Gunday (2014)

Gunday poster

I missed Gunday in the cinema as I was in Tamil Nadu at the time of the film’s release, and it had finished its run by the time I got back to Melbourne.  It’s a film that I think would show better on the big screen to fully appreciate its boisterous lead men and riot of colourful masala, but it’s still an entertaining watch on DVD.  Ali Abbas Zafar takes us back to the buddy films of the seventies, although doesn’t quite ever manage to reach the same heights as The Shashitabh films of that era.  Still, buffed and oiled leads Ranveer Singh and Arjun Kapoor have a fine bromance while Priyanka Chopra adds glamour and style to the proceedings.  Add in some Irfan Khan and you have the recipe for a vibrant mix that is all the better for not being just another rehash of a Southern India film with a Northern twist.  There are some issues with the film; the excessive amounts of slow-mo and a bit of a lag in the second half being the major offenders, but otherwise there is plenty of colour, glamour and camaraderie to make Gunday well worth watching.


The film opens as young Bikram (Darhsan Gurjar) and equally young Bala (Jayesh V Kardak) seal their friendship in a Bangladeshi refugee camp when Bala rescues Bikram from a sleazy army guard.  The two mates have their feet set on the road to crime from an early age, acting as gun couriers in the camp and subsequently stealing and selling coal after they reach Calcutta.  Initially I thought that Ali Abbas Zafar was going to shine a spotlight on difficulties faced by Bangladeshi refugees in India, or perhaps focus the drama on child abuse, poverty or displacement due to war, but although he starts with a rejection of Bikram and Bala due to their background, apart from their own statements about the discrimination they have encountered there is little else in the film which follows this theme.  As in many seventies films, anything with the potential to be serious is glossed over and we quickly move forward a few years to the adult Bikram (Ranveer Singh) and Bala (Arjun Kapoor) and their current life of crime.


While Bikram and Bala may have started small, they have somehow worked their way up in the intervening years to become Calcutta’s biggest gangsters.  Although a gang is occasionally mentioned, their opening scenes show them working with each other to remove a local gangster and steal his coal.  There is no doubt that they are brutal killers, but as a useful side-line they finance schools and hospitals, cementing their ‘lovable rogues with hearts of gold’ personas.  The contrast is clear – dirty deeds are done covered in coal dust, while philanthropy comes courtesy of oiled chests, unbuttoned shirts and sharp white suits.


So, having established that the friendship between Bikram and Bala is the defining feature of their lives, the scene is set for upheaval when they meet and both fall in love with club dancer Nandita (Priyanka Chopra).  But the romantic rivalry is not the only problem they face.  Assistant Commissioner of Police Satyajeet Sarkar (Irrfan Khan) is on their trail and searching for even the smallest sniff of evidence to lock the boys away for their criminal activity.  It’s a well-trodden path but mostly good performances from the cast make it a fairly enjoyable one to walk, while a few plot twists help maintain momentum.  Irrfan Khan is the standout here, and he is smooth and polished as the ACP while still maintaining a street cop vibe as he pursues Bikram and Bala.


GundayGundayRanveer and Arjun have good chemistry together but individually Ranveer impresses more in his role as Bikram.  That’s partly due to Bikram’s more shaded character and Ranveer certainly has more opportunity to show off his acting skills, but he also has so much energy that he seems to explode off the screen.  It’s noticeable in the songs that Ranveer is putting in more oomph than Arjun, and the difference in energy levels causes a lull in the second half when the focus moves onto the characters as individuals rather than as a pair and attention is focused on Bala.

Bala is a more two-dimensional character and is limited by his depiction as headstrong and angry without a sense of burning injustice or any tempering balance to offset his constant rage.  There’s also a certain inevitability to Bala’s actions while Bikram seems to be more in control of his own destiny and frequently stops Bala from rushing off to do something stupid.  Bala comes across as just plain angry and Arjun’s performance occasionally slips into simply bratty and petulant in contrast to Ranveer’s slightly more mature and definitely more nuanced reactions.  However in the scenes with the two together, Arjun and Ranveer do make a likeable pair and the film relies on their jodi to keep the masala quotient high.


