Ittefaq (2017)

Ittefaq poster

In this 2017 version of Ittefaq, Abhay Chopra takes elements from the 1969 original and spins them into a police procedural that ticks most of the boxes. There are two conflicting stories that police detective Dev (Akshaye Khanna) has to unravel to find the identity of the killer, but he only has three days to solve the puzzle before he has to let his main suspect walk free. There is a good amount of suspense in this stylish thriller and a better than average story, but it’s Akshaye Khanna as the determined detective that makes Ittefaq worth watching on the big screen.

The film starts with a car chase as famous UK writer Vikram Sethi (Sidharth Malhotra) attempts to escape the Colaba police force, who want to bring him in for questioning over the suspicious death of his wife. They finally catch him in an apartment belonging to a lawyer, Shekhar and his wife Maya (Sonakshi Sinha), but when the police arrive they find Shekhar has been murdered and Vikram is standing over the body. Dev (Akshaye Khanna) is called in to investigate the death of Vikram’s wife Katherine (Kimberley Louisa McBeath) and Shekhar’s murder, with Vikram the prime suspect.

Vikram and Maya both have quite different stories of what happened in the apartment and each version is shown in Rashomon style flashback as Dev asks the relevant questions. Maya tells a story of being held in her apartment by a violent and agitated Vikram before her husband arrived, saving her but ultimately being murdered by Vikram. Vikram on the other hand explains how he was injured after his car crashed and was looking for help, but Maya acted suspiciously from the start. It’s an interesting puzzle that relies on the credibility of each witness and how believable their respective stories appear.

The first half builds suspense as Vikram and Maya recount their version of events while the police search for the truth. For a change, the police aren’t the usual vicious thugs or bumbling incompetents, although there is some comedy relating to the police officers who are first on scene at the murder. However, the comedy here is well thought out and gives the subordinates personality that ultimately makes the film more interesting – making tea at a crime scene, snacking on soaked almonds and joking about a guard dog are all relatively normal activities that contrast with the strange events of the crime.  While Dev barks out questions and mulls over the evidence with the forensics technician, his police officers are changing the light bulb in Vikram’s cell and discussing their views on the murders – which all helps to cloud the truth. The various red herrings and clues scattered through the dialogue work well to further deepen the mystery and the addition of a suicide potentially linked to Vikram and his wife add more potential suspects that Dev has to investigate.

After a good first half, the second has a few more issues as a number of holes start to appear in the narrative. Dev’s piecemeal questioning of Vikram and Maya over the three days doesn’t stand-up to expected police procedure while a possible witness in Maya’s maid seems to go nowhere, but despite these shortcomings, the final outcome remains in doubt right up to the climax and big reveal. Part of this is due to the excellent poker faces from Siddharth and Sonakshi whenever they are interviewed by Dev. Both seem equally credible, and the switch between the two respective views in the flashbacks muddies the waters further. Sonakshi appears furtive and ill at ease during Vikram’s account, while in her own flashback sequences she is every bit the terrified woman held hostage in her apartment. Siddharth too is excellent as he switches between violent intruder and frantic victim while appearing completely sincere and totally devastated by his wife’s death during his interrogation. Of the two, Sonakshi’s character has less dialogue and isn’t as well developed, but both actors are good in their respective roles and manage to make their characters a believable witness and a plausible suspect depending on the viewpoint.

Akshaye Khanna is wonderful as Dev, playing the character fairly straight but with the intensity that’s expected from any fictional detective. Abhay Chopra gives him some background too by adding in a few crucial moments between Dev and his wife (Mandira Bedi) that allow a more human side to his character and lighten the mood when the drama threatens to get too repetitive. Akshaye also gets some of the best dialogue which works to ensure Dev appears as a detective who is smart enough to solve the crime despite the dual handicaps of his less than stellar associates and the restricted time he has to work on the case. It’s great to see Akshaye back in a role that plays to his strengths and he is charismatic and convincing as Dev, while ensuring that the focus is on the investigation, rather than simply the character.

Michal Luka helps create atmosphere by some excellent use of lighting, both in the flashback sequences and during the investigation, while the background music from Tanishk Bagchi adds to the mood without being intrusive. The running time is fairly short too at only 107 minutes, which means Abhay Chopra has to move the story along and establish the characters quickly, all of which helps to add tension although ultimately not quite as much as the story needs. The end too isn’t quite as satisfying as expected, although it is surprising with a clever break in the case that comes from a more unexpected direction. Overall Ittefaq does keep you guessing and although you may not be on the edge of your seat throughout, it’s still a respectable enough thriller with solid performances and good twists. Worth watching as a reminder of just how good Akshaye Khanna can be and then wonder why on Earth we don’t get to see him more often!

