Written by  on January 11, 2019

Mimicry Or Acting? Is This A Propaganda Film Or Just An Adaptation Of The Book?

2 stars

Mini Review:

Titled after a book of the same name, this film looks at Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh from the point of view of his media advisor Sanjaya Baru. The film is shabbily made even though they get lots of cast to look like people in real life, and skims the events in Dr, Singh’s work life. Is this a propaganda film?

Main Review:

The timing of the film about a Congress party Prime Minister which shows the machinations of its party president and her then callow son seems like a propaganda film by BJP, the current party in power.

Dr. Manmohan Singh called himself the ‘Accidental Prime Minister’ (and hence the name of the book and the film) because he was appointed (not elected) to lead the coalition government by the Congress party president Sonia Gandhi. She could not become Prime Minister because she’s Italian and there was some rule about citizenship then… Dr. Singh was chosen because of his impeccable credentials as well as his ability of being unassuming and perceived as amenable and hence acceptable to all the various parties in the coalition .

The film uses the House of Cards technique where the characters break the fifth wall and talk to the audience. Very, very nice, you think and try not to be distracted by the gleam in Akshaye Khanna’s eyes and his knowing smirk and his natty clothes. He changes his suits so many times, you begin to wonder if any work got done in the Prime Minister’s Office. The only awful thing about clothes was to see Suzanne Bernert who looks and acts quite like Sonia Gandhi wear inexpensive sarees. In reality, she wears really beautiful expensive sarees.

If you have not read the book, you will watch events unfold on the screen (that include really poor quality real life news footage from the past) and see how Dr. Singh learn to speak with the right pauses and emphasis and so on. The credit is taken by Sanjaya Baru of course. We see political machinations not reach the poor, unsuspecting, trusting Prime Minister, thanks to who? Sanjaya Baru of course! We see the Prime Minister rely on the advice of his Sanjaya as if he arrived in the Prime Minister’s office without any credentials.

The film talks of a nuclear deal with the United States, it shows the tape scam, it shows how Dr. Manmohan Singh’s wife made tea, how all the secretaries and bureaucrats made deals within deals and dealt with journalists and those who haven’t read the book will exclaim how much the film covers. But it’s just froth. Even if you have not read the book (and that should not be a criteria to appreciate the film) you, the audience will know that deals between countries are made after much planning and negotiations. Here the film makes the whole thing look like fluff despite the opposition creating trouble for the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister’s office looks like a throwback of some old palace of the Maharajas rather than the highest office of power. The giant artificial flowers don’t help in adding credibility to the setting at all.

What is the worst part of the whole thing? It is election year now in India, and the film shows the then callow leader of the Congress, Rahul Gandhi (under whose leadership the Congress has won three states from the ruling BJP) in very poor light. Arjun Mathur plays Rahul as if he were completely inarticulate and is shown to be ridiculous. That smacks of propaganda, if nothing else.

Anupam Kher is a good actor, but is this mimicry as I suspect, or good acting? The film will perhaps bring about a political dialog in the country or maybe it will be relegated to the files of ‘What was that?!’  

(this review appears on nowrunning dot com)    

Review: 706

Written by  on January 11, 2019

Khoon! Badla Lene Aaya Pishaach! Bhai Wah!

2 stars

Mini Review:

A doctor is missing, his psychiatrist wife is worried or is she? Does it matter that a cop with a secret is investigating the doctor’s disappearance? Why and how is the creepy kid making accurate predictions? The film is a great idea and executed decently, but it just takes too long to come to the point…

Main Review:

That Divya Dutta is a good actor is a given, but here she manages to carry the film along with another wonderful actor Atul Kulkarni. Bollywood does not make good horror films. And this film comes out of nowhere and surprises you.

So a doctor who owns a fancy hospital is missing and his young wife, Dr Suman, is shown to be worried for his well being. The cops as always have not found anything at all. Divya Dutta plays the wife and Atul Kulkarni plays the cop investigating this case. The police have found nothing and the cops make appropriate noises in the media about how they’re doing their best. They’re both good actors, so I am intrigued.

