Raees

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Raees (Shah Rukh Khan in case you haven’t worked that out) grows up working for the local bootleggers, learning the business from the inside out. His mother (Sheeba Chaddha) tells him that no business is beneath them, and no religion is greater than business, as long as they don’t harm anyone. Raees hates being poor, and hates being treated unfairly. He wants respect, money, success. He’s the kind of guy who will exploit the tiniest gap to create something you could drive a fully laden truck through. The man trying to stop him is the eccentric and equally driven Superintendent Majmudar (the excellent Nawazuddin Siddiqui).

The film is directed like it was the 70s, the story is set in the 80s/90s, but only the technology dates things. Seeing Raees threatening someone over the phone was something else when that phone was a dinky red racing car one. The Fatehpura neighbourhood is a lively backdrop, teeming with people going about their day in the narrow streets. The songs suit the film and tend to advance the story more often than not (the Not being Zaalima). I wasn’t convinced by Sunny Leone as Laila but that sequence is quite gripping.

 

I think they did a good job of harnessing Shah Rukh’s uncle dancing tendencies and enigmatic walking powers, and I am rarely averse to colour and movement. Overall Rahul Dholakia directs with good pace and attention to the emotional arcs, but he throws everything into his story and that is to the eventual detriment of the film. There are too many subplots unravelling towards the end and the energy fizzles out.

Raees has strong ethics in business and personal life. You can argue the toss about selling illegal booze, but he only sells quality gear not the adulterated hooch that killed people when he was a kid. The experiences in his youth have a clear influence on shaping the adult and I felt Raees was believable even if his fight skills were more suited to a Bond. The audience applauded his shenanigans – the chai glass and the press entourage got the loudest cheers – and they seemed to appreciate Raees as the guy who was doing one wrong thing but was otherwise a hero. He is the Angry Young Man who wants to give his family a secure future and help the people who have helped him. His lifelong friendship with Sadiq (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub) adds another layer of humanity, exposing some of Raees less heroic moments. Shah Rukh’s performance is solid but occasionally is too much like vintage Raj or Rahul, although Raees shows more intent than would usually accompany the up-close décolletage inspection. He’s charismatic, nerdy, and impulsive, but also calculating. One question though – Does SRK have an eyedrops sponsorship? First Dear Zindagi, now Raees…

Raees is an anti-hero who knows when he has committed a serious crime and it doesn’t always sit easily with him. I watched an old interview with actor Michael Caine and he was asked about how he could bring himself to play an evil character and make him seem so human. He said the man wasn’t a monster to himself, so he could play him with characteristics of both a decent guy and a cold blooded villain. I think that is what works with Shah Rukh’s portrayal. He looks at ease in Raees skin whether he is praying at his mother’s grave, being carried through the streets in triumph, or going on a brutally efficient killing spree. He shows unusual self-awareness for a filmi hero and a degree of struggle with the consequences of his path. People may see him as a god but he knows he isn’t.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui is Majmudar, that most problematic of policeman – the one who wants to get his man.  His epic entrance at the best and tackiest party ever was a perfect set-up for what was to come. Majmudar has a fascination with Raees. He is determined to shut him down but he quite enjoys Raees spirit. I liked how Nawazuddin would smirk, showing a hint of exasperation and a gleam of genuine appreciation when Raees bested him. That and all the sarcastic one liners. Majmudar spent time tapping Raees’ calls, using the helpfully labelled Phone Tapping Centre from the Central Props Department, and seems almost wistful when he overhears a personal call. But then he is still cold and calculating in his pursuit. Raees was the opponent he needed in order to be that cop who never gives up even when the system is against him. Nawazuddin steals all the scenes as Majmudar permeates Raees’ life and he is a strong and unyielding presence that exasperates the pragmatic businessman. Raees and Majmudar treat each other with respect and as much honesty as is possible, and are the most morally articulate characters. They’re both smart, neither has to be a fool or do anything out of character just to move the plot along, and both actors are terrific in their scenes together.

