Andhadhun

 

What a smart, darkly funny, thriller this is. I’m going to try to avoid too many major spoilers but really if you haven’t seen this yet, stop now. Go see it. Then come back and let’s talk.

Akash (Ayushmann Khurrana) is a blind musician who teaches privately while practicing for a competition. Sophie (Radhika Apte) is a kind girl who accidentally runs him over and then finds him a job playing piano in her dad’s restaurant. As Sophie leaves Akash’s apartment it seems he can actually see. He meets Pramod Sinha a.k.a Pammi (Anil Dhawan), a star of yesteryear, at the restaurant when he plays one of the old man’s signature tunes. Pammi then hires Akash to play a private concert in his apartment as an anniversary surprise for his wife Simi (Tabu). Akash turns up and sees signs that something disturbing has happened. He keeps playing blind and makes his excuses to leave. Does Simi suspect he is a witness? What did he really see? Simi is paranoid, and decides to take further investigative action. And then things get really crazy.

This is a rare film where the entire cast and crew is completely in synch. The dialogues flow, beautifully delivered by a superb cast, and underscored by great visuals and sensitive use of music. The comedy and the drama both veer into dark territory but despite my finding some acts repugnant, I was so invested in finding out what on earth would happen next. Relationships are complex and can change. I liked that while most of the people were kind of despicable, it was often unclear who was playing it for real or faking it at any given time. There are double crosses and shady deals happening all over the place as Akash and Simi both try to hide their secrets and protect their dreams.

Simi takes to crime with elan. She is a hard edged almost star, with the drive and ego to do what she believes is necessary to protect her brand. She married the much older Pammi to boost her career but her breakthrough is elusive. Tabu is awesome as she has to do deliberately bad acting, just plain bad acting, and also delivering some exceptionally good comedic acting, sometimes all in the same scene. Her facial expressions are superb as calculating and narcissistic Simi tries to find the best way out of any adverse situation. Simi is a recognisable “type” but she isn’t played as a caricature when it would have been so easy to do that. It’s a fine balance, and Tabu nails it.

Ayushmann Khurrana’s blind acting, and the transitions between pretending to be blind and using his sight, are beautifully played. Whether the scene is funny or tense, he literally does it in the blink of an eye. As things go from great to bad to worse he keeps believing things will sort themselves out if he could just get a break. He’s manipulative and uses other people but when backed into a corner he can also be vicious. Akash tells a lot of his own backstory so it’s impossible to know how much is genuine and how much is self-serving, especially when he is trying to impress Sophie. Akash is a slippery character and I felt that Khurrana gave a fully developed characterisation of an unreliable and untrustworthy character. I never felt that there was anything missing but I also knew that Akash wasn’t what he seemed or that we had seen the real man. Like Tabu, he really gets his character so he can push the pathos and comedy without becoming a parody. And hurrah for an actor who bothers to learn how to look like they may actually be playing their instrument.

Sophie is a good person. She helps Akash because she feels she owes him after the bingle. Later when attraction sparks between them, she doesn’t agonise over her feelings or his blindness. She goes for it, accepts him for who he is, and tries to understand how life is for him. When she discovers that much of his identity is a lie, her reaction is equally frank and fully articulated. Radhika Apte is the straight man to Tabu and Ayushmann and her role is small, but she has impact. Someone in the film had to have a moral compass, and that was Sophie.

Tonally similar to films like Lock, Stock and Smoking Barrel or In Bruges, the movie sweeps between witty one liners to shocking confrontation to observation driven humour. Based on a French short film L’Accordeur I prefer this extended mix, I have to say. The high and lows, the tension and release, are all masterfully orchestrated by Sriram Raghavan. I loved the set design and locations. I got a real sense of Akash’s neighbourhood and the disorientation when he was outside of his literal comfort zone. Simi’s apartment screamed nouveau riche socialite. I don’t often like Amit Trivedi’s soundtracks as they can sound a bit samey and repetitive. But in this case, the music is intrinsic to the story and the mix of retro songs and original pieces is excellent.

I didn’t really know what to expect from Andhadhun and I was absolutely delighted. It’s a smart, pacey thriller with great, and very flawed, characters driving the crazy action along. Every time I would think “surely they won’t?” they did! One of the best of 2018!

