Befikre (2016)

befikre

Easily the best thing about Aditya Chopra’s Befikre is Paris, and thankfully the characters spend plenty of time wandering past significant landmarks and meandering through lane ways full of beautiful buildings giving the city ample opportunity to shine. It’s not that the rest of the film is that bad – it’s just not that good. At its best, Befikre is funny and both Ranveer and Vaani are full of life and energy, but the plot is nonsensical, the dares that are used to further the love story ridiculous and there are so many WTF moments that the farcical ending is no surprise. And to cap it all off, it’s such a shame that a film set in the ‘city of love’ contains so little actual romance.

The opening sequence shows numerous couples kissing over the credits but what starts as possibly sweet and romantic moves to voyeuristic and just a little bit creepy as it goes on for that little too long. Any thought of love is also quickly dashed when we first meet Dharam (Ranveer Singh) and Shyra (Vaani Kapoor) as they’re in the process of breaking up. Neither one appears as an attractive character during the ensuing slanging match, while Dharam in particular seems to be typical of the chauvinistic man-child so often portrayed in Hindi cinema. Despite all the drama, the break-up is actually quite funny, at least until Dharam does the unforgivable and calls Shyra a slut (more of that later) before she finally leaves.

The film quickly moves back a year to when Dharam and Shyra first meet and their ’love’ story starts.  Dharam is a stand-up comedian who has moved to Paris to appear at a club run by his friend Mehra (Aru Krishansh Verma). Sadly Dharam isn’t funny at all as a comedian but he is quite amusing when he’s hanging out with Shyra. Initially Shyra doesn’t want a bar of him and is quite happy with a one-night stand, but a silly game of dare results in the two heading out together on a date and the relationship develops from there.  Both Shyra and Dharam resolve never to say “I love you’ and to keep things light and carefree with no commitment, but despite this agreement, Shyra ends up moving in with Dharam. The relationship moves forward through a series of ever more ridiculous dares, all of which would have resulted in arrest and possible jail time if, for example, anyone really did hit a policeman or perform a striptease in a library. Of course Dharam and Shyra are never seen to have to deal with any repercussions from their actions, some of which are a little too risqué to be easy viewing and despite all their antics there is never any sense that the two are anything other than friends-with-benefits. It’s Paris for goodness sake – where’s the wining and dining, the romantic walks through parks and along the Seine? Sadly for Dharam and Shyra it’s all night clubs and bedrooms with little else between – no wonder their relationship eventually breaks down so spectacularly.

The film moves back to the present day where Dharam and Shyra meet up again by chance and renew their friendship. And this time they are strictly friends as Dharam is happily working his way through a number of French women and Shyra is content with her single life. But then she meets Anay (Armaan Ralhan) and everything changes. Shyra embarks on a mature and adult relationship which seems to be happily heading towards commitment, but even here there are cracks in the screenplay. Who leaves their possible fiancé at the top of the Eiffel tower and runs off to ask their friend for advice? Would anyone seriously still be waiting for an answer after that? And while the easy camaraderie and friendship between Dharam and Shyra suits them much better than any romance, how can two people who parted on such bad terms ever develop the easy relationship shown here? At least Dharma apologises for his slut comment, accepting that it was inexcusable and less about Shyra and her previous lovers and more about him and his immaturity. Finally a small step (OK, maybe less of a step and more of a toe-dip) in the right direction, and rightly applauded by the audience too.

What keeps the film going are the performances from Ranveer Singh and Vaani Kapoor. No matter that there is zero sparkage between the two of them, they are both so energetic that it’s just possible to overlook the idiotic dares and juvenile behaviour and enjoy the craziness of two OTT people rampaging their way through Paris. This works better when they are friends rather than lovers, but for the most part their scenes together are funny and full of joie de vivre once they move past the bedroom antics. I love Ranveer Singh when he hams it up and exaggerates every possible expression and gesture as he does here. Similar to his roles in Kill Dil and Gunday, here he’s loud, brash and looks to be totally enjoying every minute as his enthusiasm colours every frame. He has great comic timing throughout and his one-liners had the entire cinema in stitches, while once again he sparkles through the songs.

Not to be outdone, Vaani Kapoor is equally buoyant during the flashback sequences while the evolution of her character allows her to be more reserved and restrained in the second half of the film. Vaani expresses a range of emotions well and her wavering and indecision about commitment is very well done in the latter half of the film. She also fits well into the European-Indian styling she is given and at least in the second half of the film does deliver some French-style sophistication during her romance with Anay.

Despite the ridiculous storyline I did enjoy most of Befikre – although nothing could make me enjoy the ending, not even Ranveer. It was a real pleasure to see Paris as the backdrop for the film even if more could have been made of its reputation as a city for lovers. While both Dharam and Shyra are irritating during the flashback sequences, for the most part their friendship is more accessible and I did find a lot of the humour very funny. Most of the audience were laughing too and the general atmosphere was pretty upbeat in the cinema. The songs from Vishal-Shekhar are great and suit the overall mood of the film and of course the whole film looks stylish, but Befikre really needed a much better story-line and more depth to the characters. The end result is a romantic comedy that basically has no romance despite the best efforts of Ranveer and Vaani. Worth watching for the beautiful views of Paris and the exuberant Ranveer Singh who really can make anything engaging!

