Atrangi Re

So far I haven’t been a huge fan of Aanand L. Rai’s films but Dhanush is a big draw card (and Raanjhaana wasn’t completely awful), so I thought I’d try Atrangi Re. But again, I’m left thinking that there is too much that is problematic for me to really enjoy the film. There is a lot that works well, but sadly, there is a lot more that doesn’t. The good is the music, most of the first half and Dhanush, who really is excellent despite playing a rather shady character. The film also looks great and it’s a shame I couldn’t see it on the big screen since the sets and the staging are amazing. But the bad unfortunately hits around the end of the first half, and from then on, it’s frustrating to watch some good ideas smothered under the weight of poor portrayal. Be warned that there are spoilers here as it’s difficult to discuss the problems without revealing the twist in the film, so if you don’t want to know the major twist, skip past the pictures of kittens when we get to that part!

The film starts with Rinku (Sara Ali Khan) running from her abusive family to elope with her Muslim boyfriend, whose name she steadfastly refuses to reveal. The family catch her at the train station where Vishu (Dhanush) and his friend MS (Ashish Verma) have arrived for a medical camp and they see the drama unfold. To solve the problem of Rinku continually trying to elope, her grandmother Rajjo (Seema Biswas) decrees that the family must kidnap a groom so that they can get rid Rinku and all the trouble she causes. But the family mistakenly kidnap Vishu who is supposed to be getting engaged himself to the daughter of his College Dean in just a few days. After being drugged though the wedding, Rinku’s family put the newlyweds on the train to Delhi, where Vishu is studying to be a surgeon. Luckily for Rinku, she finds out about Vishu’s upcoming engagement which give her the perfect opportunity to leave him for her Sajjad (Akshay Kumar), the long standing fiancé whose name she reveals to Vishu.

So far so good and the confusions and potential love triangle are (mostly) dealt with well. Dhanush is excellent as the earnest and slightly nerdy doctor, but Sara Ali Khan’s Rinku comes across as more forced and manic rather than someone desperate to escape an intolerable situation. But once in Delhi, the true situation is revealed and that’s where the film slides off the rails. 

Despite having a fiancée at home in Chennai, Vishnu seems to fall instantly in love with Rinku even though there is no real reason for him to do so. Vishu knows about Sajjid immediately after the forced marriage as Rinku immediately tells him about her fiancé while Vishu seems to be happy with his fiancée Mandy (Dimple Hayathi) given his many attempts to call her while in Bihar. At the very least, as a Tamilian she is at least able to speak the same language. On that point, I do like listening to Dhanush speak Hindi which he enunciates clearly meaning that I can actually understand what he says for the most part. My Hindi is pretty limited so it’s always extra enjoyable when I can understand the dialogue without subtitles. 

This instant love affair is annoyingly unrealistic but even more problematic is that once Vishnu finds out more about Rinku, he manipulates her into staying with him. His love for her apparently means it is OK to lie at every turn to make sure that she stays with him. It’s frustrating that the original sweet, slightly geeky doctor becomes a rather creepy, obsessive stalker, although Dhanush at least is convincing in the role. We get happy, awkward happy dancing Dhanush (my favourite), emotional Dhanush declaring his love and practical and resourceful Dhanush capably manipulating the situation in his favour. The performance is perfect, but the character of Vishu is so fundamentally flawed that it’s difficult to accept that he does actually love Rinku.

Skip past the cute kittens if you want to avoid the more major spoilers. Less spoilery review resumes after the second set of kittens.

What really annoys me with this film is the terrible way Vishu and particularly MS treat Rinku despite knowing she has a mental illness. One which is so extreme that she is hallucinating and convinced that what she sees and hears is real. Bollywood has rarely treated mental illness well, but the jokes at Rinku’s expense and the farcical way she is treated is the worst I have seen for a while. Both Vishu and MS are doctors (albeit students) and should know better, but so much of what they do is simply wrong and made me really mad!