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Missing (2018)

Missing has some things going for it. Well, Tabu and her outfits mostly.

Sleazy Sushant Dubey (Manoj Bajpayee) is on a business trip with Aparna (Tabu) and their three year old daughter Titli. They check in to a fancy resort in Mauritius and Sushant checks out the receptionist before fielding a call from another woman, Kamya (Neelam). It’s clear what his priorities are. But since no other options present, he resorts to sex with his own not very keen partner in an awkward scene that had all the sensuality of Greco-roman wrestling. When Aparna wakes in the morning she discovers that Titli has disappeared from their room. She flies into a panic, while Sushant seems a little too calm. The hotel staff are not very useful, and the police seem to have read the Keystone Cops training manual. Then there is the guy downstairs who seems to be obsessed with little girls. So what happened to Titli? And will her parents find her?
That sounds like the basis of a reasonable thriller. But sadly writer-director Mukul Abhyankar squanders both the idea and his cast in a messy, screamingly obvious film that signals every twist and turn. Just in case you managed to black out and miss anything, listen out for the blaring dun-dun-DUNH! at key moments. One of the twists was evident from the get go, and the only way a red herring could have been any more obvious would have required an actor to wear a red herring mascot suit.
Tabu is stunning as the stricken and slightly unhinged Aparna Did she harm her child, was she the target of a revenge plot, was it just a crime of opportunity, or is something entirely different playing out? Tabu shows great range, from raw and gut-wrenching fear to more subtle and calculating expressions as the truth of her relationship with Sushant is revealed. The film feels quite stagey and is exposition heavy, but she imbues even her more passive scenes with an inwardly focussed energy that constantly drew my attention. Aparna is much more complex than she initially seemed. I really wish the writing had been better. I liked her costumes, but I’m pretty sure I wasn’t supposed to be checking out the embroidery on her kurtis rather than fretting about the little girl.

I hated everything about Sushant so I guess that is an acting triumph for Manoj Bajpayee. Sushant was craven, opportunistic, and creepy. Bajpayee struggled with some bad writing both in terms of the dialogues and the logic of what Sushant was doing. His feeble obfuscation may have been supposed to build tension and create doubt but it was just annoying and often didn’t serve a purpose. I was so annoyed when the cops nearly pulled the pin just because Sushant claimed Aparna had become mentally ill after being diagnosed as infertile. It was typical of the lazy plotting that tried to jazz hands past inconvenient details, and showed everybody believing women are just a walking uterus with the sole purpose of popping out babies. Sigh. But I cheered up immensely when Sushant copped a tight slap. That made up for a bit of my suffering.
Annu Kapoor is atrocious as Inspector Budhu but the material couldn’t have helped. I was amused that everytime he threw in a few words of French (seeing as he was a Mauritian policeman with an entirely Hindi speaking team and suspect set) the subtitlers gave up and wrote [Foreign Language]. But at times it felt like the lead characters were all in different films, weirdly edited together. Their performances just didn’t gel.
I was so pleased to see Tabu back in a leading dramatic role. I wish the film had lived up to its potential and to the lead pair’s characterisations.

Andarivaadu

Andarivaadu Poster

Andarivaadu is another of Chiranjeevi’s dual role ventures, although this time he plays father and son who share a house so that adds a degree of difficulty for director Sreenu Vaitla.

But right from the bombastic opening credits it is clear that this is a Megastar film and all other people and events will be quite incidental. And I’m generally OK with that.

Siddharth (Chiru the Younger) decides that his widower dad Govindarajulu (Chiru the Elder) needs to be pulled into line and someone has to take on the task of looking after him. Govind must be the luckiest man alive as Siddhu forces him to marry Shanti (the stunning Tabu). Siddhu also has to settle down some day, and he becomes engaged to his wealthy girlfriend-by-insistence, Swetha (Rimi Sen). Of course things can’t run that smoothly in a Telugu film with such a big ticket star. Swetha’s dad Veerendra (Prakash Raj) has history with Govind he would rather forget, and Siddhu upsets a local crime lord. There is drama, dancing, action and moralising galore before anyone can call it a day.

