Saturday, October 20, 2018

Badhaai Ho - Movie Review

How often have you watched a movie about a middle class family living in a cramped flat and wanted to move in with them, if not forever then at least for your summer holidays?

I can’t recall any except, perhaps, the house of Dolly and Biji in Vicky Donor.

But now Badhaai Ho, by director Amit Ravindernath Sharma along with three writers — Shantanu Srivastava, Akshat Ghildial, Jyoti Kapoor — gives us the “Kaushiks”, a family of five that is so real and warm that I hope they keep coming back every year.

The film’s story, born out of every child’s loudly announced disgust and discomfort at even the stray thought of mummy-daddy doing the dirty thing, i.e. SEX, is both believable and very funny.

The film’s giggles are pivoted on an icky situation — a middle-aged couple, with grown sons, one of whom is working, announces that they are expecting their third child — and the incredibly stupid, but entirely understandable reaction of all those around them. Badhaai Ho makes us laugh at the discomfiture of the couple, the bristling but pointless frustration of their kids and others, while making us root for the freedom of couples to make their own choices, and keeping the Kaushiks together.

This connect with the Kaushiks is partly because of the writing, but mostly because the film is blessed, really, by a cast that looks lived in — as if director Sharma just moved his camera crew to the house of Kaushiks and handed over each member their lines.

Luckily, just as the film is invested in these characters and their stories, all the actors, but especially Neena Gupta, Gajraj Rao, Ayushmann Khurrana and Surekha Sekri, inhabit their characters with instinctive compassion and understanding, giving each one humanity and a soul.

Badhaai Ho is a warm, twinkling gem set in a colony of low income group flats that are stacked together tightly to face, in unison, a narrow lane and a strip of green.

Jeetendra, or Jeetu (Gajraj Rao), who is a TT with Bharatiya Rail, is married to Priyamvada, or Babli (Neena Gupta). They have two sons — Nakul (Ayushmann Khurrana), who works at an IT firm, along with his girlfriend Renee (Sanya Malhotra), and Gullar (Shardul Rana), who is in senior secondary school.

On the divan in their living room rests Dadi (Surekha Sekri). She’s aged but hasn’t lost her mother-in-law sting despite faulty hearing.

Their house, where there isn’t enough space to give even one door the space to swing open — all are split into two — we see how all of them take care of each other, bond, irritate, assist and also negotiate some moments of solitude.

One night Jeetu, who writes poetry under the penname “Vyakul” (Uneasy) and waits for them to be printed, sits with Babli on their double-bed, and reads out his latest.

But that night it rains and well, boing!

“Badhaai ho!” screams the old Dr Bagga, smiling appreciatively at Jeetu, while his doctor wife casts a sharply disapproving eye on him.

Here on Badhaai Ho is the story of a couple who steal brief moments of intimacy for themselves, and to power their household. Jeetu, in his quietly affectionate manner, protects Babli from his mother’s barbs, while Babli, despite tears rolling down her cheeks every time her maika is dissed, takes care of Dadi as her own.

In between Badhaai Ho takes flight to the very elegant and sprawling house of Renee to meet her mother (Sheeba Chaddha). Here everything screams out “I’m classy” and the film holds its breath here, as if its exhalation would offend the posh.

As the story unfolds, Badhaai Ho’s focus is not on the conflict, but on how families reconcile with differences, adjust around and accept each other’s decisions, personalities, opinions and tantrums. It’s about how strong and nourishing the bonds are in those small homes are where Daddyjis stand by and love Mummyjis.

Badhaai Ho is written and directed with self-assurance and confidence. It doesn’t feel the need to pause to sell us even its funniest moments. Just like in any routine family interaction, these are asides that sparkle and then pass.

All characters are well etched out, except those of Sheeba Chaddha and Sanya Malhotra. These are built with filmy clich├ęs, and though both of them are good, there wasn’t much room for them to play. They deserved better.

But I can’t say enough how excellent Neena Gupta, Gajraj Rao, Ayushmann Khurrana and Surekha Sekri are, but I’m going to try.

Khurrana, who has come to embody a slightly-confused-but-mostly-good middle class boy, is able to keep all of his characters distinct and memorable. He barely changes his looks, and yet his Nakul here is not Prem Prakash Tiwari of Dum Laga Ke Haisha. It would not be wrong if I compare him Amol Palekar. Simple looks but amazing talent !

Often, actors become boring when they play the same character over and over. That’s mostly because they use mannerisms to build that character, essay those roles. Khurrana is one of those rare actors who uses subtle changes in his body language and diction to keep it all fresh, distinct.

I have been a fan of Neena Gupta since she was a secretary in Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro. And my love for her grew with every character she played, from the TV series Khandaan and Saans to Shyam Benegal’s Mandi.

Neena Gupta has a screen presence much like Smita Patil’s — they don’t just create a character on the outside, but invest it with an inner cosmos that communicates with the audience, making them compelling and attractive.

It’s a shame really that Bollywood can’t come up with roles that match her caliber and brilliance. I hope Badhaai Ho changes that.

Whoever cast Gajraj Rao in the role of Jeetu deserves a special treat. It’s an intelligent, inspired choice, and he plays it with such cute kindness and care that I wanted to hug him.

His Jeetu, who sometimes brings home aam ki pettis and talks to his son’s girlfriend in English, is the kind of man whose humanity is deeply touching and unforgettable.

Surekha Sekri is and has always been a powerhouse who can own a scene while doing very little. Here too she gives the movie an end that will make you bawl.

Watching all of them together felt like I had walked into an acting master class.

Badhaai Ho is written and directed with self-assurance and confidence. It doesn’t feel the need to pause to sell us even its funniest moments.