I can cope with Akshay Kumar being Rinku’s love interest since once we know exactly who he is, it makes sense of much of Rinku’s earlier behaviour and the way she treats Sajjad. I also like that in the flashback sequences Akshay is made to look young and happy, while in the sequences with Rinku he looks old and tired. I don’t find this relationship as problematic as Vishu’s with Rinku, because here Rinku is in the driver’s seat. It’s her hallucination, her psychosis, and the reason she thinks of Sajjad as her fiancé is because she needs him to be her hero. And right now, the person she needs to take her away from her family is a husband, so naturally that is how she thinks of him. Here, where Sara Ali Khan could legitimately get away with manic behaviour, she dials it back but still seems to force much of her performance. Her character is such a mass of contradictions, that I blame much of her issues on the writing and direction. She is better when she plays the second role of her mother, but these are ‘blink-and-you-miss-it’ moments that don’t make much of an impression. Between Sara Ali Khan’s over-acting and Dhanush’s manipulative character, by the end of the film I really had had enough of this irritating couple!

End of major spoilers

A.R. Rahman’s soundtrack is a real plus for the film and I really enjoyed the songs. I also found the interplay between Dhanush and Akshay funny with some good comedy in the various looks and side glances between the main characters. Perhaps it’s because he’s not in the film all that much, but I found Akshay much less irritating than usual, although the OTT touches with the tricks and performances did wear thin very quickly. How come no-one’s hero is ever a car mechanic or something more normal in these films?  But by far and away the main reason to watch Atrangi Re is Dhanush. Despite playing a selfish and inconsiderate character, he is as charming as ever and ensures we are invested in his story. I just wish it had been more sensible! 3 stars (all for Dhanush!)

Khoon Bhari Maang

Ah the Eighties. When hair was big, shoulder pads were bigger and glitter eyeshadow was essential. Khoon Bhari Maang is a quintessential eighties movie that I love, despite its addiction to gore and systematic overuse of Khader Khan. I can’t say that it’s a good movie, or even that it falls into the ‘so-bad-it’s-good’ category we all know and love, but somehow once I start watching I’m hooked by Rekha’s transformation and quest for revenge.  It’s over the top, trashy and melodramatic, but for a nostalgic wallow in the swamp that was eighties drama, you can’t go past Khoon Bhari Maang!

The film is based on an Australian miniseries from 1983 called Return to Eden. I’ve never seen the show, but Wikipedia makes sound like Australia does Dallas, so it may be worth tracking down online too.

The story starts with Aarti (Rekha), a young widow with 2 young children, who is also the heir to her father’s huge business empire. In the first 5 minutes her father (Saeed Jaffrey) is murdered by his close friend Hiralal (Kader Khan) who then wastes no time in introducing Aarti to his wastrel nephew Sanjay (Kabir Bedi). Sanjay has a penchant for removing his shirt and a plan to marry Aarti to gain control of her millions, despite carrying on an affair with Aarti’s best friend Nandini (Sonu Walia).

Aarti’s husband Vikram (Rakesh Roshan) was killed in a car accident some years before and she lives for her children, so Sanjay befriends Kavita (Baby Shweta) and Bobby (Master Gaurav) as the way to Aarti’s heart. There are a few flashbacks to happier times with Aarti and her husband where Rakesh Rohan looks incredibly uncomfortable on the other side of the camera, as he frolics with a frumpily dressed Rekha. And for the first part of the movie, Rekha does look rather dreary. She’s still Rekha, but has dark shadows under her eyes, a large mole on her face and rather protuberant teeth. Sanjay describes her as ugly, but she just looks exhausted and in need of a brighter wardrobe, especially when compared to the dazzling Nandini.

Nandini is a model who is drawn into Sanjay’s machinations because of her love for a man who can look good in swimming trunks and very short shorts. It has to be noted that Kabir Bedi does look rather fine, and he makes the most of scenes at the pool and every other possible opportunity to remove his shirt. However, rather than his sleek chat up lines and body flaunting, it’s his attentions to her children that convinces Aarti she should marry Sanjay and provide them with a father figure. With the bonus of someone she trusts to run the business.  