Priyanka Chopra looks amazing as the sultry singer Nandita, and Ali Abbas Zafar cleverly develops a contrast between her on stage persona and sari-clad and demure appearance when out shopping in the market.  It makes her seem more of a real person and less of a clichéd love interest although she doesn’t have much else raison d’être initially.  However as the story unfolds and she becomes more involved with Bikram and Bala there is more scope for her as an actor and she makes the most of her role in the second half.  Along with Irrfan Khan she appears as a very polished performer, while support stalwart Saurabh Shukla is effective in his small role.  The two young actors who play the gangsters as children are also impressive, hamming it up for the camera and generally fitting well into the seventies vibe.


The masala feel of the story is enhanced by references to Sholay and Mr India, including a memorable fight scene to the backdrop of the later, while songs from Pakeezah and Disco Dancer in the background help settle the film firmly into its adopted era of the seventies.  The costumes also add to the cheesiness of the film, and Ranveer and Arjun are given plenty of opportunity to show off their manly chests in a variety of gaudy shirts.  Nothing to complain about there!

Although Gunday falls somewhat short of ‘classic’ masala it’s a good attempt to recreate the magic of seventies Bollywood and gives me hope that the genre is still alive and kicking.  Although the elements are all there, they don’t quite gel together to give the complete package despite good performances and plenty of onscreen chemistry between the main leads.  A little more depth to the characters would have helped, but Gunday is still a rollicking yarn that delivers plenty of action mixed up with a serving of dosti and betrayal – and that is plenty to be going on with. 3 stars.

Zanjeer (2013)

ZanjeerThere is always a risk in remaking an older film, especially if that film is a classic and starred the likes of Amitabh Bachchan, Jaya Bhaduri, Pran, Om Prakash and Ajit Khan, to name but a few.  So bearing that in mind, there were a couple of approaches I thought the makers of Zanjeer might take.  However rather than keeping the same storyline and characters but updating the film to the present day, or using the original film as ‘inspiration’, Suresh Nair and Apoorva Lakhia seem to have gone instead for a middle of the road approach, keeping a few key scenes and characters but otherwise changing plot points rather randomly.  The confusion in the story is not helped by reducing both the heroine Mala (Priyanka Chopra) and the villain Teja (Prakash Raj) to comic relief, while as the hero, Charan ends up as much less of an angry young man, and more of a petulant and plain  bad-tempered one.  Even worse, director Apoorva Lakhia doesn’t let Charan dance – except for a few basic steps with Sanjay Dutt – until the song over the end credits. Even then the choreography is particularly uninspiring.  However, despite the dog’s breakfast of a story and enough plot holes to swallow the entire cast of thousands, there are a few reasons to watch this film, although I’d recommend waiting for the DVD and the FF button.


The film starts with a particularly sleazy and unattractive opening song where a scantily clad but heavily begrimed female dancer twists and turns her way through numerous hanging chains in a very S & M inspired look.  Thankfully that’s probably the absolute low point of the film, and there’s really no other option than for it to improve from here – it couldn’t possibly get any worse.  The visuals then switch to a shirtless Charan twisting in bed in the throes of a nightmare, followed by some blatant muscle flexing and posturing, and it’s immediately apparent that subtlety is not a word in Apoorva Lakhia’s vocabulary.  Not that I’m complaining about some blatant over-exposure, but it’s a bit too obvious and cheap for someone who is already an established star with a couple of hit films under their belt.  As if that wasn’t enough, Charan’s opening action scene as ACP Vijay Khanna takes place under the protective gaze of his father Chiranjeevi, and his uncle Pawan Kaylan, as they beam down from posters in the background.  As I said, subtlety is definitely not on the agenda for Zanjeer.


