Happy New Year (2014)

Happy New Year

I’m a massive SRK fan, and I loved both Main Hoon Na and Om Shanti Om, but given Farah Khan’s last film, I was hopeful but not too excited by the prospect of Happy New Year. Even after watching the film in a packed cinema,  I still have a feeling of ambivalence since overall Happy New Year is a bit of a muddle. The film starts very slowly with painstaking introductions of the characters that are a mixture of brilliantly funny and just plain crass. Then there is the set up for the actual heist – again a mixture of ridiculously mind-numbing cliché and clever, snappy comedy, but at least finally the film seems to be going somewhere.  Finally there is the actual heist which is fine, and a feel-good ending, suitably horrendously overacted but very masala, and the best bit of all – the end credits. No, not because it’s the end of an overly long film, but because Farah includes everyone involved (as she always does) and it’s very well done. A mixture and certainly not all bad, but unlike Om Shanti Om, not a film I’m going to rush back to the cinema to watch again although I will definitely get the DVD.

Shah Rukh plays Charlie, son of Manohar Sharma (who else but Anupam Kher?) a disgraced safe maker and security expert. Charlie knows that Charan Grover (Jackie Shroff – thankfully fully dressed for the entire film) set his father up and was responsible for the diamond robbery that put his father into prison. It just so happens that Charan Grover will have crores worth of diamonds locked away in his safe in Dubai over Christmas, just when the World Dance Championships are being held in the same hotel. Obviously then, Charlie will just enter the dance competition and make off with the diamonds leaving Charan Grover and his son Vicky (Abhishek Bachchan)  to take the blame.

If it sounds completely illogical and nonsensical then that’s because it is, but although that’s not a problem for a Bollywood film, here the lack of logic is the whole point and it’s not as funny as it should have been. Farah Khan seems to want to be sure that everyone gets the joke too, because the details of the set up are repeated over and over again. Charlie gets together a team of misfits to help him steal the diamonds including his father’s right hand man Tammy (Boman Irani), explosives expert Jag (Sonu Sood), Grover’s son lookalike Nandu Bhide (Abhishek Bachchan again) and all round loser but expert hacker Rohan Singh (Vivaan Shah). Each has their own quirks and foibles, although my favourite is Tammy’s apparently bottomless bag which really does contain everything. On the other hand Nandu’s frequent projectile vomiting is fairly abhorrent while Jag’s loss of cool when his mother is insulted and Rohan’s general nerdy ineptness fall somewhere in the middle.

Needless to say, none of the five can dance which might have been thought to be a pre-requisite to enter a dance competition. Although they have plans to rig the results they still need to get through a judges round and in desperation they turn to a bar dancer Mohini (Deepika Padukone) for help.

Happy New Year

Strangely for a film about a dance competition the choreography is dull and uninspiring, particularly in Mohini’s introduction number in the bar. Deepika looks stunning, but the song doesn’t showcase her talent well at all, and Farah Khan seems as focused on objectifying the character of Mohini as she is with Shah Rukh Khan’s six pack. Which, by the way, does get plenty of objectification in the opening scenes. And a bit later. As does Sonu Sood’s admirable physique. So much so that unbelievable as it seems it was too much – enough Farah – enough!!

The songs by Vishal Shekhar are fine and reasonably catchy but not in the same league as Om Shanti Om. Best of the lot is Manwa Laage which has the best dancing from Deepika, good comedy and (almost) shirtless SRK – perfect!

I can understand why the costumes and choreography generally have to be so terrible and OTT for Charlie and Mohini’s group, after all this is a dance troupe that includes Boman Irani, but there doesn’t seem to be any reason why the other dance teams are almost as bad. Particularly once we reach the WDC and the dancers from various nations around the world have tacky costumes and lacklustre routines, making Team India look like a real contender. Think the standard of the dance competition in Disco Dancer but with headdresses and little kids added. There is a ridiculous side plot involving the Korean team but otherwise the film follows Farah’s theme of using older films as a template and adding in as many references to these as possible. Some work, but quite a few fall flat and the many references to previous SRK films are a good example of the later.

