Shab (2017)

Shab

Shab was released last year but was only shown at the Indian Film Festival without a general release in Melbourne, so I’ve had to wait for the DVD release. I loved Onir’s previous films, I Am and My Brother Nikhil, so I was looking forward to this tale of love, lust and loss in the big city. Unfortunately, Shab doesn’t have the same instant impact despite strong characters and intertwining complex relationships. That complexity is part of the problem, since at times the connections are diffuse and confusing, but the main problem is with the dialogue, which often sounds contrived and unnatural. Shab ends up as a series of beautifully posed moments where the underlying relationships are only vaguely described and the expected passion surfaces only in brief spurts – usually from the supporting cast.

The film tells the story of Mohan (Ashish Bisht), a wannabe model from Uttarakhand who comes to Delhi to take part in a competition. Despite his impressive physique and tight silver shorts, Mohan’s small-town attitude fails to impress the judges and he’s sent packing from the show. Depressed and broke, Mohan finds his way to a café where the owner Neil (Areesz Ganddi) feeds him and gives him a place to wait until his bus leaves later that evening. However, Mohan has one last card to play, and calls one of the competition judges who invites him to her house. Sonal Modi (Raveena Tandon) is a rich socialite in an apparently loveless marriage with an industrialist who is rarely at home. She takes Mohan as a lover, christening him Azfar and deciding that he will be her ‘trainer’. Mohan seems happy enough with the arrangement – he’s dazzled by Sonal’s house and flattered by her attention, but as time moves on his arrangement starts to sour, as exemplified by his changing expression in the mirror where he practices his smiles before leaving to meet his lover.

Meanwhile Neil has problems of his own. His lover Nishant (Shray Rai Tiwari) treats their relationship casually and is also preparing to get married to satisfy the wishes of his family. Neil relies on his friend Raina (Arpita Chatterjee) for support as he weathers his on-off relationship with Nishant and she provides sensible advice and the odd kick up the arse when Neil becomes too maudlin to cope. But Raina has issues too. She lives with her younger sister Anu (Aniha Dhawan) who resents the time Raina spends at work when Anu is home from boarding school in Mussoorie. Raina’s life is shrouded in mystery for much of the film, with veiled references to her work outside of her regular gig waiting tables for Neil and strange encounters with people who call her Afia. She’s also good friends with Benoit (Simon Frenay), a French national who has just moved in to the apartment across from Raina and who works as a French teacher and a waiter in an upmarket restaurant. These five lives all become connected through their various friendships and relationships as they wrestle with their hopes and dreams while juggling the pressures of day-to-day life.

The best realised of the characters is Mohan, and newcomer Ashish Bisht is good as the country boy adrift in the big city. Ashish combines naiveté with charm in his interactions with Raveena Tandon and is also suitably desperate in his pursuit of designer Rohan Sud (Raj Suri), but his performance is let down by inconsistencies in the character. It doesn’t seem logical that Mohan should wait so long before approaching Rohan for a modelling job, and his romance with Raina never rings true. While Ashish nails the puppy dog looks and lusting from afar, when the relationship moves up a gear it appears false and unrealistic, which isn’t helped by Arpita Chatterjee’s disconnected performance. Mohan’s gradual realisation of his real relationship with Sonal is treated much better and helped immensely by Raveena Tandon who does a wonderful job with her limited role.

Raina is the thread that connects all the characters, but she’s the most disappointing and the character whose story is the least interesting. Her ‘secret’ is easy to guess after a few confrontations but her lifestyle is not well explored or explained. She works for Neil so it’s not clear why she still carries on in her previous line of work since money doesn’t seem to be an issue. There’s never any explanation of why she made the choices she did with Anu, and since most of those don’t make much sense it would have been interesting to try and understand her motivation. Similarly her rejection of Mohan seems odd given her advances towards him, although the whole relationship is strange and always feels manufactured.