Mahira Khan gives a good and largely understated performance as Aasiya, Raees’ wife. There is no sizzling chemistry but they show a comfortable joy in each other’s company that speaks to a longstanding relationship between neighbourhood sweethearts. In a scene when Raees came home covered in blood, Aasiya gives him a searching look. His reaction of self-disgust and culpability is what reassures her. She knows his line of business and she believes in her husband. Despite being in the domestic background, it is obvious that Aasiya is respected and liked in the community and she steps up in public when needed. True, she appears to have a baby without a pregnancy but frankly I’ve seen stranger things in Hindi films.

Sadiq (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub) rounds out the important people in Raees life and his performance is endearing and realistic. Friends since childhood, Sadiq is the only one apart from Aasiya that can see Raees as just a bloke. They keep some of their cute childhood mannerisms, retell old stories, and they look out for each other no matter what. Even when Raees flies off the handle, Sadiq is there to try and talk him down or remind him of what’s important. It mustn’t be easy to carve out your own space when SRK is going the full Rahul, but this friendship works.

The cat and mouse between Raees and Majmudar dominates, but there are some excellent character actors in support. Atul Kulkarni is charming and vile as the calculating Jairaj Seth who won’t easily let his former employee best him. Narendra Jha is Musa Bhai, the enigmatic Mumbai based don who helps Raees set up on his own.

Raees is at best morally ambiguous, and the ending may not be what you expect, but I enjoyed the film. Rahul Dholakia directs with a vintage masala flavour, but unfortunately messes up the formula so it gets a bit diluted towards the end. It’s an uneven ride but worth it for the excellence of Nawazuddin and SRK and the retro cops and robbers style.

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Fan (2016)

Fan- Movie Poster

Aryan Khanna (Shah Rukh Khan) is the reigning King of Bollywood. Gaurav Chandna (Shah Rukh Khan) is 25 years younger and is known in his colony as Junior Aryan Khanna. The resemblance is demonstrated in one awesome, heartfelt, funny talent show turn. He is a superfan, rational in all areas of his life except where Aryan Khanna is concerned. Junior’s passion becomes as destructive as it was once supportive. Aryan says he owes his success to his fans, but he doesn’t want them in his life. Gaurav doesn’t see a distinction between the public persona and the man – he made Aryan Khanna a king, and he can unmake him. Do stars owe their fans anything more than being a star? And why do we care so much about professional liars and dresser-uppers?

Maneesh Sharma gets a great performance from Shah Rukh, a veteran of the twofer deal. Aryan is the big star who lives in in a marble and crystal bubble. All the trademark SRK mannerisms are there – the sarcasm, the dimples, the charm. He lives in Mannat, his wife is called Gauri, he has kids, he gets paid to dance at big society weddings, gets into fights with other stars, is always late, has bad art, owns props and costumes from SRK films. But is he reeeeally SRK? That’s one layer of the game Shah Rukh and Maneesh Sharma play with the audience in this most meta masala. Gaurav is a youthful puppy faced Aryan lookalike. His characterisation goes beyond the fancy visual effects and body doubles to look like a young version of himself. Gaurav has a jaunty walk and several of his hero’s mannerisms too, but just a little bit off beat or jerky looking so it’s close but not perfect. When Gaurav is “doing” Aryan, his expressions change and his voice lowers in pitch to heighten the resemblance.

There is of course a supporting cast, but this is so much about the herocentric world of star and fan that Shah Rukh is in almost every shot. I liked Shriya Pilgaonkar as Gaurav’s crush, Neha. She is a pretty girl next door type and has a good rapport with the nervous and jumpy Gaurav. Yogendra Tiku and Deepika Amin are excellent and very believable as loving parents with a blind spot to their son’s weirdness.

Manu Anand’s cinematography makes Fan look amazing. Bombay is the contrast of Aryan’s cool world with the grimy, seedy, well-worn and fabulous city, Delhi is the intimate and homely neighbourhood, and the Dubrovnik sequence has echoes of Bond. Gaurav has a great chase scene with the police in Mumbai where he leaps from window to window, hanging from canopies and AC units, eventually wrecking the tiffinwallahs delivery success rate by sending dhabbas flying.  But guts and adrenalin can only take him so far, he stills gets nabbed. When Aryan chases Gaurav through Dubrovnik, it is beautiful as well as a pumping action scene. And Aryan has 25 years of being an invincible hero under his belt.

