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.

Joseph (2018)

M. Padmakumar’s 2018 film is a character-driven crime drama, centred around a retired police officer who fills his lonely nights with memories of his estranged wife and daughter. During the day, despite his constant drinking, Joseph (Joju George) is a brilliant investigator who can read a crime scene like a book. This ensures he is still called out to new crime scenes, even though he is retired. When his ex-wife is killed in an accident, Joseph’s skills tell him something is not quite right, leading him to investigate the most personally difficult case of his career. 

The film starts slowly with the first half mostly a character study of Joseph before moving to the crime investigation. Joseph is shown as a quiet and reserved man, keeping his thoughts and feelings to himself, even when out with his friends. He lives alone, mostly drinks by himself and routinely wakes up on a chair in his living room after drinking himself into insensibility. Gradually, through flashbacks and conversations with his friends, the film reveals the reason why Joseph is alone and why he drinks each night to forget.

After briefly starting with a police medal ceremony, the film moves to a crime scene where an elderly couple have been murdered. The investigating officer calls Joseph to investigate the murders and in a very short period of time, Joseph finds the culprit and is able to explain what has happened. In the course of his investigation, nothing escapes Joseph’s notice and his attention to even the smallest detail ensures he gets to the answer much faster than anyone else.

Having introduced Joseph as a solitary man who enjoys smoking, whiskey and marijuana, we then see a different side to Joseph on a day out with his friends (James Elia, Kijan), Sudhy (Sudhi Koppa) and Sidique (Irshad). I love the song they sing on their road trip, although the subtitles on the version I saw oddly substituted ‘rowers’ for ‘flowers’ which makes no sense to me at all. This is a more social side to Joseph and it’s clear to see why his friends respect him and enjoy his company, even if they don’t understand his wish to be alone in his house.

After their day out, Joseph is woken by one of his friends to explain that his ex-wife Stella (Athmiya Rajan) has been seriously injured in a car crash. Her current husband Peter (Dileesh Pothan) needs Joseph’s support during this difficult time. One of the best parts of the film is the depiction of the relationship between Joseph and Peter. Although the reason for Joseph’s estrangement from his wife is eventually revealed, his conversations with Peter, and Peter’s obvious respect and friendship with Joseph are also key in helping to define Joseph’s character. When Stella dies, it’s Joseph that Peter turns to for support and he trusts Joseph to find out the truth about the accident. 

The film follows Joseph’s investigations into the accident, which also draw in his friends and Peter as they try to track down the car which hit Stella and the people who assisted by taking her to the hospital. During the investigation, Joseph’s past is revealed including his previous relationship with Lisamma (Madhuri Braganza) and the tragic death of his daughter Dayana (Malavika Menon). The details all come together to reveal a conspiracy at the hospital, which is rather far-fetched but does allow the story to neatly tie all the ends together.

What works well in Shahi Kabir’s story is the gradual build-up to the investigation and the way Joseph pieces together the clues he finds along the way. The finale is less successful, but really it’s the journey to get there that matters. The flashbacks to Joseph’s past and how each of his 2 relationships have shaped the man he has become are the key points of the film and Joju George brings a different feel to each version of Joseph. His young Joseph is carefree and willing to risk censure for his apparently inappropriate relationship with Lisamma. Her father is against the match and the two lovers have to sneak away to spend any time together. Once married to Stella, Joseph becomes a textbook husband who adores his wife and daughter. But when tragedy strikes, and their marriage breaks down, all Joseph has left are his memories. Joju George is excellent throughout and as he shows Joseph ageing, we clearly see the experience and pain written on his face. 

The support cast are also excellent, particularly Dilesh Pothan and Sudhi Koppa who have well defined relationships with Joseph. Sadly, the women get little screen time and there is little depth to their characters, but both Madhuri Braganza and Athmiya Rajan are good in the flash-back sequences. The film really belongs to Joju George though and it’s his performance that anchors the story and keeps it interesting. 

Although a crime drama, essentially this is the story of Joseph’s life and the key moments that have shaped its course. The film successfully uses the crime story as the basis for revealing Joseph’s life while keeping the investigation suspenseful as the clues start to pile up. Worth watching for Joju George and the way his previous and current relationships are shown to shape his character. 4 stars.

Vikram (2022)

2022 is proving to be an excellent year for Indian cinema. Pushpa, RRR, KGF2 and now Vikram have really raised the bar and we’re only halfway through the year! In Vikram, Lokesh Kanagaraj delves back into the world he created with Kaithi and adds more threads to his tale of drug dealing, police corruption and gang warfare. With a who’s who of Southern Indian actors, an engrossing story and fabulous action sequences, Vikram is another ‘not to be missed’ film that deserves to be seen at the cinema.

