Dil Dhadakne Do (2015)

Dil Dhadakne Do

Zoya Aktar’s third film follows the members of a dysfunctional, wealthy, Punjabi family as they celebrate the 30th wedding anniversary of Kamal (Anil Kapoor) and Neelam Mehra (Shefali Shah) on a 10 day cruise around Greece and Turkey. Along with their son and daughter, Kamal and Neelam have invited friends and business associates on a voyage that soon hits very choppy water indeed. This is a road trip movie on a grand scale, but despite the luxurious setting the problems are fairly standard for an Indian family drama – unhappy marriages, a failing business and parents interfering in their children’s lives. Soap opera stuff, but beautifully done with some unexpected plot threads for good measure. While the story could really be set anywhere and have the same effect, the gorgeous locations and all-star cast ensure Dil Dhadakne Do is an entertaining, although rather overlong watch.

The film is narrated by the family dog Pluto, voiced by Aamir Khan, which surprisingly isn’t as irritating as it sounds, despite a tendency for Pluto to state the obvious. Pluto’s commentary on the inability of his humans to communicate effectively and the overall irrationality of the human species generally, ensures he’s the most sensible Mehra of the lot – and the cutest!

The Mehras are not a happy family. Kamal’s business is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy while Neelam binge eats as compensation for silently enduring her husband’s frequent affairs. Their children have issues too. Son and heir to the family business Kabir (Ranveer Singh) has no desire to step into his father’s shoes, and little aptitude for the job either, while daughter Ayesha (Priyanka Chopra) struggles to hang on to her own successful business as her chauvinistic husband Manav (Rahul Bose) and interfering mother-in-law (Zarina Wahab) pressure her to start a family. Putting them all together for ten days seems like a recipe for disaster, particularly since each is determined to keep up appearances and pretend to the rest of the party that everything is fine.

Zoya and co-writer Reema Kagti don’t stop there either. Every other person on the cruise has their own issues too, from Neelam’s circle of toxic friends and their unceasing gossip about each other to Kamal’s best friend Vinod Khanna (Manoj Pahwa) who hates fellow guest Lalit Sood (Parmeet Sethi) and is dismayed that Kamal has invited him along. Each character has a part to play in the unfolding drama and every thread is carefully woven into the story to provide colour and texture to the plot.

Every moment is perfectly portrayed too, from the fake teeth-baring ‘smiles’ on the faces of rival wives Vandana Khanna and Naina Sood as they greet each other, to Ayesha’s reaction to her ex Sunny (Farhan Aktar) when he joins the cruise.

The Sood’s have been invited as possible investors in Kamal’s company, but they have the additional advantage of an unmarried daughter Noori (Riddhima Sud) who might be persuaded into an alliance with Kabir.  Not that Kabir has any inkling of his parents’ plan and instead falls deeply and most unsuitably in love with one of the dancers on board the ship. Farah Ali (Anushka Sharma) is a Muslim who is estranged from her family and has to work for her living, which means that the ships policy of non-fraternizing with patrons could cost her her job.  She’s understandably more cautious, while Kabir rushes into the relationship without any further thought. Ranveer and Anushka have fantastic chemistry together and their developing relationship is beautifully portrayed in the song Pehli Baar.

Ranveer Singh is also excellent in his role as Ayesha’s brother and shares an easy camaraderie with Priyanka that really does make them seem like brother and sister. Ayesha looks out for Kabir and tries to help him stand up to their father, even as she fights her own battles without any family support. Ranveer keeps it cool and laid back in the scenes with his family but is full of his usual energy in the songs and his performance is one of the highlights in the movie. Priyanka is just as good, and she pulls off another stunning performance, using her eyes and facial expressions to excellent effect and making her Ayesha one of the most relatable characters I’ve seen recently.

The rest of the cast are also well cast and complement the lead actors. Gallan Goodiyaan sees most of them dancing in classic ‘everyone knows the choreography’ style, but it’s made even better by the sheer number of aunties and uncles joining in. I’ve always been cautious approaching any film with Anil Kapoor after the trauma of seeing him shirtless in many of his Eighties films, but he is a fine actor and is superb here in a role that lets him show vulnerability as well as the more usual autocratic  behaviour expected from a Bollywood father. Shefali Shah too is very good in her portrayal of a betrayed wife who puts up with her husband’s infidelities because that is simply just what you do. Everyone seems perfectly cast, although initially Rahul Bose seems out of place as Ayesha’s husband, but after a memorable tennis match I cannot imagine anyone else reacting so perfectly to the barrage of vicious volleys Ayesha sends his way.

