Band Baaja Baaraat

After a busy week I wanted something undemanding but still entertaining to watch, and what better than revisiting Ranveer Singh’s debut movie Band Baaja Baaraat. This fun romance was a sleeper hit back in 2010 and its aged reasonably well, mainly due to the great chemistry between the two leads. Add in all the glitz and glamour of several weddings with Salim-Sulaiman’s great soundtrack to make the perfect weekend watch on a cold wintry Melbourne day.

The film is essentially a standard filmi romance: boy meets girl, girl can’t stand boy, various incidents later girl falls for boy but he’s moved on and after tears, drama and outside interference, eventually everything works out fine. The difference comes in the setting, which here is the world of weddings and wedding planners, and in the convincingly human reactions Anushka Sharma’s Shruti displays when her romantic ideals fall short. The situations themselves are highly contrived and unlikely, especially the finale, but the emotions themselves are realistic and that’s what I enjoy about Band Baaja Baaraat.

When we meet Bittoo Sharma (Ranveer Singh), he’s a college kid, gate-crashing weddings with his friends for free food. But at Minki and Binny’s celebration, he’s spotted by Shruti Kakkar (Anushka Sharma) who calls him out as not being an invited guest. She’s helping with the organisation of the party as her ambition is to run her own wedding planner business and knows the key to success is not running out of food. Bittoo claims he is there with his friend to video the event and is immediately attracted to Shruti when he sees her dance. But after tracking her down, she rejects him firmly saying she doesn’t have time for romance as she is chasing her dream of her own business.

After being disillusioned by the shortcuts and cons run by famous wedding planner Chandra Narang (Shena Gamat), Bittoo and Shruti set up their own business partnership called Shaadi Mubarak. Shruti has a strict rule that love and business do not mix and this allows a genuine friendship to develop between Shruti and Bittoo. They each take care of their own part of the business and as Shaadi Mubarak become more and more successful, this translates into even bigger ideas. Bittoo is the one with more business savvy who pushes Shruti to work outside her comfort zone, while Shruti helps to keep Bittoo grounded with some of his more unachievable ideas. 

Anusha Sharma is charming as Shruti and is excellent in her portrayal of a college student who has great ideas and is able to capitalise on her dreams. She’s smart with quick come-backs but still has an innocence that allows her to be outraged when she finds out about Chandra’s short-cuts and scams. I also love that she thoroughly enjoys the weddings she plans and throws herself into the celebrations while still making sure everyone else is having a great time. It’s also interesting to watch Ranveer Singh in his first role and see the beginnings of the persona he now presents so confidently. He is clearly talented and his energy fits perfectly into the role of Bittoo. His all exuberance and joy is here, with hints of the traits we’ve come to see in many of his films. That irrepressible smile and barely contained energy reverberate off the screen in what is now classic Ranveer style. This was surely the perfect debut for him, and it helps that he has amazing chemistry with Anusha (which we see again in Ladies vs Ricky Bahl and Dil Dhadkane Do).

When Shruti and Bittoo end up spending a night together, the dynamic completely changes. Shruti sees it as a new chapter and the start of a romance, while Bittoo seems confused and unsure of what to do next. Bittoo has strictly followed Shruti’s rules and when she makes a move on him, it seems as if he doesn’t want to say no in case she is offended, but at heart doesn’t really want to go any further. But he’s a guy, so of course he’s not going to say no! But Bittoo is worried about the effect any romance may have on their working relationship and he’s also not looking for love and a permanent partner at this stage of his life. So, in his emotional confusion, when Bittoo tells Shruti it was a mistake, her first reaction is to save face and agree with him. But the pain and hurt build up and she lashes out, dissolving the partnership and breaking all ties with Bittoo. This seems a very honest and realistic response to me, and I totally understand Shruti’s motivations here. It was her idea in the first place and if Bittoo doesn’t want her, then she wants none of him either. I also think writer Habib Faisal gets Bittoo’s reactions just right as well. He’s also hurt by Shruti’s reaction and responds with anger and a desire to beat Shruti to show her she was wrong to reject his friendship. It all works well in terms of the emotional impact even if the resolution is rather less probable.

The supporting cast here are mostly peripheral to the story, but they serve as sounding boards for Bittoo and Shruti and call out the worst of their behaviour. Neeraj Sood as the florist Maqsood and Manmeet Singh as the caterer Rajinder are both very good and have the most impact to the story, but Puru Chibber and Revant Shergill as Bittoo’s friends are also good. There are so many excellent references to real life in the dialogue as well, which always make me smile. For instance, I love how Bittoo steps up to deliver the final big song and dance routine when Shahrukh is unable to attend the big society wedding at the end. So good on so many levels!

Salim-Sulaiman’s soundtrack is excellent and provides an upbeat background for the story. The hook from Ainvayi Ainvayi plays throughout the background music which helps anchor the story firmly in celebration mode while bringing the focus back to Bittoo and Shruti as it’s ‘their song’. Habib Faisal’s screenplay suits the upbeat approach taken by writer/director Maneesh Sharma and the whole film explodes with colour thanks to Aseem Mishra’s excellent cinematography. Even 12 years on, this is still a fun film and a great start to Ranveer’s career. Well worth revisiting! 4 stars.

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.