After his latest contretemps, ACP Vijay Khanna (Charan) is transferred for the umpteenth time for his enthusiasm in subduing the local riff-raff, but this time is moved all the way from Hyderabad to Mumbai, presumably in his superior’s hope that he won’t be able to find his way back.  Meanwhile, Mala, a ditzy and dumb NRI is visiting her FB friend to attend her wedding, this clumsy piece of scriptwriting thus ensuring that Mala knows nothing about India, or Mumbai and in addition knows no-one in the area once her friend heads off on her honeymoon.  By careful and contrived manipulation of events, Mala witnesses a murder, and does at least report it, but from there her character is increasingly less convincing as a modern woman, as she tries to avoid any further involvement with the police or the case.  Sadly, rather than the feisty knife-wielding Mala of the original, this Mala is an overly chirpy drama queen who seems quite oblivious to the cultural differences between Mumbai and New York.  Priyanka is giggly and immature but still looks older than her co-star even though there isn’t much difference in their respective ages.  This may be down to Charan’s youthful good looks, but is more likely due to some heavy make-up for Priyanka.

ZanjeerZanjeer ZanjeerZanjeer 2There is also zero chemistry between the two, and their romance doesn’t so much develop as suddenly materialise in the space of a few glances and a song.  The storyline seems to have called for a romance between the two which had to start by a certain point in the film, and so it did.  No build-up, no justification, just  ‘let there be a relationship between Mala and Vijay’, and boom there it was!

The murder witnessed by Mala leads to exposure of the illegal petrol trade, helped by the revelations of one of the new characters, journalist Jaydev (Atul Kulkarni).  Atul Kulkarni puts in a good performance as the investigative journalist, and revels in a more sensibly drawn character with a defined storyline – something of a rarity here.


Sanjay Dutt as Sher Khan keeps to the original character as played by Pran, and his world-weary look actually suits the part.  However his every appearance is heralded by incredibly loud and intrusive background music which completely overshadows his performance.  Keeping the character of Sher Khan similar to the original also backfires since the simple ‘crook with a heart of gold’ just doesn’t fit with the other modernised characters, although the scenes between Sher Khan and ACP Vijay are still some of the best in the film.  Or would have been if they’d just stopped with all the loud background music!


Prakash Raj’s Teja is a bumbling buffoon in an ever more outrageous array of colourful suits and patterned cravats.  In fact one of the high points of the film is waiting to see just how garish and inappropriate his next outfit will be. But turning the unscrupulous and immoral Teja into comic relief just doesn’t work, and Mona Darling’s (Mahie Gill) best efforts with Viagra and other seductive devices fall flat too.  Prakash Raj is, at least initially, suitably oily and effusive, but the dialogue (going by the subtitles) is clichéd and too ridiculous to hold any menace or threat.


However it’s not all completely terrible.  What does work well in the film are the action sequences, and there are plenty of them.  Charan is effortlessly effective in the fight scenes and his energy lifts the film, particularly since he tends to keep a glum and glowering expression in most of the scenes with dialogue.  There are plenty of the required explosions, chase sequences (through Ganesh Chaturthi imersion celebrations of course) and mass fight scenes.  Charan also did well with the angry glare and volcanic temper of Vijay, but the reasons for his rage are never very well explained despite that being the whole point of the original film.  Worth a DVD watch for Charan and Atul Kulkarni, and to play your own version of ‘spot the worst Prakash Raj outfit’!

Teri Meri Kahaani

At the opening of the Indian Film Festival last week in Melbourne, Kunal Kohli promised us a simple but funny love story in his latest film, and I think that Teri Meri Kahaani keeps that promise. It’s a shame that he was here with Shahid Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra last week rather than for the world premiere in Melbourne last night, but there was still plenty of anticipation and excitement in the totally sold out theatre. I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting too much from the film given that most recent Hindi releases have been disappointing and yet another love story seemed unlikely to tread new ground. My main hope was that there would be at least one song where Shahid would actually get to dance, but as it turned out there were two great dance numbers, some wonderful costumes and scenery, and the film was really sweet and enjoyable.

Teri Meri Kahaani combines three love stories which all have a common theme but take place in three different decades.  Shahid Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra are the couple who fall in love each time but in all three stories there are complications which threaten to destroy their happiness. There isn’t anything outstanding or even very different in the love stories, but each reflects the era in which they are set and the variation in style keeps things interesting.

The film opens in sixties Bombay and the period has been wonderfully recreated with the help of computer graphics and some lovely rickety old trams. The recreation is explained in the end credits for anyone who is interested and it does looks very realistic to me, although I don’t really have any idea of how Bombay did look in the sixties.