It’s more than eleven days since her husband is missing so Dr Suman decides to go back to work. At work, a colleague informs her that a patient is refusing to leave the hospital unless checked by her personally. The patient turns out to be the creepy kid who looks alright, is physically fit but… Oops! Spoke too soon. The child suffers from bizarre convulsions, and then begins staring at the doctor and saying things like he knows where her husband is…

The cops search the area the kid has pointed to and discover that the information the child has given is indeed true. Secrets both the cop and the lady doctor have been hiding come out. We learn that a lad has jumped off the terrace from the hotel, and he stayed in room number 706 (hence the strange title of the film) The film uses very Indian themes of ghosts entering the body, spirits kept at bay with a taveez (blessed amulet) and a spiritual guru in Benaras foretelling the future…

The story slowly takes shape, even though the reasoning is staring at us, and in this day and age when things unravel so slowly, you wish you could fast-forward the film. The end reveal is rather satisfying. Perhaps it would be best watched on video or online…

(this review appears on

Review: URI: The Surgical Strikes

Written by  on January 11, 2019

Loud Country Cousin Of Zero Dark Thirty

2 stars

Mini Review:

Four Pakistani terrorists infiltrated an Indian Army base and killed sleeping soldier in their barracks in Uri. India replied with Zero Dark Thirty style over the border attack called ‘Surgical Strikes’. It’s shot well, and despite being a patriotic revenge drama it remains soulless.

Main Review:

The first half of the film establishes the hard working commandos beautifully. They work on the North-East Manipur-Myanmar border, they defend our borders in North-West in Kashmir. They are daring and yet family men. The bosses both of the armed forces and the politicians in the capital are very supportive and make sure brave officers don’t retire, but set to a desk job so that saves him (and the country) from a resignation.

Who Gives A Flying Feck About Army Rules, Vicky Kaushal Is Our Hero And He Will Haz Macho Beard!

Vicky Kaushal is Major Vihaan Shergill a fearless commando, unafraid to go mano-a-mano with terrorists is the hero of the film. He wants to take voluntary retirement after a successful ambush of terrorists and insurgents in the North East because his mother (Swaroop Sampat) is suffering from Alzheimer's. His brother in law is Mohit Raina (of the TV show about Shiva fame) who is also a fearless Army commando captain who is now posted in Uri, an army camp base in Kashmir.

Mohit Raina has a hair style that can only be explained as put finger in electrical socket and switch it on, and Vicky Kaushal has been given a beard. Both a no-no in the Army, but who cares about rules. They have to look good! Hoo haah!

Pakistani Baad India Good! Let's Shake Fists In Air! Taaliyaan! Seetiyaan!

Terrorists have been known to enter India from Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) and make small inroads and they have killed many civilians. On the government level, Pakistan has always denied being directly involved, and India has furnished proof each time in International courts. But justice delayed is justice denied, but this narrative has been fed to the people of India. Paresh Rawal plays Govind (in reality Ajit Doval) the National Security Advisor to the Indian Prime Minister, who says that this time the troops are not going to be happy with diplomacy and would like to respond to Pakistan with force, in the form of Surgical Strikes - operations where a team infiltrates the enemy country and blows up the terrorist camps. This puts Pakistan in a position where they cannot complain about camps they have denied the existence of, Internationally. The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (played by Rajat Kapoor) gives orders to carry out surgical strikes in complete secrecy.

Also, Jai Gorment!

You groan at the obvious pandering to the government by this film. First when the Prime Minister congratulates the team on the Manipur strike, and then when he gives the go ahead for the surgical strikes and needlessly says that it needs to be conducted in secrecy and that there should be no logs of the meeting. With moles being shown on both sides of the fence, and meeting with a roomful of ministers unrecorded seems like a red flag, no? But the ministers all look cast terrifically, especially Manohar Parrikar, the Defence Minister at that time. It bothered me to see Pakistani people being portrayed as noxious. Raazi did a terrific job, and showed no disrespect for Pakistanis. It was awful and caricaturish to show an enemy mole (played by Rakesh Bedi) who burps through hisi dialog as he shares coordinates of terrorist camps with Indian Intelligence.

They even check the needless politically correct boxes by having Yami Gautam (looks lovely) play the Intelligence officer, and have a female helicopter pilot (Kirti Kulhari).