Fan-Gaurav meets Aryan

There is a moment where had Aryan behaved differently, Gaurav would probably have gone home and calmed his farm. But Fan uses old SRK interviews to tell us that Aryan won’t step back from putting himself first, or he wouldn’t have been driven enough to make himself into a huge star. Aryan takes a swing at the press for missing the point and talking about his image when the real story was overlooked. Some confrontations with British police felt OTT to me in terms of the acting (is it just lame white extra acting?), but my experience arriving in London probably doesn’t compare to, say, SRK landing at an American airport. Sharma also blends in footage taken outside Mannat and from the recent Temptations Reloaded tour. So Aryan is shaped by incidents that echo Shah Rukh’s past. It’s a smart way to both add cred and amp up the meta to stir up more questions.

The visuals also convey both the inner worlds and the tension between Aryan and Gaurav. Gaurav’s room shows that Aryan occupies all the space in his life. When the crowds outside Mannat disperse, they leave detritus in their wake – thongs (I’m Australian, that is not as dirty as it sounds), paper, stuff – as the only sign they exist. When Gaurav waits outside to see Aryan on his birthday, the only thing he hears is his own voice. When the POV switches to Aryan, we get a wall of noise and a sea of faces. In one fight scene, the hate is palpable. Aryan really wants to hurt Gaurav, and Gaurav is too far gone to stop himself. As blows are traded their posture starts to mirror each other, almost as though one man was fighting himself.

It’s not perfect. The movie would have ended really quickly had any law enforcement agencies thought to look for fingerprints, DNA, reliable witnesses, or just done their job. But why use science when you can play cat and mouse with your characters and with the audience? Viewing companion The Mahesh Fan felt the second half got a bit unrealistic in the context of the rest of the film being underplayed by Bollywood standards. I didn’t mind the action scenes at all, as I thought it showed in a very filmi way what Aryan was – a movie hero. Of course he could handle a motorcycle chase, a rooftop fight, a long emotional speech, all without batting a stunning eyelash. That is what made him Aryan Khanna. (Sidenote – The Mahesh Fan was an extra in Chak De India and says SRK was given the nickname No-Show Shah Rukh because of his perpetual tardiness. We laughed a lot when Aryan rocked up hours late to an event.)

This is a smart film about the industry, about fan culture, and stardom. There is even a little thread about aging gracefully in the public eye (or not – maybe as one waxwork attests). There is temptation to read into every line and interrogate every symbol, but Fan is also a well-executed ripping yarn and entertainment. All the working bits of your brain can be happily occupied watching it. The Mahesh Fan’s verdict was it needed more songs, more dancing, and about twenty minutes less in run time. I can see her point, but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment. I am so happy I love, and am a bit disturbed by, this film. Nice one No-Show!

Dilwale

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Kaali (Sharukh) and Meera (Kajol) fall in love. Kaali tells Meera he is a gangster, son of don Randhir (Vinod Khanna). Meera tells Kaali she is an artist and they do lots of picturesque and cutesy romancing. But Kaali finds out there is more to Meera than being a simple artist. Eventually they part and go their own ways. Fifteen years later, Veer (Varun Dhawan) meets Ishita (Kriti Sanon) and they fall in love. Veer is Kaali’s little brother, although Kaali now calls himself Raj and is a simple mechanic and car modifier. Ishu’s big sister? Yeah. Will Veer and Ishu ever get together in the face of such strong family opposition? And why did neither Kaali nor Meera ever move on and marry someone else?

My love for Shahrukh goes way, way back, and I was not disappointed at all by him in Dilwale. I’ve always liked him most in roles where he is not too sugary sweet. I particularly liked the moments when, as Raj, he let the calculating menace of Kaali show through. He seemed completely at home in his character’s skin without looking like he’d phoned this one in. The fight scenes showed Kaali as a relentless and brutal machine. Careful angles and editing made it seem as though Shahrukh was doing all his own work in the action sequences so there was no break in the dramatic tension. I’m sure his stunt guy was working overtime but I think they’ve done a great job when it is hard to pick who is who.