On the other hand, SRK, Sonu Sood and co. all do a good job with their respective characters and actually manage to make some sense out of the ridiculous dialogue. I love Sonu Sood here is he was funny without being too obvious, while Boman Irani does seem to force the humour a little too much. Vivaan Shah is a little overwhelmed by everyone else but seems fine in a small role, while Jackie Shroff actually adds some class to the proceedings – really! Abhishek Bachchan is good in a comedy role while Deepika absolutely shines and is one of the two lynchpins holding it all together. The other of course is SRK and without him Happy New Year really wouldn’t have had the same impact. Shah Rukh can stand there in the middle of a mud wrestling competition and have buckets of water thrown at him and still look cool. When he switches to over-emotional drama in scenes about his father he can make you believe in his thirst for revenge and when he dances on stage his enthusiasm is captivating. The romance between SRK and Deepika is less convincing but then the real love story is between SRK and his audience so the lack of chemistry doesn’t seem to matter.

Happy New Year is a mixture of almost equal parts good and bad. Cutting some of the repetitive scenes discussing the heist and shortening the introductions would certainly have helped, but Farah Khan needs to concentrate more on story development and less on comedy for the sake of comedy, more on structure and less on self-indulgent repackaging of classic Bollywood as crass farce. The problem is partly that when Farah Khan is good, she is very, very good, but when she’s bad she is repetitive and stereotypical in the worst possible way. Happy New Year combines the two and while overall it is entertaining, it should have been so much better. But if what you want is a mindless, colourful and extravagant 3 hours of entertainment, then it fits the bill perfectly.

Aagadu (2014)

Aagadu

After the major disappointment of missing 1-Nenokkadine, it felt as if it had been a very long time since I’d been able to indulge in the wonders of Mahesh on the big screen. As an added bonus Aagadu was being shown in my local cinema, the wonderful single-screened art deco Astor, which has the luxury of a dress circle and velveteen-couches for lounging while waiting to get into the auditorium. Plus the bonus of subtitles!

Going to the Astor is always an ‘experience’ and even more so for Mahesh.  There were massive posters with accompanying garlands, samosas for sale in the foyer, and even that rarest of things – allocated seating! Regular visitors to Telugu film nights in Melbourne will understand what revelation this was – no pushing and shoving to get in and try to find a seat that hasn’t been ‘saved’ by the first twenty people through the doors? Not this time! First night, first show and there was an orderly ticket collection queue, a leisurely stroll to your seat (with ushers!) and plenty of time to soak up the atmosphere with the sell-out crowd.

Aagadu

Aagadu sees Mahesh reunited with Dookudu director Srinu Vaitla, although the partnership doesn’t deliver such an entertaining film this time round.  Along with a number of familiar faces in similar roles, the usual mass themes pop up time and time again, so the plot feels tired even before it gets past the first half hour.  Still, it starts off well enough. Young Shankar is rescued from the streets by Police Inspector Raja Ram (Rajendra Prasad) who adopts him into his household based on Shankar’s non-tolerance approach to crime. Naturally this family relationship doesn’t last long, and Shankar is cast off by Raja Ram in suitably dramatic fashion after taking the blame for something he didn’t do.

Aagadu

Despite these early troubles Shankar follows in his adopted father’s footsteps and grows up to be ‘Encounter Shankar’; a man so feared that the mere mention of his name is enough to turn big, bad gangsters into quivering cowards.  As expected once he appears on-screen, Mahesh Babu throws villainous thugs around with gay abandon while indulging in snappy dialogues and keeping his uniform creases sharp. Mahesh is in his element here and it shows. He looks even more baby-faced than ever as he single-handedly beats various thugs into submission and revels in his indestructible super-cop persona.  Pretty similar to the way he did in Dookudu really.  The opposing gangsters have learnt nothing and still tend to attack one at a time (they can’t ever watch any movies or they would know better), and there are plenty of barrels, containers, and various other items for them to crash into. The outcome is always a forgone conclusion but it is the getting there that counts, and the action scenes are excellent.

Aagadu

Encounter Shankar is sent to Bokkapatnam, where crime lord Damodar (Sonu Sood) is terrorising the locals and keeping the police firmly under his own control. Sonu Sood seems a little off his game here and is never quite menacing enough to be the big bad movie villain needed to offset Mahesh’s heroic cop. An early attempt to give him a ‘quirk’ falls flat and apart from one or two moments of sneering he’s a bland and relatively innocuous character.  Srinu Vaitla seems determined to include as much humour as possible, but his inclusion of the gangsters into the comedy motif works against any possible build-up of menace and just isn’t particularly funny.  Even Damodar’s gangster lieutenants are roped in with Raghu Babu, Posani Krishna Murali and Prabhas Seenu dropping their initial villainous personae for dumb comedy routines that do nothing to help the story.