The family dynamic is well written into the screenplay with many small touches that consolidate the relationships and illustrate the friction bubbling away under the surface. Despite their differences Neelam and Ayesha are more similar than they realise, nicely demonstrated by the way they both react with their hands to their mouths when shocked by Kamal’s behaviour. The theme of equal rights for women is also well integrated into the narrative without becoming too preachy or sanctimonious, while the generation divide provides yet more opportunities to explore the different approaches to love and marriage.

I love this film, even with it’s overly melodramatic conclusion and cheesy method of tying up the few the loose ends. My only complaint is that the music from Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy isn’t as catchy as expected and a few of the songs don’t fit well into the screenplay. However the leads are all fabulous, the support cast equally excellent and the story a perfect mix of comedy, drama and social commentary. Maybe it’s my love of soap opera from the nineties coming back to haunt me, but the characters in Dil Dhadakne are engaging and the story more relatable than expected considering the amount of overt wealth on display. Well worth watching for Ranveer and Priyanka, and light-hearted character-driven drama that gives everyone a chance to shine.  4½ stars.

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Bajirao Mastani

Bajirao Mastani

Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s latest epic is another triumph for the set designers, costume makers, make-up artists and jewellers of whom there must have been legion. It’s not just visually spectacular either, with impressive performances from the main leads and a beautiful soundtrack and background score. In fact the story turns out to be the weakest link in an otherwise lavish spectacle since for an epic love story, the film is strangely lacking in romance. However the film still makes an impact and with strong female characters, glittering scenery and plenty of Ranveer Singh, it’s definitely well worth watching in the cinema if you can.

The opening scenes are imperially ornate and immediately set the scene for an epic tale of daring do and palace intrigue. Unfortunately there is subsequently rather less of the daring do, with few scenes of battle and the palace intrigue hinted at doesn’t come to anything either. Bajirao (Ranveer Singh) wins the post of Maratha Peshwar with some rather nifty archery, and immediately heads back to battle to continue the expansion of the Marathi kingdom. While out on campaign he comes to the aid of the King of Bundelkhand and after rescuing the kingdom from an army of invaders, Bajirao falls for the King’s daughter by his second Muslim wife, Mastani (Deepika Padukone).

Mastani is a warrior too and manages some impressive sword work herself, which is presumably why Bajirao falls for her. But what happens in Bundelkhand should stay in Bundelkhand and the trouble starts when Mastani follows Bajirao back to Pune, where Bajirao lives with his wife Kashibai (Priyanka Chopra) and his mother Radhabai (Tanvi Azmi). Radhabai is incensed that her family line should be polluted by a foreigner’s blood, particularly since Mastani is Muslim, and she deliberately humiliates Mastani at every opportunity. Radhabai is an interesting character with a little more depth that just a standard outraged matriarch and Tanvi Azmi is excellent as the embittered widow who feels she is fighting for her family’s honour. She is ably supported in her machinations by Bajirao’s younger brother Chimaji Appa (Vaibbhav Tatwawdi) and his eldest son with Kashibai, Nana (Ayush Tandon). Her outrage and vehement opposition to Mastani is perfectly vindictive and beautifully balanced by her warm relationship with Kashibai and her devotion to her son.

Ranveer Singh does a fantastic job as Bajirao to the extent that I don’t actually like his character much – impressive when I usually love every character he portrays. Here he is consumed by desire and mostly oblivious to the pain he causes others, making him too arrogant to be a completely likeable character. Bajirao is certainly a fearless warrior, but Ranveer gives him a compassionate side and also allows glimpses of insecurity through his relationship with Mastani.  However he doesn’t see the contempt with which his family views Mastani and seems oblivious to the threats against her life. He is more concerned with his role as Peshwar until he lets his desire for Mastani overcome his sense of duty and allows his obsession with her to rule his life. Ranveer shows little of the swagger and attitude from Kil Dil and Gunday, but transforms himself into an eighteenth century warrior with plenty of imperial remoteness and stately reserve, which may partly explain the lack of warmth in his relationships. Unfortunately Bhansali doesn’t show many battles, and in the few fight scenes Ranveer mainly sits on a horse and swings his curling sword, although he does manage a few good grimaces as he rides to battle. Maybe I watch too many SI films but I was disappointed at the lack of battle scenes and would have loved more action rather than the relatively bloodless clashes here.