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Lingaa

Lingaa

Finally it’s here! Friday was not only the Superstar’s birthday but marked the release of his latest film with director K.S. Ravikumar. There has been plenty of hype and expectation for this film, so did the team who gave us the hits Padayappa and Muthu deliver another blockbuster? Well….. mostly. This is a Rajinikanth film so we all know what to expect, and it goes without saying that the outfits will be stupendous, the songs lavish and attention firmly focused on the star in every scene.There is nothing much new about the story, but that’s not really the point, since it’s the entire spectacle and the heroism that’s important and there is plenty of that to be getting on with. Lingaa delivers most of the Rajni ‘formula’ characteristics we’ve come to expect, and with good performances from Anushka Shetty and Sonakshi Sinha there is plenty to enjoy in full masala style.

Lingaa

The film starts with the exploits of Lingaa (Rajinikanth), a thief and con-artist who, along with his merry band of Santhanam and Karunakaran, attempts a major heist at a jewelry exhibition. His outfits are classy and his concept equally sophisticated but Lingaa is foiled in his attempt to sell the jewels on by journalist Lakshmi (Anushka Shetty). Lakshmi is in search of the grandson of Raja Lingeswaran, the only one who can re-open a temple in her village and who just happens to be our jewel thief Lingaa.  Using tricks and flattery, Laksmi manages to get Lingaa to go to the village but not before she indulges in a full blown fantasy song with Rajnikanth as the pirate king come to recue her and her backing dancers, who perpetrate crimes on the high seas against the ruffle shirt amongst other fashion crimes.

Once in the village, Lingaa is taken aback by the respect shown to his grandfather, but since he himself feels no obligation to the man who lost all the family money, he is content to use the situation purely for gain. However in the course of events, Lingaa learns the full story of Raja Lingeswaran and exactly how he lost his money but won the respect of the people for his life-saving dam. We see all this in flashback mode with Rajinikanth also playing the role of his grandfather, in a beautifully drawn flashback to the 1930’s with period furniture and apparently CGI elephants. No mention though if all the horses, mules and buffalos were CGI too. Back in the thirties Rajni’s love interest this time is village girl Bharathi (Sonakshi Sinha) who has just as epic an imagination as Lakshmi, although she favours a more regal theme in her fantasy.

The thirties track starts with a superb fight scene on a train that features Dev Gill as a freedom fighter and touches on the Independence movement, the corruption and cruelty of the British Collectors, and the blind neglect of the Governors, the inequities of the caste system and the struggles of rural India as the farmers battle drought and flood. It’s a bit of a mish mash of ideas, but through it all Rajnikanth walks tall in some wonderfully spiffy costumes and what must surely be the best collection of sunglasses onscreen ever.

The film looks amazing with obviously no effort spared on the sets and outstanding costuming for Rajinikanth.  There aren’t all that many fight scenes, but they are all well choreographed and fit into the main narrative. The train fight scene is undoubtably the best with Rajni stylishly eliminating a train full of bandits with effortless ease, including a one on one with Rahul Dev on top of the train. The action scenes set in and around the building of the dam are also well filmed and the effects well integrated to give the impression of a truly massive construction.  The songs by A.R. Rahman are a little less successful, but since the dance numbers are mainly dream sequences, the total switch from the story is a little less disruptive. The songs which move the story forward such as the stirring Indiane Vaa more successful and the background music, also by A.R Rahman, is suitably evocative for each era. I do like the songs and actually like them more after seeing the visual to match, even with those ridiculous costumes in Mona Gasoline!

Sonakshi Sinha and Anushka Shetty don’t have a huge amount to do other than as the romance interest for the two Lingeswaran’s, but K.S. Ravikumar does give both of them a few important scenes in their relevant story lines. Santhanam and Karunakaran are also kept mainly in the background and when Brahmi makes a brief appearance early in the film it’s over almost before you realise it’s Brahmi. Still this means the focus is firmly on Rajinikanth and he makes the best use of every moment on screen with one liners, epic speeches and that twinkling smile.

Perhaps the only problem I have with Lingaa is the relative ineffectiveness of the villains, although I did appreciate the very normality of their respected self-interest. In the present day Jagapathi Babu does the honours while in the flash-back the actor playing the British collector is suitably sneery but a little too much of a caricature for me to completely believe in the character. The finale also seems a little rushed, especially since the computer graphics don’t work quite so well here as in the rest of the film. However it’s still Rajni doing several impossible things at once while saving the day and the girl (yet again) so for me it’s fine to accept the glaring unfeasibility of it all and just enjoy the spectacle.

I really enjoyed Lingaa, and loved watching Rajinikanth in the two separate incarnations of Lingeswaran. The comedy and action in the first half is interspersed with the insanely OTT songs while the second half is more sedate in keeping with the thirties backdrop. I am a big Rajinikanth fan which undoubtably colours my opinion, but this was fun and entertaining. Definitely well worth watching for the Superstar and those wonderful sunglasses!