The story begins with Police Chief Jose (Chemban Vinod Jose) bringing in a ‘black-ops’ team headed by an agent known only as Aram (Fahadh Faasil). The police have been sent a series of videos showing black-masked terrorists murder the local Head of Narcotics Stephen Raj (Hareesh Peradi), ACP Prabhanjan (Kalidas Jayaram) and Prabhanjan’s adopted father Karnan (Kamal Haasan). With the final murder seemingly unconnected, Aram immediately starts investigating Karnan, trying to find any possible link that might explain the deaths. His investigations reveal a man who had turned to drink and prostitutes after the death of his adopted son, but no link to the case Prabhanjan was involved with before his death. However, in the course of his inquiries, Aram discovers a missing shipment of drugs belonging to drug kingpin Sandhanam (Vijay Sethupathi) and identifies two more men involved with the drug trade who may be in danger. Veerapandian ((Gowtham Sundarajan) and Rudra Prathap (Aruldoss) are both likely targets as they reportedly know the location of the missing shipments, but despite the police, Sandhanam and Aram all trying to protect the men, the ‘men in black’ are hard to evade.

Aram and his men have no boundaries and as such threaten, beat and bully their way to the information required. Oddly, during the investigation Aram also marries Gayathri (Gayathrie Shankar) despite her ignorance about his real job and seeming unconcern about the man she finds being held prisoner in Amar’s offices. Apart from this one glimpse into a possible softer side, Fahadh Faasil’s Amar is as brutal and dangerous as the men he is seeking. As one of the top actors in the South, Fahadh Faasil is always impressive, but he is electrifying here to the point where he almost manages to steal attention away from Kamal Haasan. Fahadh’s body language, expressions and dialogue delivery are simply brilliant throughout and when his life starts to fall apart, his portrayal of a man at the limit of his ability to cope is excellent. One moment that really stands out is his absolute frustration when trying to resuscitate Prabhanjan’s young son which was simply perfect (standard filmi medical miracles aside of course). I also recognised the Queen of Subtitles rekhs as the dubbing voice for Dr Annie on the line assisting Amar with the process which added just the right note to the whole scene.

Vijay Sethupathi has played the role of a demented brutal gangster before, so the character of Sandhanam isn’t a stretch for him, but Vijay gives the character plenty of traits that set the gangster apart from his previous roles. Sandhanam has 3 wives, and there is an excellent montage where we see Sandhanam, his family and one of his wives practicing target shooting, perhaps to show he’s a supporter of equal opportunities for all. He certainly believes in keeping it in the family since his the main members of Sandhanam’s gang producing the drug supply are all from his large extended family, and he is ultra-protective of them, although happily expends his henchmen elsewhere when necessary. Able to switch between fake doctor, urbane businessman and unhinged gangster with a tendency to use his own product, Sandhanam is more complex than first appears and Vijay Sethupathi brings out all of these different facets of his character even with limited screen time.

Kamal Haasan is the focus of the film and despite not appearing much in the first half, his presence is still felt as the ghost manipulating much of the action. He is amazingly agile in the fight scenes, and if he appears rather less sprightly in an early dance sequence, there are reasons behind that which are revealed later in the story. This is another outstanding performance from one of the greats of Tamil cinema and he does not put a foot wrong. There is a good mix of humour in the dialogue too, and the addition of scenes with his family help to break up the actions sequences and add more fuel to the film’s fury. And if you thought Yash had a big gun in KGF2, think again – guns are so passé when you can have a cannon instead! The other support cast are also excellent from Narain reprising his role as Inspector Bejoy to Chemban Vinod Jose, Kalidas Jayaram, Sampath Ram and Ramesh Thilak. My favourite moment in the entire film comes from Agent Tina (Vasanthi) and I also loved the totally unhinged appearance by Suriya, who has a brief appearance at the end.

The action sequences here by Anbariv are excellent and Girish Gangadharan captures the effects beautifully. The scale of the film is huge with wide shots over the city of Chenni, massive gunfire and explosion sequences and then a total change to close-ups of Sandhanam’s gold teeth. Girish ensures it all looks stunning regardless. Even at 3 hours of runtime, nothing in the film drags and with Anirudh’s soundtrack underpinning the action and emotions of the film, the balance is perfect. Thanks to rekhs who has subtitled the entire film with perfect English although the use of ‘shucks’ and ‘crap’ as substitutes for the actual dialogue did make me smile. I’m assuming there is a censorship reason behind the change since the original words are clearly audible. Thanks too for the yellow font which is much more readable than white.

Vikram is high octane action with plenty of plot detail and connections that make the plot intriguing as well as exciting. The performances are uniformly excellent and I honestly think the film is many times better than anything I’ve seen from Hollywood in recent times. While a number of the characters from Kaithi resurface, Vikram is a self-contained story that can be enjoyed without having seen the earlier film, and the references aren’t so obscure that it’s impossible to work out previous links. I’m looking forward to the next instalment and seeing just what Lokesh Kanagaraj comes up with next in his mad and crazy world of drug lords and special agents.