Mildly surprising for a family-ish film, it opens with an item including rain, pole dancing, and finger sucking. The poor girls must have really struggled wearing their big clompy boots in the water. There is a faint attempt to weave the skanking into the plot as the water tankers have been diverted away from the colony and residents are left for days with no drinking water. Of course, only one man can sort this out. Sparks and a hitched up lunghi signal the arrival of THE HERO!

Govind is a sentimental bloke with a strong sense of family and justice. He adores his son and couldn’t stand to see him hurt in any way, and can’t even harm a slightly evil genius mouse. Chiranjeevi hedges his bets by also playing suave Siddhu, educated and apparently irresistible to all women.

Siddhu gets to wear more knitwear and his dance sequences are a riot of colour. Chiru in some ways tests the waters of being an ageing hero by playing the father, complete with last minute hair dye as he decides he needs to look a bit younger. But since Govind is still a roguish and salt of the earth man who solves all crises and defends the defenseless, he isn’t exactly turning his back on heroic hijinks.

A great benefit of two Chiranjeevi roles is a double up on the dancing and once again he has Lawrence on board as a choreographer. Chiru’s moves are not as sharp as back in the day but he seems thoroughly delighted to get down with his bad self, and his energy is undeniable.

The action relies a little more on nifty camera work than on Chiru flinging himself about but he does a lot of wire work that adds both comedic underscoring and dramatic impact to those scenes. There are some days when the skinny double worked as there are obvious changes in physique in some scenes requiring both Chirus.

Siddhu meets Swetha when she suckers him into pretending to be her boyfriend so she can save face as she has told her friends they’re together. She is introduced through a series of closeups of her butt, her waist and her chest and that is about it for character development. Rimi Sen does little but pout and swish her hair around, although even that exceeds the minimum requirements for a Telugu film heroine. Swetha reflects her father’s belief that wealth is the same as worth. Veerendra tells Govind that he will allow the marriage only because Swetha loves Siddhu and only on condition that Govind not be part of his son’s life at all. Cue noble idiocy as Govind tries to do what he always does, sacrificing his own happiness for his son. And then even more idiocy as Swetha tries to make Govind and Siddhu pay for insulting her father.

Shanti is working as a Hindi teacher and has been running her family household. For some reason she says yes, perhaps because Govind is so honest about all his flaws in an attempt to put her off marrying him. She seems fond of him but does register that he is not the sharpest tool in the shed. Tabu’s role is frustrating. Early on Shanti seems competent, a little bit judgemental as she listens to the sheer nonsense her husband is spewing out, but fond of him and his moustache.

I do love ‘the moustache song’, as I call it.

But later on she loses the scope for the fun expressions and signs of character that made Shanti so appealing. It is a waste of a good actress, but Tabu does what she can to give Shanti some more depth. I liked her rapport with Chiranjeevi and they look good in their dances. In some scenes Tabu looked like she was genuinely trying not to laugh and that actually helped me see Shanti as someone with firm views of her own, even if she didn’t always articulate them. And on a really shallow note, she wears some beautiful sarees.

I am perfectly fine with Govind and Satti Pahlwan (Pradeep Rawat) kicking the living suitcases out of each other, but casual domestic violence is harder to take as entertainment. Govind slaps Shanti (even though he knew she had done nothing wrong) and Shanti dissolves into tearful joy at his acknowledgement that he had slapped her for no reason at all. Grrrrrr! Swetha gets slapped around a bit towards the end of the film but she and Sunil (as an annoying comedy cousin) were just so horrible and scheming that I can almost empathise. Lots of people slap Brahmi but, to be completely honest, nowhere near enough for my liking. I’m a little conflicted.

The climax of the film is not really concerned with the emotional coming of age of two men. There is still the matter of revenge to be thwarted, wrongs to be righted, and the greatest love of all: Will Govind and Ganesh the rat, finally acknowledge their friendship?

Chiranjeevi is showing his age but he also shows why his career has legs. See this for a silly and generally good-hearted action packed family romantic comedy. 3 ½ stars!

Andarivaadu-Ganesh