His stylist also did a great job of making the 15 year gap between timelines seem believable. Plus I enjoyed the double layered linen shirts, sometimes matching or in a monochrome mix, and always with a hint of cleavage. Well done, that person.

And after Janam Janam, all I can say is “move over Mr Darcy”. (Plus, as far as I know, Colin Firth has not fixed a VW Beetle in the rain while dancing and wearing his Mr Darcy puffy shirt.)

Like Kaali there is more to Meera than meets the eye, and Kajol is fantastic. She looks great and gives Meera a tough femininity that really works. Of course she has amazing chemistry with Shahrukh, and I think the film should have concentrated on their story. Kaali and Meera were like Romeo and Juliet who had survived and moved on in life, if not emotionally. I was more interested in what they had been up to since they last met, how they went legit, and what would happen next, than I was in Veer and Ishu’s sincere puppy love. One thing that I really liked is that the women drive the pace of developments in their relationships. Raj/Kaali told Meera she had got him all wrong. She didn’t budge just because he looked sad (and hot), but when she was ready she investigated further and she listened to the evidence.

Varun is pleasant, can dance, is good in action, but his dialogue delivery was odd. It sounded Shatneresque. Mumbled! And! Like! He! Spoke! With! An! Exclamation! He seemed to be pushing to make his action bigger, but instead it looked like his timing was off. His best moments were one on one with Shahrukh as the brothers dealt with the rocky road to true love. In one scene they are laughing through tears and it was genuinely touching, and then later a grim looking scene turned to sheepish laughter. I’d like Varun to do more action centred roles as I think he’d be great in that genre.

Kriti Sanon seems to be eminently qualified to be a romantic lead by virtue of not wearing much. Her acting is not offensively bad, but like Varun her shortcomings were all the more evident for the contrast. She fares better in scenes with either Shahrukh or Kajol as maybe she had something more to work off where Varun was a bit patchy.

Vinod Khanna and Kabir Bedi played Kaali and Meera’s respective fathers. They were charming and pragmatic, loving their families and hating their enemies with equal vigour. The stuff revenge sagas are made of.

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Shetty’s taste is hit and miss for me. The audience I saw this with was in stitches at the excruciating wordplay from Oscar (Sanjay Mishra). I loved the montage of lies that Anwar (Pankaj Tripathi) and Shakti (Mukesh Tiwari) spun, using snippets from what was on TV, to cover up Raj’s past. Veer cheekily does the SRK arms flung wide and lean when he needs help, channelling his inner filmi hero, and knowing that pose never ever fails. But when Mani (Johnny Lever) turned up in a fro, lungi, and mesh vest, masquerading as a South Indian thug I couldn’t understand why Shetty thought it was OK in Dilwale when he’d largely avoided such nonsense in Chennai Express. Boman Irani has settled comfortably into a half-arsed overacting groove that belies his abilities. There are lots of little references to DDLJ and other films from Love, Actually to Dude, Where’s My Car, and some laugh out loud lines so it pays to pay attention.

I was dying to see Gerua. I’ve recently been to Iceland and had visited several of the locations, not knowing Dilwale had been shooting there earlier in the year. I can assure you that the countryside really is THAT spectacular. Janam Janam is lush and full of longing, and showcased Kajol and Shahrukh’s chemistry with some age appropriate choreo. Varun got the best intro with the colourful Manma Emotion Jaage. Tukur Tukur plays over the end credits so if your audience is as annoying as mine was, you’ll probably just see a line of people’s butts shuffle past! The difference in style between Kajol and Shahrukh and Kriti and Varun is really evident as the youngsters act at the camera while the established stars know exactly where the camera is, but also know it will find them so they just do their thing.

This is definitely a good bet for the SRK or Kajol fans, but for others maybe not so much. I do think Dilwale delivers on the promise of being (fairly) entertaining, gorgeous to look at, and with loads of energy, but it falters when the film moves away from Raj and Meera. One I’d watch again on DVD and make judicious use of the fast forward button!