Thankfully the other threads are better. Neil’s story is good, although there are a few too many coincidences that mar an otherwise interesting look at a same sex relationship that’s falling apart. The emotions here are given more screentime and appear much more genuine, while Areesz Ganddi’s portrayal of a man suffering through a relationship breakdown is realistic and believable.  Although Benoit’s story seems rather superfluous since a foreigner in Delhi can be expected to feel alienated at times, Simon Frenay is good and there are elements in his story that help develop the other characters. More could have been made of his antagonism towards Mohan and the reasons behind his dislike, but Benoit is generally inoffensive even if his story seems somewhat incomplete.

Each of the characters has a story that includes loss and feeling alone while surrounded by thousands of other people which should have been the basis for an interesting exploration of alienation in the city. However, the main reason it fails to engage and deliver on that expectation is the clunky and unrealistic dialogue. This doesn’t appear to be a subtitle issue either as even with my limited Hindi, I can understand enough of the dialogue to know it sounds stilted and unnatural. When Sonal taunts Rohan with comments about wanting Mohan in his own bed rather than on the runway, the remarks sound unbelievably immature. It’s also incredibly unlikely she would say anything like this since the two are supposed to be ‘best friends’. Conversations between Mohan and Raina sound equally forced and the only realistic dialogue is when Mohan discovers Neil is gay and blurts out that he doesn’t look ‘like that’. For the most part it feels amateurish and unlike Onir who is normally sophisticated and clever in his use of language.

On a more positive note, the film looks gorgeous and each set is perfectly staged with exquisite attention paid to detail. Ashish spends most of the time shirtless, but his clothes are a good reflection of his personality, including a truly terrible see-though shirt he buys for himself. Perhaps if the film had focused more on Mohan’s story this would have been a more satisfying watch. I would definitely have preferred to see more of Sonal’s story and less of Raina. As it is however, while it is beautifully shot with an excellent soundtrack, Shab seems no more than a superficial glimpse into a small portion of Delhi society. 2 ½ stars.

Bbuddah Hoga Terra Baap

This is it! This is what I’ve been waiting for in Hindi cinema. Finally, a film that resembles the Bollywood masala movies I love from yesteryear. Sure it lacks a few songs and the story isn’t all it could be, but the action is right back where the angry young man started in a fun film that delivers plenty of masala goodness.

The story revolves around Vijju, a retired hit man who has come back from Paris ostensibly for one last job. The contract is to kill ACP Karan (Sonu Sood) who has vowed to eliminate the gangsters in his area of Mumbai. This has severely put a crimp in the daily dealings of Kabir Bhai (Prakash Raj)  who is determined to eliminate Karan before Karan eliminates him. Added in is a romance between Karan and his old school friend Tanya, whose best friend Amrita just happens to be the daughter of one of Vijju’s old flames. We also get Hema Malini as Vijju’s estranged wife and a great performance from Subbaraju as one of Kabir Bhai’s henchmen.

Bbuddah Hoga Terra Baap is a tribute to Amitabh, by Amitabh. He is very much the hero, complete with swaggering walk and hero dismount from a motorbike. The only thing missing is the patented Southern Style Hero Run, and we can cut him a bit of slack on that. There are some great fight scenes, and while Amitabh does look a little stiff, Vijay has done a good job in making the fight sequences look credible. The ‘angry young man’ attitude is there in spades and the whole film hinges on Amitabh’s ability to command our attention. This he does with ease, even when sharing the screen with Sonu Sood in a very tight police uniform! And it’s not just because of his stylish scarves, nifty jackets and very cool specs and shades (although I must admit these don’t really say Paris to me – much more Hyderabad filmi style), Amitabh still has the commanding presence that made him a star in the seventies. These are my favourite of his many pairs of glasses – very cool!