As Mastani, Deepika is mesmerizing when she snarls her way through battle but she becomes flat and lifeless once she transforms into the love of Bajirao’s life, losing all her sparkle.  I find Bhansali’s depiction of Mastani in love as insipid and overly compliant. Where did all her passion go? There is definite chemistry between Ranveer and Deepika, but there appears to be little joy in the relationship and I’m not sure that smouldering looks and declarations of’ acceptance’ are enough to explain why Mastani submits to the many indignities heaped on her admittedly capable shoulders. A love that is strong enough to withstand such determined and murderous opposition should be grand, overwhelming and all-encompassing, but that just doesn’t come across in the relationship between Bajirao and Mastani, and that is the most disappointing aspect of the film.

The best of the main leads is undoubtedly Priyanka Chopra as Bajirao’s first wife. She has the passion and joy in her relationship with Bajirao that is lacking in his relationship with Mastani and gets to show all her rage and humiliation when she discovers Bajirao’s infidelity. Priyanka is brilliant here in a perfectly nuanced performance that gives her the opportunity to show passion, despair, hate and compassion and she gets it right every time. Kashibai is the more interesting character and with grace and beauty Priyanka makes the most of the opportunity given to her in a faultless depiction of a betrayed wife.  She gets to dance too, and if Pinga doesn’t quite reach the choreographic heights of Dola Re Dola, Priyanka and Deepika are both beautiful dancers and look absolutely stunning too.

I didn’t know the story of the warrior Bajirao and his second wife Mastani before watching the film, and I’m not sure that I know much more about them afterwards either.  Bhansali takes moments from Bajirao’s life (although for a film about a great martial leader there are few glimpses of this side of his character) and intersperses them with behind the scenes action in his household, but the narrative jumps hours, days and then years without any clear indication, resulting in a disjointed timeline. Each scene is individually good, but doesn’t always totally gel with the preceding or subsequent action, while the lack of passion and joy in the relationship between Bajirao and Mastani is disappointing. However the opulent sets and overall grandeur of Bajirao Mastani are of the overall high quality expected from Sanjay Leela Bhansali and ensure that the film is worth watching even if it’s not as engaging as I would have liked. I’d recommend watching for the visual impact and for the excellent performances from all the cast, especially Ranveer and Priyanka.

Don (2006)

Don

Normally I’m not a fan of remakes since they are generally nowhere near as good as the original, but Farhan Akhtar’s Don is the exception that proves the rule – at least for me. As much as I love the original Don with Amitabh Bachchan, Iftekhar, Helen and co, the remake slickly updates the story and adds a few new twists that make the end at least just that little bit better. I love Shahrukh Khan when he’s in anti-hero mode, and this is an excellent example of how good SRK can be when he’s being bad. There are a few misses, but overall good casting, clever writing and an excellent soundtrack make Don one of my favourite SRK films.

The remake follows the original 1978 Don fairly closely in terms of the screenplay but sets most of the story in Malaysia where Don (Shahrukh Khan) is the ‘most dangerous and cunning criminal’ in an organisation than spans the globe smuggling drugs. Don heads up the Malaysian arm of the gang and works for Singhania ( Rajesh Khattar), the rival of fellow ultra-elusive gang member Vardhaan. DCP DiSilva (Boman Irani) is on the trail of the criminals along with his colleague Inspector Verma (Sidharth  Jyoti) and Interpol Officer Vishal Malik (Om Puri).