All is not lost. There are moments where you genuinely get caught in the moment. An episode with a spy bird equipped with a camera getting almost caught by a young terrorist in training gets an A+ grade. Also the very first incursion scene in Manipur-Myanmar give you hope that the film could have great action scenes. Wrong.

Sab Original Hai. Serbia Looks Like Pakistan!

The film is shot in Serbia, and you really have to be blindly patriotic to forget that the Line Of Control at the India Pakistan border has the Himalayas. But who cares, Vicky Kaushal who has sat at the desk for at least six months is leading a team of crack commandos on a super secret mission. Only that the sardar sent on the mission tells him, 'I'm being sent off on a super secret mission to avenge our fallen comrades at Uri, I've come to say bye!'

You are horrified, but dudes, what patriotism!

A Super Secret, Super Loud Stealth Mission

We have a Zero Dark Thirtyish scenario. Where the terrorists are holding out in a two storied building, and the crack commando team has to enter the home and kill them all. Alpha, Bravo and Charlie teams have gone elsewhere to kill other camps. But the Delta team has to kill two chaps who planned the Uri massacre. The proceedings naturally conducted in English, and seem to step over the Hindi patriotic fervour the film tries to evoke when they show the funeral of the Uri soldiers. The Delta team has to go through caves instead of dropping down near the Abbottabad… Oops… The house where the terrorists live. But the sound effects guy just goes crazy here. Vicky Kaushal splashes through the water, followed by at least ten other guys. Each splash louder than the first. They stomp, yes, stomp through the streets, someone switching off street lights. The army boots are not on stealth mode, and you wonder how the terrorists could be sleeping through this very loud group heard on surround sound. The booby trapped gate is a very nice touch and you wish everything else were handled with that same tense silence. But we hear army lads climb up stairs like loudly and fearlessly and we add facepalming sounds to that already noisy scene.

Bhai Ka Badlaaaaa! Chilla Chilla Ke Lo!

All kinds of killing happens and you just shake your head then. It had to be violent. And then when our hero catches the baddest of the bad guys, he has lots of time for speechifying, ‘Go to hell and meet all your friends!’ They grapple again, hero now pokes the baddie’s eyes. There’s more grunts and angry speech,’You came and killed my brothers, now we come to your house and kill you, all of you!’ Of course the hero has to let out a primal scream, that am sure can be heard all the way to Pakistan’s capital. Some people will clap, because hero has avenged his brother in law’s death with the ear splitting war cry, ‘Indian Aaaaaaarmy!’ Who cares if their job was do this quietly and return to India stealthily? Of course, everyone back in the Indian Situation Rooms is clapping too. Credibility at the cost of applause from the cheap seats. In the election year, I suppose all is fair...                    

(a politicallycorrect version of this review appears on nowrunning dot com)


Written by  on January 11, 2019

All 'Coming Out' Cliches In One Film

1.5 stars

Mini Review:

A young photographer Kartik comes home to a small town for a family puja and comes out to his mother. You want to say nice things because the issue of gay rights is important, but this film is riddled with cliches about a patriarchal family where the gay son has not come out. It’s a tedious watch.

Trouble with such films is, that you want to support the cause, but a bad film is a bad film.

Main Review:

Anant Mahadevan plays the annoying patriarch who is consistently rude and obnoxious to his wife, his sister and insists that his son Kartik get married in an arranged marriage. Kartik is a gentle soul, coming home after 4 years. He has a secret which has to spilled because the family wants him to get married to a girl.

The concerns are glaringly obvious. He’s living happily with a lad in the big city, and he is unable to come out because he is afraid of how it will affect his mother and because he know that his dad will explode.

And the story proceeds exactly as you would think. The dad is rough with the mom, insulting her, asking her to do this or that, and the mother, (Mona Ambegaonkar is rather good as mom) silently suffers everything. We get the equation, but the filmmaker hammers it in again and again and again until we want to say, ‘We get that, now get on with the story!’ So dad wants Kartik to get married to a girl of his choice and gives Kartik grief about how lives need to be lived by a system and do things - like get married, have children - at the right time.

Kartik is played by Devansh Doshi, and he has a great screen presence. You actually like his connect with his mother and wish so much time wasn’t wasted on establishing that the dad is an awful person.