Sonu Sood is more understated than usual in his role as the police officer, but he comes into his own in the action scenes and when he is interrogating his prisoners. I really do prefer him in negative roles and every time he slips into a more ‘bad’ persona he is much better. His romance with Tanya isn’t very convincing at all, although this may be because Sonal Chauhan is very wooden in her role. She does improve in the second half, but by that stage it’s really too late for me to have any interest in her character. Charmy though is excellent as Amrita and has some great comedy. She makes the most of her role and is impressive in her scenes with Amitabh. Another very good performance from Charmy, and I really hope we get to see her in some meatier heroine roles as she is such a good actress.  Although Hema Malini only has a small role in the film she makes an impact and is as good as ever. It would have been nice to have a little more of her Sita Malhotra and a little less of Kamini and her histrionics but you can’t have everything.

Perhaps now that Prakash Raj seems to have a contract to appear in every single Telugu and Tamil film made, he’s now reaching out to include Bollywood in that list – this can only be a good thing. He is in fine form here as the chief gangster and brilliant in the final scenes. It’s also great to see Makarand Despande and his wild head of hair make another effective appearance as one of the gangsters.

It’s not a totally great film though and there are some flaws. The pacing is uneven in the first half and there are times when the set-up begins to drag. Raveena Tandon overplays her role as Kamini and although there are some funny moments, it’s all too cringe-worthy to make her the femme fatale she tries to be. It’s a shame as it is great to see her back on screen again. There is also a lack of songs and very little dancing. However, the one song we do get is a fun remix of old Amitabh hits and features a cast of backpacker back-up dancers. Go Meera Go!

Puri Jagannath is probably most well known for his brilliant film Pokiri with Mahesh Babu, but he has made many other hit Telugu films and his style of film making is very clear here.  Given that I’m mainly watching Telugu and Tamil films these days I think that plays a large part in my enjoyment of Bbuddha Hoga Terra Baap. The fight scenes and the final shoot-out are also very southern in style but work well within the story and are very well done. The writing does include a number of references back to old Amitabh films but I although I recognised some of this I wasn’t always sure exactly which film it referenced. It does pull the focus of the film back to Amitabh and the film works best when considered as a tribute to his films of the seventies. One for Amitabh fans and anyone who enjoys their movies with more masala than logic.

The angry young man is back – just make sure that you don’t call him old!

Temple says: I don’t think this is anywhere close to being a great masala movie. It plays as a great tribute to Amitabh, and I did enjoy a lot of it on that level. But. If you aren’t familiar with the Big B in his heyday, I don’t know that a lot of the dialogues and visuals will work as well, or the one big musical number Go Meera Go which is a pallid remix of old hits. There is really no story for the first half, it is Amitabh reprising some of his best known moments. It’s all filmed beautifully, and with the flair and pace I expect from Puri Jagganadh, but there is a clear separation of the plot happening for supporting characters, and Viju being a showcase role with little connection. This changes in the second half when all of a sudden Viju has a past and an emotional life and it’s all supposed to be terribly sympathetic. By then it was too late to change Mr Bachchan into the aging hit man with family concerns so it fell flat for me. I also had flashbacks to the hideous emotional manipulation and melodrama of Baghban as soon as I saw Hema Malini.  Occasionally Amitabh also seemed to be channelling sleazy Sam from Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna so that didn’t help either.

I cannot imagine better casting (apart from the obvious) to play Son of the B than Sonu Sood. He plays it pretty straight but seemed a bit too uptight in some scenes. It may have been the very snug fit of his uniform that caused this effect! Raveena Tandon was terrible. Her orgasmic whimpering every time she spoke to or about  Viju and hammy acting were among the few false notes in the supporting ensemble work. I cheered (all by myself, in a near silent cinema) for Prakash Raj and Subbaraju as I knew they ‘got’ the style and would add the level of commitment to badness I love in Telugu films. I didn’t like the girls’ roles at all, and I seem to have managed to almost forget them already. They were just fodder for (often sleazy) jokes, and made too many stupid decisions. I like Charmme but this role was a disappointment for me.

See it just to see Amitabh Bachchan strut his stuff, even though he does get some hideous denim in which to strut. And he did a lovely job singing the beautifully simple and melodious Hal e Dil. I think the Go Meera Go song sums it all up for me though. Once I saw that I just wanted to go back to the originals, not the lightweight remake.