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Tashan

tashan_poster

Tashan is not really a good film. I am at best indifferent to the cast. And yet I have a fondness for the movie that surprises me. Maybe it’s nostalgia for the total masala style, maybe the excellent work by the costume department, or the spectacular locations. But if you need to see a colourful movie that makes you throw popcorn at the screen and at your friends, this could be quite rewarding.

Vijay Krishna Acharya opens his film with Jimmy (Saif Ali Khan) in a car, underwater, and at gunpoint. How he got there takes up the first half. Most of the fun seeing this was the “surely they’re not…oh yes, they did!” moments and laughing at the shenanigans as the cast justify the next big set piece. There is a heavy use of flashbacks and characters speaking directly to the viewer so it heightens the unrealistic and fantastical mood, as do the songs. Jimmy and Pooja (Kareena Kapoor Khan) meet when Bhaiyyaji (Anil Kapoor) hires Jimmy as his English tutor. As Bhaiyyaji mangles every language he knows, Jimmy and Pooja fall in love. There is the matter of Pooja’s debt to Bhaiyajji, but there are also cases full of cash coming to the office every month. Bachchan Pande (Akshay Kumar), is an unhinged hitman hired by Bhaiyyaji. He is told to get Jimmy and Pooja and all manner of double crosses and shenanigans ensue. Who is what they seem, and who can you trust, especially when large sums of money are at stake? Things get complicated. And then everything blows up.

Saif Ali Khan used to be quite appealing when he was the second lead. As a leading man, he is inexplicable. It’s not that he doesn’t try to act, and it’s not just the porno moustache, it seems that his charisma has the depth of a teaspoon. And what is with the red belt he wears for the whole film? He is almost completely superfluous to the second half, yet he clearly refused to go home and just hung around whining until they promised him a big heroic Dhoom style action scene. Jimmy is not heroic though. He is self-serving most of the time, and a sleaze. He didn’t so much evolve as have a character transplant for a few minutes. I think one of the biggest issues is that the only person Saif seemed to have chemistry with was himself. He had a gleam in his eye when talking to himself or direct to camera, which was lacking in ensemble scenes.

Kareena has total commitment to the trout pout but Pooja is an interesting character who does more than pose. She does seem to have a polarising effect on the wardrobe team, or maybe it’s just their special way of showing love. Pooja is manipulative, and she has a clear goal in mind. Her romantic scenes with Jimmy have no spark to speak of, where her crackling chemistry with Bachchan is evident as is their knockabout friendship. Unlike Jimmy, Pooja has lots of layers to her character to reveal. Her contribution to the final fight scene is quite something, and I may have cheered out loud. Nice to see a lady causing the distress and staying ahead of the game.

I feel I ought to like Akshay Kumar more. But I have flashbacks to Tees Maar Khan (one of only two films I have walked out on) and I retrospectively dislike his films I may once have been more tolerant towards. And there is the established Youtube Poker rule that Akshay and a body of water will result in something hideously disturbing. But his Bachchan Pande is the saving grace of this film in so many ways. He is overwhelmingly self-confident, handy in a fight, and not overly complex intellectually or emotionally. And he has an excellent intro scene. Bachchan is also the one character with real principles, so I found myself caring more about what happened to him. Akshay gets lots of action scenes (by Peter Hein so you know, it’s pretty cool) as well as some discombobulated hick comedy, and it suits him down to the ground. And the shoe department agreed his grounding is important – he gets some excellent and flamboyant footwear.

God, I feel for the team that had to remove Anil Kapoor’s pelt. You know there would have been hedge trimmers first, then electric clippers, then waxing. I reckon we’re talking at least a full day of hard labour. My friend interviewed Anil a few years ago and told me ” One of my opening remarks was: “Anil, you have a lot of hair for your age. Is it hair weaving?” He pulled up his jacket like this and I quickly told him I got the drift…” I’m haunted by that anecdote. Anyway, his performance is fun and so over the top it all kind of makes sense. Unlike his outfits. Bhaiyyaji is determined to make it to the big league of dons and never averse to a bit of killing and mayhem along the way. His mangled Hinglish is hilarious and a bit sad as he worships Jimmy’s ability to speak like George Bush or Prince Charlie. Starting out as an urbane businessman he deteriorates into a snarling (shaved) beast, and Anil Kapoor goes all out.

The Vishal-Sekhar songs are what they need to be for a film, and the picturisations range from WTF to delicately lovely, making the most of their spectacular locations. Nothing can really explain “Dil Dance Maare” though. Kareena is more of a gyrate on the spot kind of dancer, and Saif does uncle stomping with a bit of flailing so I didn’t see much value added by Vaibhavi Merchant there, although the backing dancers earn their money.

Tashan is the kind of film that takes off and doesn’t stop until it stops. It’s high on visual impact and the pace never drags. See it if you need a rattling masala timepass, and don’t mind characters breaking laws of the land, laws of logic, and laws of physics. 3 ½ stars!

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.