It doesn’t take long after the wedding (actually the next day), for Sanjay to rid himself of his troublesome wife by throwing her to the jaws of a waiting crocodile. Queue screams, lots of fake blood and Sanjay threatening Nandini to keep schtum about her part in his devious plan. But Aarti escapes! After being rescued by an old man (Paidi Jairaj) she sells the jewellery she was wearing at the time of her attempted murder and heads off to the US for some needlessly graphic plastic surgery. The now apparently unrecognisable Aarti returns home as model Jyoti and is immediately picked up by Nandini’s photographer J.D. (Shatrughan Sinha). Naturally this doesn’t go down well with Nandini, and the rivalry between the two models culminates in a wonderfully crazy dance-off where attitude and sheer sass seem to be the criteria needed to win. After destroying Nandini’s professional career, with her new glamourous looks and the support of JD, Jyoti sets out for her next goal: revenge on her murderous husband.

The story builds slowly during the first half, but this is more than made up for by the drama and total fashion insanity of the second half. That’s not to say that there isn’t plenty of craziness in the first half, but it’s off set by the annoying presence of Khader Khan and Rekha’s irritatingly meek Aarti. Once Rekha transforms into Jyoti, everything gets bigger, bolder and much more dramatic – and that’s just the fashion! Jyoti is determined to get her revenge and she sets out to destroy Sanjay with the sort of bloody single-mindedness usually reserved for male heroes in Bollywood. I love that Rekha is given the opportunity to have her revenge without relying on anyone else, and that revenge is just as satisfyingly gruesome as could be expected. Despite all its faults, the saving grace of the film is that Aarti is quite capable of rescuing herself, saving her family and getting her revenge, all without any male assistance or even advice. You go girl!

Rekha is awesome throughout. She nails the meek and mild-mannered Aarti, but is so much better as the stunning model out for revenge. Her Jyoti is stardom personified with attitude that simply sizzles off the screen with a sneer sharp enough to draw blood. Rekha takes ownership of all the ridiculous outfits and outlandish hairstyles too, so that when she ends up in black leather and wielding a whip, it seems less an erotic fantasy and more a practical outfit for revenge – easier to get blood off leather I imagine.  Kabir Bedi is excellent too in this negative role where he hams it up as a seductive suitor who quickly shows his true colours once the knot is tied. It’s a great performance and who can complain if he spends most of his time by the pool in various stages of undress. I do draw the line though at the needless appropriation of Vangelis Chariots of Fire theme into a tacky song visualising a romp in the pool between Kabir Bedi and Sonu Walia. But for the rest, Kabir is nicely wicked and appropriately charming as he woos Aarti and then Jyoti. Poor Sonu Walia doesn’t have anything like as good a time as her Nandini is a bit of a wet blanket who falls over herself to do whatever Sanjay wants.

One of the best parts of the film for me is right near the end when Jyoti removes her green contact lenses. A move that makes her INSTANTLY RECOGNISABLE!!! Who knew just changing the colour of your eyes could have such an effect? Also worth looking out for are Aarti’s heroic dog Jumbo and smart horse Raja, who know what is going on well before any of the human characters, and the various servants and supporters of Aarti who add more drama to the proceedings whenever possible.

Khoon Bhari Maang is not a good film, but Rekha makes it worth watching for her crazy outfits, huge eighties hairstyles and bloodthirsty quest for revenge. I know most people skip straight to the second half, but I like the slow build-up through the first half and the gradual monsterisation of Kabir Bedi as his true colours start to show through. For fans of 80’s Bollywood, big hair, crocodiles and revenge, this is surely as good as it gets. 4 stars.

AK vs AK (2020)

The premise of Vikramaditya Motwane’s latest film AK vs AK is immediately intriguing; a film director (Anurag Kashyap) kidnaps the daughter of a film star (Anil Kapoor) and then records the ensuing frantic search against the clock as a thrilling hostage drama. While I had a concern that the film would try too hard to be ‘clever’ and ‘edgy’, and not being a huge fan of Anurag Kashyap, I didn’t jump onto to Netflix straight away. But the story and the trailer were enough to pique my interest.  What I wasn’t expecting was just how funny the film turned out to be, or that it would be quite so entertaining – although it does occasionally almost fall into the trap of trying to be just a little too self-aware. The two AK’s play extreme caricatures of themselves (or at least of their public personas), and the film is peppered with references to their real (and reel) lives in a modern take on a meta film that retains a distinctive Bollywood flavour.