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There is more comedy in the form of M.S. Narayana who is reasonably amusing as a data broker, although the best comedy moments go to Mahesh as he befuddles the villains with reprises of his own movies.  These gangsters really don’t seem to get out to the cinema much!  The usual suspects turn up in the support cast including Nasser who seems wasted in a role as a mildly corrupt cop, while CinemaChaat favourite Ajay fares a little better in a more serious than usual role and Vennela Kishore has a reasonable role as Encounter Shankar’s main assistant.  Brahmi turns up late in the film and it says a lot that he is sorely needed to bring some relief into an otherwise dull and predictable second half.  He plays a broker who ends up as the fall guy for the police operation, but it’s really just the usual slapstick with the addition of a reasonably funny dance mix from recent films, although even that seems a copy of a similar scene from Dookudu.

Aagadu

Tamanna plays the love interest and starts off as a relatively feisty character that seems to have potential. Unfortunately it doesn’t last, and after she succumbs to Shankar’s trite dialogue she is rewarded by relegation to appearing only in the songs.  There is absolutely zero chemistry between Tamanna and Mahesh but she does get to wear some pretty skirts and twirl around mountains and deserts while Mahesh does some enigmatic walking, so it all works out OK in the end.  I liked the soundtrack and the catchy songs are all well-choreographed and pictured, often with some very enthusiastic backing dancers.  Shruti Haasan makes an appearance in a rather athletic item number which got just as many cheers as Mahesh’s entrance, but Bhel Puri has some of the best costumes.  The backing dancers get to morph from Marvin the Martian to Jack Sparrow while Mahesh sports his classic shirt and jacket combination, although I’m not so sure about his red number with go-faster white stripes.

Overall Aagadu is disappointing, as Srinu Vaitla rehashes ideas from his previous movies and includes too much comedy and an excessive amount of punch dialogue in his formulaic screenplay.  The first half is entertaining enough, but the second half drags until the fast, final showdown which is over almost before it begins.  Mahesh is very watchable and almost manages to carry the entire film with his charismatic screen presence, but even his excellent performance and the best attempts of the rest of the cast aren’t enough to lift Aagadu above average. Best watched in a packed cinema with a large group of Mahesh fans, but in their absence, still worth watching for Mahesh, good action scenes at the start and the songs.

 

Temple says:

Aagadu is similar to other Mahesh films, particularly Dookudu, only longer and much less entertaining.

I found the first half quite dull as the slapstick and comedy uncles piled up and yet the plot never shifted gears.  The ‘comedy’ is broad and overstated – not Mahesh’s finest work. He can be very funny but Aagadu plods along, reusing the same shtick too many times, and Sankar lacks the sarcastic spark Mahesh has brought to other films (like Khaleja or The Businessman). The excessive punch dialogues were meant to be a running gag, but instead seemed a gratuitous reminder of how many other good films I could have been watching instead.  And it’s not an easy film for a new fan as the jokes are very Mahesh-centric, including a nice tribute to his dad, and would largely go over the head of anyone who wasn’t familiar with the oeuvre. The second half is more successful as Sankar FINALLY starts enacting his plans for revenge. Plus I quite enjoyed seeing Brahmi get slapped around. If I had to watch his tedious antics, I was glad to have the vicarious satisfaction of the tight slap.

Despite high production values the CGI work is often poor, both in execution and judgement, and breaks the effect of otherwise excellent action choreography. There is one scene where suddenly Sankar is CGI’d onto a tabletop during a fight and he may as well have been surrounded by a dotted line with a legend saying ‘cut here’. And the subtitles, much as I appreciate the effort, were a bit dodgy. ‘Frightended’ was a highlight, and anarchy had clearly swept through the personal pronoun department. Although I liked the description “Pant. Shirt. Shirt. Shirt.”as I think that is indeed how Mahesh dresses.

Well, at least the Astor has excellent choc-tops. And I hope that nice man The Mahesh Fan and I were talking to after the movie found his way to Doncaster.

 

R…Rajkumar (2013)

R...Rajkumar

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?

R...Rajkumar

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.

R...Rajkumar