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.

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.

Mala Aai Vhhaychy / Mimi

Recent release Mimi is a remake of Marathi film Mala Aai Vhhaychy, and I thought it would be interesting to watch both before reviewing. Mala Aai Vhhaychy and Mimi are based on a story about surrogacy and what happens when the biological parents don’t want the child, but the approach and therefore the overall impact is quite different. Mala Aai Vhhaychy is the more successful of the two,  winning the National Film Award for best Marathi film in 2011. The remake Mimi skips many aspects of the original story, and unsuccessfully adds more comedy, ending up as a pale although overly melodramatic version of the story. Despite problems with both films, if you have a choice, opt for the original. Umila Kanetkar is wonderful and ultimately the story has more to offer.

Mala Aai Vhhaychy means ‘I want to be a mother’ and the film starts with the arrival of Mary (Stacy Bee) a rich American who has travelled to India with her husband to find a surrogate for their child. Mary appears to have organised everything by herself, and although there is a brief glimpse of her husband, mostly she appears alone. The surrogate Mary has found is Yashoda (Umila Kanetkar), a farmer’s wife whose husband has vanished on a pilgrimage and left her to run their small farm by herself. Yashoda’s farm is at the edge of a small village whose inhabitants are bewildered and fascinated by the arrival of Mary in her low cut tight white dress and high heels – understandably so to be honest! Perhaps writer/director Samruoddhi Porey wanted to foreshadow Mary’s shallowness and poor character by using the familiar tactic of revealing clothing, drinking and smoking to portray a ‘bad woman’, but instead Mary comes across as simply unrealistic given the wealth of information available to foreigners arriving in India.

However, despite her odd choice of wardrobe and tendency to flirt with Yashoda’s brother Ganpat (Vivek Raut) Stacy Bee does make a reasonable attempt at a woman desperate for a child and taps into the many emotional shifts well. A scene where she helps Yashoda cook along with her obvious joy when Yashoda is confirmed as pregnant help to make her a more sympathetic character than first appears. Mary does seem to connect with Yashoda too and she also has a basic, if limited understanding of the difficulties Yashoda faces which again helps make her less one dimensional. 

When a medical appointment reveals that the child may be born disabled, Mary shows her lack of empathy by giving Yashoda money and telling her to leave the child in an orphanage before she leaves India. Devastated by Mary’s abandonment of her child, Yashoda decides to keep the baby and when he is born perfectly healthy treats him as if he was her own child. 

Part of why this film works well is the rationale behind Yashoda’s decision to act as a surrogate and her attitude towards Madav (Aiden Barkeley). Yashoda’s daughter Surekha has a spinal condition and is confined to a wheelchair, so Yashoda uses the money she receives to pay for an operation for her daughter. Along with shining a light on the reality of farming life and the results of poor medical access and superstition in Indian villages, the film also briefly looks at the serious issue of farmer suicide. Yashoda’s best friend Nanda (played by the director) deciding to take her own life when her situation appears hopeless and the film doesn’t shy away from the overarching patriarchy that invades every aspect of Nanda’s life. In contrast, Yashoda is portrayed as someone able to work within the confines of her society to achieve the best outcome she can in the circumstances. Umila Kanetkar is simply brilliant in the role, getting her mixed emotions across as she comes to terms with the blows fate has dealt her while simultaneously looking after her daughter and unexpected son with equal amounts of love and affection. Aiden Barkeley too is excellent, and performs well as a white child trying to understand why he looks so different from his mother.

Even though the treatment of Mary is unrealistic, the rest of the characters all fit well into their landscape and apart from some ill-advised comedy around Ganpat and his fiancée, the screenplay unfolds naturally. It’s not until the end that the film veers into melodrama, but thankfully this is brief and reasonably well supported by the previous characterisations so doesn’t feel too out of proportion to the rest of the film.

Sadly the same cannot be said for Mimi.

Although the remake follows the same basic plot of a young woman acting as a surrogate who is then left to bring up the child herself, the situation is far less believable. This time Summer (Evelyn Edwards) and her husband John (Aiden Whytock) present a more rational picture of an American couple looking for a surrogate, but their choice of mother is rather less successful. Mimi (Kriti Sanon) is an aspiring actress and dancer who decides to have the couple’s child to give her the necessary funds to advance her career. This is such a bizarre choice that isn’t helped by the inclusion of Bhanu (Pankaj Tripathi) as the couple’s driver who ends up staying to help look after Mimi as her pregnancy advances and then later when she is left to raise the child herself. This includes some attempts at comedy such as his being mistaken for Mimi’s husband when she is forced to return to her family for assistance, but none of this works well. Mimi’s attempts to conceal her pregnancy from her family are farcical and further attempted comedy around Mimi staying with her Muslim friend Sharma (Sai Tamhankar) also fall woefully short. 

As in the original story, the child is thought to be disabled and Summer tells Mimi to abort the baby before leaving India. This leads to a clunky scene where Mimi gives an anti-abortion speech that feels outdated and completely out of place before she declares she will go ahead and have the baby. She’s in her final trimester so even a mention of the illegality of such a late-stage abortion would have been better than this terrible attempt at anti-abortion drivel, and even Kriti Sanon looks uncomfortable at delivering such woeful dialogue. Once the baby is born, the melodrama here keeps building leading to an unsatisfactory finale that is full of emotion but no substance. People make odd choices, and excellent opportunity to discuss divorce and childlessness is completely missed when Sharma offers to look after the baby, and is completely ignored. In fact, overall Sai Tamhankar is criminally underused for such an excellent actress and the relationship between the two women is glossed over when this would actually have been a useful avenue to explore.

Kriti Sanon puts in a terrific performance that holds the film together but ultimately the screenplay has so many problems that even she can’t save the day. Moving away from the original premise hasn’t served director Laxman Utekar well, as so much of the important social aspects of the film have been completely lost. The film doesn’t even work particularly well as a general entertainer with so many missteps and diversions that the main story seems continually at risk of being completely buried.

Tackling the subject of surrogacy can be a loaded issue with several different factors playing into the topic. The issue of childlessness is often fraught while the decision to act as a surrogate is emotional on many levels. Mala Aai Vhhaychy goes some way towards capturing these undercurrents and highlights many of the social problems associated with poverty and the simple struggle to survive. Mimi misses most of this and focuses on the surrogacy issue alone, which wouldn’t necessarily be such a problem if it had stuck to the story and avoided the pitfall of too many attempts at comedy and unnecessary diversion. I give Mimi 2 stars and Mala Aai Vhhaychy 3.5