The film starts by introducing Yogita (Yogita Bihani) as a film school student who is recording Anurag for a school project. She follows him with a camera when he is interviewed, along with Anil Kapoor, by Sucharita Tyagi in front of a live audience. Anil is talking about his glory days in numerous hit films while Anurag adds digs about Anil’s recent lack of success. The sniping continues until an audience member asks which is more important, the actor or the director and in the ensuing argument, Anurag throws a glass of water over Anil. It’s brilliantly funny and the various references by each to their respective careers sets the rivalry between the two up beautifully.

As the media splash pictures of the contretemps across the front pages, Anurag is beset by problems, with actors withdrawing from his upcoming film (Nawazuddin Siddiqui in a voice cameo) and backers pulling out. But just when the situation seems dire, Yogita comes up with a plan. Next, Anurag goes onto the set of Anil’s latest film where the actor is finishing early to go home and celebrate his birthday. After forcing his way in to speak to Anil, Anurag manages to convince the star that he has kidnaped his daughter Sonam Kapoor, and that Anil has until sunrise to find her. There are just 3 rules: no police, no outsiders and the camera has to remain on. The hunt is on, and as Anil becomes ever more frantic in his attempts to find his daughter, Yogita keeps the camera keeps rolling while Anurag keeps fanning the flames.

It definitely helps to have some idea about the two AK’s and to know something about their respective careers, families and the stories about each. At times the insults cut very close to the bone, but the film plays on this, aiming for the biggest shocks and the nastiest rumours. There are some brilliant moments; such as a scene in a police station where Anurag convinces everyone that Anil is just acting and an extended chase sequence where Yogita is struggling to keep up and the bouncing camera adds to the improvised feel of the film. But at the same time there are some scenes that drag on a little too long and Anurag’s overacting starts to become a tad annoying.

What I really loved in the film was Anil Kapoor and his ability to act, overact and be completely convincing as he changed from frantic father to consummate performer at the drop of a hat. The perils of stardom are shown everywhere as Anil is pressed into posing for selfies by almost every person he meets. Throughout it all there is no question at all that Anil Kapoor is a star. Even when he’s running through the streets, dashing along platforms and accosting taxi drivers, he is never put out by the attention he receives or the demands for selfies. He just smiles, poses and then resumes his search. That struck me as perhaps being the most true-to-life part of the entire film – this endless affirmation of stardom that becomes so all pervasive that it’s not even noticeable any more.

As part of the chase, Anil ends up at a Christmas party where the revellers won’t help him until he performs for them in a brilliant ad hoc dance performance. What makes it even better is Anurag clapping and cheering at the very edge of the crowd. Despite all his digs about Anil’s slide into obscurity, he seems happy to be watching the crowd’s reaction to their hero, or, is he just enjoying the delay to Anil’s hunt for his daughter? The manic look on Anurag’s face tends to suggest it’s much more likely to be the latter. There is ambiguity everywhere, a few unexpected twists and plenty of self-aware backslapping which somehow all works better than it should.

I enjoyed this film much more than I expected. The opening scenes are fantastic and create expectation for a perhaps more nuanced film, but once Sonam is kidnapped and the chase is on, we’re back into more familiar action territory. There is a lull in the middle before the film picks up again, but overall this is in turns funny, shocking, surprising but mostly just entertaining. Be warned though – there is a lot of swearing in this film. It was fun to see Anurag’s DVD library which I remember him talking about at a Q and A session here in Melbourne, and great to see such big Bollywood names such as Boney Kapoor taking part in the action. Other things to look out for are the preponderance of shots featuring images of the actors in mirrors and the glimpses of Jogita and her camera that can be seen reflected in windows, Anurag’s tablet and the car windows. All very meta.

So if you’re looking for something a little out of the ordinary, that’s still very much entrenched in the world of Bollywood, find AK vs AK online, sit back and enjoy the mayhem. 3 ½ stars.