Just as an aside, Lingaa was showing at The Astor here in Melbourne and when I left the cinema I was confronted by a sea of Jake and Elwood Blues lookalikes who were there for the 7pm showing of The Blues Brothers. From one iconic sunglass wearing movie superstar to an iconic  movie – it made my day!

 

 

R…Rajkumar (2013)

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Prabhu Dheva (where did the extra ‘h’ come from?), the dance guru, directing Shahid Kapoor, one of the few Hindi actors who can dance – surely that has to be a good thing?

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Well… the premise is there, but in delivery R…Rajkumar is not as good as expected.  While the dancing is excellent (and it is fantastic to see a director make full use of Shahid’s talents in that respect), there are a few too many distasteful misogynistic moments to make this film anything other than just OK.  Shahid makes a reasonable attempt at masala served southern style, and his goofy shirts, dreadful hair and love struck Romeo are entertaining if somewhat reminiscent of Siddharth in Nuvvostanante Nenoddantana.  Although Shahid does his best, the story is standard fare, and adheres strictly to the usual Telugu formula complete with cartoonish fight scenes and ineffectual heroine.  It’s such a shame when all the ingredients are there to make a much better film, if only a little more thought had gone into the screenplay.

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Romeo Rajkumar turns up in a small town where two rival gangs are battling for control of the opium trade, managing to arrive just at the right time to save Chanda (Sonakshi Sinha) from a stray bullet. Simultaneously he falls deeply in love with her after just one brief glance – so deeply in fact, that the mere sight of his ‘lollipop’ (gah!) is enough to halt him in his tracks.   And I do mean completely stop – no matter what – even when taking part in an assassination or when driving the getaway car after another attack on a rival gang. Much hilarious comedy ensues. Well, to be fair, it is funny the first time or two, but it just gets repeated a few too many times.

Rajkumar signs up with Shivraj (Sonu Sood) and soon becomes one of his top men in the fight against rival gang boss Parmar (Ashish Vidyarthi) becoming good friends with Qamar Ali (Mukul Dev) in the process.  The first half is full of outrageous shirts, bad hair and some amazing dance moves from Shahid along with a brief appearance from Prabhu Deva himself.

R...Rajkumar

But while Shahid is blowing kisses and generally making an idiot of himself, there are darker scenes such as an apparent rape in the police station which is treated as an everyday occurrence and not worthy of further mention.  Further threats of violence and rape against the heroine are also treated as comedy and while some of the lewd dialogue is funny, most is offensive rather than comical.

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Sonakshi Sinha starts off as a feisty village girl with great attitude as she beats up a gang of louts who dare to wolf-whistle at her and her friends. She berates Rajkumar for his unwanted attentions repeatedly, until she manages to overcome her aversion to eighties hair and loud shirts and decides that maybe Rajkumar isn’t so bad after all. But that’s the end of any personality for Chanda, who rapidly becomes vapid and useless, totally unable to defend herself against her uncle and his plans for her marriage, and completely helpless in the face of Shivraj’s attempts to seduce her. It’s a role Sonaskshi Sinha has done many times in the past but she has less conviction in her character here, and it shows.  There is no energy in her performance and zero chemistry with her co-star which makes me wonder why Prabhu Deva didn’t pick someone like Trisha or even Charme Kaur (who turns up in a song) who surely would have brought more oomph to the role.

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Equally disappointing is Sonu Sood who is less menacing and more buffoonish than expected as a gang boss.  Ashish Vidyarthi is even more of a caricature as his rival, while Asrani is actually rather restrained in his role as spiritual advisor to Shivraj.  It’s bitter sweet to see Srihari appear here as the über villain Ajit Taaka, in one of his last appearances.  Generally he’s fine in spite of a rather unconvincing storyline and one rather bizarre scene where he appears gyrating with some bikini clad women on top of a hotel in (supposedly) Hong Kong. Best to just ignore and move along – when did masala ever have to make sense?

What does work well in the film are the songs by Pritam.  Prabhu Deva does an excellent job with the choreography, as for example here in Saree Ke Fall Sa where he uses the backing dancers and a few basic props to good effect.  The only exception is the last item song with Ragini Dwivedi and Scarlett Wilson which is shambolic with much less of a southern feel.

While the film initially feels like a series of short comedy sketches, everything slows down in the second half and becomes a little more serious with more fight scenes and fewer songs.  The inevitable final showdown is good, although I don’t think Shahid is quite as convincing in ‘back-from-the-edge-of-death’ recoveries as, for example, Shahrukh in Chennai Express, which does make the last fight scene funnier than I think it was meant to be. The film could definitely do with fewer rape references, and a more socially responsible hero would have made for less uncomfortable viewing.  Still, Shahid puts in a good performance and seeing him dance up a storm southern style, makes R…Rajkumar worth a watch, even if it doesn’t quite reach the heights I expected.

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