Shahid plays Govind, a musician who has come to Bombay to find a job in the movie industry. Along the way he meets up with the latest rising star, Ruksar (Priyanka) and the two have an immediate connection. While Govind channels Shammi Kapoor and mooches around the studios looking for employment, he also finds time for romance – which in true sixties style he does by means of a song. Watch out for the backing dancers who totally throw themselves into the shimmy and shake!

Apart from the scenery, this whole section does feel very sixties with musical stings and lots of big brass sounds along with the rock and roll. The camera angles recall some of the classic sixties films and Shahid looks very dapper and dashing. Priyanka looks stunning and is a perfect fit as the typical sixties heroine in some very beautiful sparkly costumes. Prachi Desai has a special appearance and makes the most of her short time on-screen, although she really doesn’t have very much to do. It’s all very glamorous and the focus throughout is firmly on the lead couple who exude modern sixties style. But the course of true love never runs smoothly and just before the film moves to the present day, Ruksar and Govind look destined to part forever.

The film then moves to 2012 where Krish (Shahid) is a student based in Stratford-upon-Avon where he meets fellow student Radha (Priyanka) who is on a day trip with friends to the birthplace of Shakespeare. Again the couple have an instant connection and start an online relationship after Radha moves back to Nottingham. There are many, many references to Facebook and Twitter and this did get rather wearing, as surely they could have phoned each other occasionally rather than just sending endless pictures and updates to each other? But maybe that’s just a sign of my age and perhaps that’s really what young couples do these days. This still was the least satisfying of the three stories – Priyanka wasn’t very convincing as a student and neither character had much development beyond the romance. There were various friends of the pair, but they never got to say any more than a word or two to say, and again the story focused primarily on the two leads. Neha Sharma has the special appearance here but doesn’t have much of an impact. On the plus side, I used to live in  Nottingham, and it was good to see different parts of the UK instead of perennial favourite London.

The final story starts just before the intermission and it’s both funny and sad. It’s interesting that Kunal Kohli chose to have his couple studying in England and then immediately follow that with a story which deals with opposition to British rule in India, and features stereotypical heavy-handed English soldiers. It’s such a tired old chestnut and it would be really nice to see this handled in a different way for a change, but instead the British characters follow the usual formula although they do only appear peripherally.

This story is set in a village near Lahore in 1910 and is another change of style and a total change of pace from the previous two romances. The support cast do have more of a role to play here and it helps makes this the best of the three tales with more back story and development of the two main characters. Shahid plays Javed, a womanising layabout who introduces himself as God’s gift to women – literally! He’s a Muslim, while Priyanka’s character Ardhana is the daughter of a local Sikh activist, so already there are problems with the idea of any marriage between the two. Javed has some of the best lines in the film, and while many of them are really corny, the way that he speaks them in couplet form makes them seem funnier than they really are. His appreciative friends add to the humour and even Ardhana gets a few punchy lines as she berates Javed for his unsavoury reputation. Shahid’s costumes here were long kurtas which made him appear very chunky, but the unshaven look and scruffy hair did suit his character, and I liked his arrogant but relaxed manner as Javed. Priyanka again looked beautiful in some wonderfully colourful costumes and was totally charming in her village-girl role. Throughout the film, Priyanka and Shahid had sparkling chemistry together, but it was probably at it’s best and most apparent in these scenes.

Teri Meri Kahaani’s three love stories seem to hearken back to the films of Yash Raj with their focus on simple stories, lavishly made sets and beautiful costumes – perhaps not surprising since that is where Kunal Kohli started his career. The film depends heavily on the performances of the two main leads and both Shahid and Priyanka deliver, making a convincing couple each time. Sajid-Wajid’s music suits each era and it’s great to have a couple of big dance numbers where Shahid gets to strut his stuff and Priyanka at least looks as if she is enjoying herself. I loved the costumes and the sets and while the film is basically light and fluffy romance it’s cute and funny without being sickly sweet. I am a huge Shahid Kapoor fan and that probably does make me just a little biased, but this is definitely one of his better films in recent times. Kunal Kohli has gone back to basics and it works! Definitely worth watching if you are a fan of either of Shahid or Priyanka or just want a non-taxing enjoyable night out at the movies.