me. The popular notion is that it’s all glitzy overblown melodrama punctuated by dance numbers, but if anything Piku proves there’s still plenty of room for refreshingly grounded character-based drama. But Piku is a success no matter what country’s film output you’re used to watching, as it manages to find a light comedic tone even while dealing with some pretty big themes in an understated way. Key to that is the film’s central relationship, which isn’t a love story; in fact, the film should be commended for introducing a female central character (the Piku of the title) who lives independently, has a fulfilling and successful career and, even up to the very end, does not define her life (as some of those around her do) by whether or not she has a man. No, instead the film is largely a two-hander between the testy and stand-offish Piku — the resourceful and beguiling Deepika Padukone (who in the course of this one film has quickly staked her claim on my affections at least) — and her irascible father Bhaskor, the latter of whom is played by an icon of Indian cinema, Amitabh Bachchan, who turns out to have pretty deft comic timing. The film’s subtitle or maybe tag-line is “motion se hi emotion” which (as far as I can gather from, er, Google translate) means “motion leads to emotion”, where the ‘motion’ in question is at one level a reference to the film’s last third being a road trip, but more specifically refers to bowel motion, and indeed Bhaskor’s constipation is the film’s ongoing running gag — which to be fair does provide some intermittent amusement. If this were all the film had to offer, I wouldn’t be able to recommend it, especially as, for all the wit and vigour of Juhi Chaturvedi’s dialogue, the editing can get rather frenetic at times and the film doesn’t always entirely succeed in tying together a disparate range of genres. However, ultimately, the toilet humour is more a way to channel issues around ageing and death, as Bhaskor deals with his mortality and his relationship to his wider family, including his daughter. In the end, it’s touching, and while there is a romantic subplot of sorts (with Irrfan Khan’s entrepreneurial taxi company owner), the focus is firmly on the father-daughter relationship.
Director Shoojit Sircar সুজিত সরকার; Writer Juhi Chaturvedi जूही चतुर्वेदी; Cinematographer Kamaljeet Negi कमलजीत नेगी; Starring Deepika Padukone दीपिका पादुकोण, Amitabh Bachchan अमिताभ बच्चन, Irrfan Khan इरफ़ान ख़ान; Length 125 minutes.
Seen at Cineworld Wood Green, London, Monday 11 May 2015.