I tip my hat to them.

My Rating - 4/5 

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Andhadhun - Movie Review

In 2016, Priyadarshan made a Malayalam film about a blind man (played by Mohanlal) who becomes an unwitting 'eyewitness' to a murder. The hero's visual disability in Oppam was accompanied by a heightened sense of hearing and smell that made him a potential threat to the killer.

Now what happens if a killer's self-preservation instinct causes them to not care that the 'witness' is sightless? That question was the starting point of an intriguing French 13-minuter titled L'accordeur (The Piano Tuner) from 2010, directed by Oliver Treiner.

Writer-director Sriram Raghavan draws on an atom of just a single element from the French short (which is acknowledged here in the credits), turning it into a full-length Hindi feature that should rank among the most fascinating, fun, funny suspense thrillers ever to emerge from Bollywood. If you are determined to find out what that one element is, you could watch L'accordeur on the internet. You could, but why would you? Because even discovering that secret in the opening half hour of Raghavan's Andhadhun (The Blind Melody) is a pleasurable experience.

Here is what little can be revealed of the plot. Ayushmann Khurrana plays Andhadhun's Akash, a pianist in Pune who is introduced to us as a blind musician trying desperately to complete a tune. Akash is frustrated with the stereotypical expectation that a disability sharpens the creative mind, since he just cannot find the inspiration to wrap up that damned melody. His new friend Sophie (Radhika Apte) is unmoved by his struggle: incompleteness, she tells him, is what gives certain things their finish.

In the posher quarters of the metropolis live the glamorous Simi (Tabu) and her wealthy, much older husband, the forgotten Hindi film star Pramod Sinha (Anil Dhawan). Pramod a.k.a. Pammi is stuck in a time warp in which he keeps rewatching his hits, causing considerable irritation to Simi. Her ambition is a career in films and she wants Pammi to use his network to help her.

From these unconnected strands is born a black comedy that is breathless in its pace and breathtaking in the scope of its imagination, linking seemingly random occurrences in the cosmos, and with all its entertainment value, arriving at an unexpectedly thoughtful study of both kismet and human nature. People tend to let their guard down with those who cannot see or hear and with children, fear also often causes us to appear guilty of more than what we have done, and the writers play around gleefully with these truths.

The premise is completely wacko, a what-if to beat all what-ifs. It is also familiar terrain for Raghavan whose films Ek Hasina Thi, Johnny Gaddaar and Badlapur are a testament to his fixation on evil crackpots and cold-hearted criminality. The story by Hemanth Rao and Raghavan himself has been expanded into a multi-layered screenplay by the latter with Arijit Biswas, Pooja Ladha Surti (also the film's editor) and Yogesh Chandekar. At one level, the result of their collaboration is a hugely enjoyable, fast-paced thriller, but at another it is a quietly observant tale reminding us that however convinced we may be that we have outsmarted fate, the universe is always the boss of our lives.

It takes a bunch of nutty, unfettered actors to put their faith in this nutty, impertinent script. As it happens, the cast and writing of Andhadhun are made for each other.

Very often, a character's disability becomes a crutch that actors lean on, letting that aspect of the part overshadow their entire performance. Khurrana is not that kind of artiste. While he does not stumble even once in playing blind, he is just as effective in conveying Akash's amorality, affections, aspirations and fears.

In a smaller role, Apte exemplifies guilelessness and innocence that are a refreshing contrast to the machinations all around her. The supporting cast is impeccable, never once faltering when the story line takes them to places that lesser actors could have reduced to a farce. Kabir Sajid — the darling little boy from Secret Superstar — beautifully, albeit briefly, plays a child in Andhadhun who epitomizes the moral ambivalence of most characters in the story.

The queen of all she surveys in this film though is the tremendously gifted Tabu, whose chameleonesque talent is put to great use here as she plays a woman with many faces, a creature with a steely grit, capable of vileness, yet in possession of very human vulnerabilities, still yet capable of discussing the foulest of her actions with such casualness that it is impossible not to laugh. The manner in which Simi/Tabu switches from one emotion to the next to the next, at one point her face and voice conveying completely different feelings, is a sight to behold.

Terrible things happen in this film, yet it manages to tread lightly throughout. This overall effect and the build-up of suspense are a consequence of the smooth interplay between Raghavan's purposefulness, KU Mohanan's clever camerawork (what he hides being as important as what he chooses to show), and the intricate sound design by Madhu Apsara. The weave is tied in by Amit Trivedi's well-conceptualized soundtrack, the thoughtful mix of original songs and re-runs of classics, and Daniel B George's background score.

Few musical instruments can match the piano in its ability to build up an atmosphere of intrigue. Soulful, robust and sharp, it is a constant companion to the twists and turns in this madcap movie.

The music, like the film in its entirety, is a tribute to 1970s Hindi cinema, the point driven home all the more sharply by the decision to cast Anil Dhawan as Pammi. Dhawan shone fleetingly on the big screen in real life in that very decade. Snatches of scenes from his actual films are played in Andhadhun, lending an air of poignance to his character's journey and nostalgia to the film as a whole.

If you plan to watch Andhadhun, make sure you arrive early so that you do not miss the prologue or the old-fashioned credits, along with the bizarre statement accompanying them on screen, plus the tribute to Vividh Bharti's Chhaya Geet and Doordarshan's Chitrahaar. It all counts, as does every minute, second and millisecond of the unpredictable, crazy ride that follows.

My Rating : 4 / 5 

Badhaai Ho - Movie Review

How often have you watched a movie about a middle class family living in a cramped flat and wanted to move in with them, if not forever t...