Shahrukh appears to enjoy playing the utterly ruthless and callous Don and he seems to slip effortlessly into evil mode when required. His Don is perhaps a little too flamboyant and his fashion sense is rather quirky (those terrible ties-inside-the shirt!), but his panache and flair in the opening scenes when he imitates some ballet dancers and then a few moments later causes carnage and mayhem during a drug deal gone wrong is superb. He’s cool, collected and practical when it comes to getting rid of police informers and in dealing with recalcitrant gang members, but does show his softer side to Anita (Isha Koppikar) and a little more uncertainty with fellow gang member Narang (Pawan Malhotra). This shading makes Don more interesting and generates some empathy for what is really quite an unpleasant character at the start of the film.

One of the misses is the remake of the classic Helen number Yeh Mera Dil. Kareena Kapoor takes on the role of Kamini, the revenge seeking fiancé of gang member Ramesh (Diwaker Pundir), killed by Don for his disloyalty. Kareena just doesn’t have the vibrancy or class of Helen, and her seduction routine is clinical and passionless as a result. There’s no rage, no thirst for revenge or abhorrence at getting close to the man who murdered her fiancé and it ends up as nothing more than a lot of shimmying in a gold lamé dress.  It’s not surprising Don looks somewhat disdainful and fairly unimpressed throughout.

Priyanka Chopra is much better as Roma and at least looks as if she is capable of murder. At least up until she actually tries to kill Don at which point she seems to lose her mojo. Still, it’s a good effort and she does well in the songs too, although I think Isha Koppikar takes the honours here – plus who doesn’t love a giant disco mirror ball. Both Priyanka and Isha  look stunning and are obviously included to up the glamour quotient, but both do a good job in their roles and appear as strong and confident characters throughout.

Don is seriously injured and captured by the police during a chase in India which gives DCP DiSilva the opportunity to replace Don with a local entertainer Vijay (also SRK) who is the spitting image of the gangster. SRK’s Vijay is a tad more sensible than in the original, and Shahrukh makes him a very different character to Don. He even looks quite different, using facial expressions and body movement to emphasize the difference between the two characters – at least up until the surgery to make them both the same.

However, since only DiSilva and the fake Don know about the impersonation, when DiSilva is killed during an operation to catch Singhania it all starts to go pear-shaped for Vijay. As well as dodging the police and fooling the gang into believing he is Don, Vijay has to deal with Roma’s attempts at revenge and somehow get a disc with information about the gang to Malik to prove his innocence.   Meanwhile Jasjit (Arjun Rampal) is also out for revenge after DiSilva caused the death of his wife, adding more layers to the plot and a means to bring it all to a satisfactory conclusion.

The updated film has plenty of high powered car chases and some cool fight scenes which all work pretty well. There are a couple of escapes too – the first is rather unnecessarily convoluted, but the second is fun as it involves Don wrestling one of his gang members for a parachute while plunging to the ground after jumping out of a plane. Now if this had been a Southern Indian film, Don would have had a handy gun and some explosive to deal with the problem, but here he just has to fight it out while the ground spins giddily below and rushes every closer.

The film has a great soundtrack from Shankar-Ehsan-Loy which uses two songs and the general theme from the original film. The second remix is Khaike Paan Banaraswala which fares much better than the Helen remake number, and is a lot of fun – I suspect most of the direction here was asking SRK to act goofy and he manages to do so repeatedly!

Overall the casting is excellent and the support actors all seem to fit their parts well. Boman Irani is in sensible mode as DiSilva and he makes a good world-weary cop. I find he can be erratic, depending on the director and is often better in comedic rather than straight roles, but he does an excellent job here and suits the role. Om Puri is a little under used in a role that doesn’t give him much scope, but has a couple of good scenes with DiSilva where he is suspicious of absolutely everyone and he fits that character style perfectly. Perhaps most surprising is Arjun Rampal who I remember thinking was much better here than in any of his films I’d seen previously, and puts in an emotionally mature performance as a devastated man out for blood.

I went to the cinema prepared to be disappointed in Don and was instead surprised by how much I enjoyed the film, and still love watching the DVD. Expensive production makes the stunts work well and lifts the thrill factor, but none of that would matter without good performances and a well thought out rewrite of the story. The film works for me because of SRK and Boman Irani, but everyone has their part to play in making Don such an entertaining film. The Malaysian backdrop looks amazing, the soundtrack is great and the dialogue and stunts are brilliant. It may be a remake but it’s a great film in its own right and I love this version just as much as the original. 5 stars!