Before you can roll your eyes at dad, Kartik has taken his mom out on a day trip and has confessed that his reluctance to get married stems from his connection, his affair with a lad. Of course the mother reacts like everything Sparknotes might say about how mothers react when sons come out. She is shocked, she cries, she imagines him cross-dressed, she hopes he will come around, she prays to the Gods so he can be ‘normal’, she even calls his sexual relationship ‘dirty’ and ‘abnormal’...

Kartik is dismayed. His partner Aman, tells him over the phone to take heart and give his mother time to get used to this ‘new reality’. Then comes the best line of dialog of the film. This line should have been explored more than just  being a throwaway line. That would have been a meatier film than this bunch of cliches. Paraphrasing the dialog: ‘When a son comes out of the closet, he pushes his mother into the closet.’

That is an idea worth exploring. The idea that a gay son ‘shuts up’ his conservative mother who belongs to a traditional family is better than just showing a father rough with his son after finding out he is gay. Kartik leaves his computer open to a folder where he has happy, intimate pictures with his partner, dad sees them and blows his top, beating him black and blue. The father remembers the ‘signs’ that his son is gay: the film flashbacks into showing Kartik in the kitchen as very young boy, cutting vegetables and being interested in cooking… Such cliches are just too terrible to be appreciated.

India is still coming to terms with laws that make sexual activity between people of same sex non-criminal, and not too many films deal with a ‘gay’ theme. So you want to make allowances and call the film ‘brave’. But as country that produces so many movies a year, this film is just awful, full of stereotypes; and the treatment of important dialog like the one where the mother finally musters courage to yell at the father saying, ‘He is my son and he can be whoever he wants to be’ is said in such a horrible over-the-top 70s Hindi film stereotype, it leaves you cringing. She screams, ‘He is my flesh and blood. I fed him my blood for nine months in my womb…’

Shubha Mudgal’s song is just too predictable a wail and slows the film down. Evening Shadows is a painful watch and even though the lead duo of mother and son are very good, the shabby screenplay does not help.

(this review appears on


Written by  on January 3, 2019

So Charming, The Connection Between Charlie And Her Car

2.5 stars

Mini Review:

As far as Superhero Origin Stories go, this one ranks out there with the best. Transformer is 'found' by a young girl and their friendship blossoms because both of them are alienated from their family. The story is charming and not as predictable as metal clashing with metal tales that you have seen in other Transformer tales. It's like watching ET, but knowing Optimus Prime will show up later...

Main Review:

Charlie has lost her father and she's working on the Corvette just like she used to, so that his memory would be alive. Mom seems to have moved on and Charlie lives like a stranger with Mom, Ron, her brother Otis and the dog. 

You smile at the awful, thoughtless birthday presents she receives. You are horrified to see the chasm between her and everyone else at home. You realise that you have started rooting for her when she accidentally bumps into the six-pack ab chap at the fun fair where she serves hot dog on a stick...

And you love it when she connects to Bee and Bee closes his eyes when she hugs him. You like him better than a VW Beetle that has #53 painted on its side called Herbie. You like him better than the flying Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. You automatically call Bee a 'Him' even though the cruel Army officer rightly calls him an 'It'.

We are a empathetic bunch, this audience, because we begin to root for a young rebellious girl and her alien companion, just as we did years ago when ET was left behind...

The Decepticons are mean and vicious. Angela Basset's voices the usually awesome muscle car the cherry red Plymouth Satellite and her sidekick is a blue AMC Javelin. On any other day I would have loved the two muscle cars because they have so much power under the hood, but here comes a Hasbro film (toy company) made by Tencent (the Chinese video game and phone app giant) which makes me think a VW Beetle is cooler than these two cars that can literally eat up the road...

All these years of watching Transformers movies you are there because your husband, boyfriend or your children wanted to watch metal clash with metal and to ogle at the beautiful women in the film who fall for geeky lads. So much fantasy, and these Transformers films never touched you at all. The only time I was awed was when Megan Fox sat astride a motorbike with swag... I mean legs... that made watching the rest of the movie eminently memorable.

But this film makes you root for the young girl and her friend Bumblebee. And that's saying a lot. Take the kids along too, because they'll love one scene with Bee inside the house when you go get a refill on your coffee and caramel popcorn...