Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Thoughts on Bhavesh Joshi

Making a movie like Bhavesh Joshi in India is extremely tricky. The movie is almost certainly doomed to fail, if it’s anything but awesome. The few people who’re interested in “Super Hero Movies”, have probably seen the extremely well made Marvel and (some) DC Movies, so they go in with a huge experience of watching these movies and are likely to be disappointed by a familiar storyline or character arc. They want new ideas and innovative execution. Those who couldn’t care less about Super Heros aren’t likely to be excited about a movie which is just that. They probably need a star to pull them to the theatres. Bhavesh Joshi had a tough task at its hands, it had to be both extremely entertaining and offer an innovative storyline for a genre which has had a humongous influx of movies in the last decade.

Bhavesh Joshi

The predictable happened. I went to watch the first show of the movie on the day it released, only to head back home because the show had been cancelled. The next show I went to, literally had 4 people in the theatre. And in the week that followed, I’ve heard stories on twitter which mention about even more shows being cancelled. The movie did fail, and pretty badly. But was it any good at all?

The movie starts of briskly with Two Mumbai urbaners and their reporter friend who go around the city painted in the “Anti-Corruption” movement of 2011. The two eventually end up starting a YouTube channel where they dress up as masked vigilantes to take on the petty crimes in the city. It’s fun to watch that. It’s a section of the movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously and provides a bunch of laughs, it also sets up the movie for a much bigger conflict, which would require better skills from the two. While it goes on at its own leisurely pace, Priyanshu Painyuli is able to do much of the heavy lifting and is pleasing to watch.

It’s the second half the riddled with mediocre acting and a messy execution. It’s also when the all too familiar heroes journey kicks in. Written by three people, the movie is gets confused between showing the origins of a home grown superhero, a realistic setup and environment and following the super-hero’s journey. It’s best seen in a scene where Bhavesh Joshi confronts one of the baddies but is barely able to land a kick, fairly realistic for a software engineer turned vigilante. You can’t just start kicking around people by wearing a mask. It’s also the typical superhero confrontation, which is innovatively shot, but when it all comes together on the screen, it’s laughably bad! I’m not sure if I supposed to laugh at it, but the entire setup from Joshi entering the house to him barely making it out of there, was a bit off to start with, and turned into slapstick comedy by the end.

And given how much of the second half follows the hero’s journey, It’s predictable and boring. Some of the sequences just feel like a drag. You know how the sequence is going to end but the directors decide to spend time on it anyway. There’s an extended bike sequence which again is unintentionally hilarious in parts, boring in others. It’s also surprising how little the movie spends time on the villain, we know very little about him and there’s literally no exploration of the reasons as to why he does what he does.

If you’re not asleep by the end of the movie, it’s because of a great performance by Priyanshu Painyuli and Ashish Verma, Painyuli lifts the first half with his timing and Verma saves the day in the later half of the movie, and Vikramaditya Motwane does show some exceptional direction skills in some of the shots. I just wish he got a better script to work with. As for Harshvardhan Kapoor, while its only his second film, the actor really needs to work on his acting a lot, he can certainly look the part of a Mumbai resident in a Computer firm, but needs a lot of work on delivering his dialogues.

The movie isn’t a complete disaster to watch either. There are a lot of interesting ideas floating around here. For example, I really liked the origins of Bhavesh Joshi. It’s approachable, and breaks the norm of having some sort of a divine super power, to be a vigilante. It’s also interesting how the problem that the movie focuses is on, doesn’t involve an apocalyptic scenario or a super-villain. It’s just a corrupt and powerful individual who needs to be tackled and even then he’s someone who merely pulls the strings, and leaves the dirty work to his subordinates. There’s also an interesting track about how media headlines and news shape people’s perception. These are all innovative threads hanging from a story that never quite manages to tie them into a cohesive and engaging movie.

All said though, I’d love to see a sequel to Bhavesh Joshi. Why? Even though this movie was mediocre at best, the entire movie serves as the origin of a much more interesting superhero character, even if the creation process is messy, a second movie would do wonders to further such a character. It is also one of those movies which “need” a sequel. If the movie was supposed to be a one of story, the writers blew it. Without a sequel, it’s just a hero’s journey that takes way too long to kick in. They could have spent so much more time showing the superhero in action as opposed to spending the time on showing how he goes on from being a total dud to being a half decent vigilante. I’d even be happy with a Netflix / Prime spin-off which gives us a mini season for it. But alas, sequels generally only exist for economic successes.

Rating: ** ½ (Watch at Home, if you must)

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Breathe: Deus Ex Machina Overload

Vidit Bhargava

Breathe, the second Amazon Prime Original out of the 18 that were commissioned back in 2016, was a mixed bag.

It's a show that's full of “deus ex machina” moments conveniently placed to move the story forward. Every time the writers complicate things for themselves the lead characters have these flashes of genius that puts them back on track, and these aren't minor subplots, they're critical points in the story, like Amit Sadh’s character getting on to Madhavan trail. Sadh’s subordinate gets the idea of donating organs and wouldn’t stop badgering Sadh about it, which is when Sadh realises that two random accidents are actually murders targeted towards organ donors. It’s like the (metaphorical) hand of god strikes Sadh and Madhavan at just the right time and is taken away at the right time too, so that both can commit stupid mistakes as well.

Despite being poorly written, Breathe is saved by its cast. Of them, Amit Sadh and Hrishikesh Joshi (plays Sadh’s subordinate) are impressive. Madhavan does a fair job of being the amateur serial killer, but overdoes his part of being the doting father of a seven year old. But nevertheless, it’s a fair ensemble of actors who spew life into underdeveloped characters, and make the show watchable.

Breathe focuses on style over substance with all the back and forth in timelines and slightly pretentious art-references. But what makes Breathe watchable for the duration of it’s 8 episodes is it’s ensemble cast and the fact that there’s seldom a dull moment in this bizarre story.

Rating : ** ½



— P.S. Online streaming isn’t Indian Television where the bar of quality content is so low that you get away with lazy writing. I think Vikramaditya Motwane (the co-director of Netflix’s upcoming show Sacred Games) summed it up pretty well a few months ago, “It’s a space where you’re competing for attention with the likes of House of Cards and Stranger Things and so the quality of content has to be that good”, what Prime is is providing right now is barely watchable content which users would watch just out of the shear excitement of something new, and not because it’s genuinely good quality entertainment.

Moreover with the snail like speed with which these shows are developing, you can barely hope for this being a renaissance for Indian Periodicals, it’s at best a fun exercise for diversifiying the catalog of streaming services.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Movie Recommendation: Mukkabaaz

Anurag Kashyap’s movies have a lot to say in general, and there’s a peculiar way in which he puts them together in a gruesome and dark experience. Mukkabaaz is no different. It’s a story on oppression and caste privilege, diguised as a sports films, disguised as a mainstream romantic drama.

Mukkabaaz’s Multi-layered story, it’s earnest cast and a stellar background score from Rachita Arora are the movie’s biggest assets. It’s when these three come together, that you get the movie’s finest moments. Vineet Kumar Singh’s preparation really pays off here. The fact that he spent months, training as a professional boxer shows in the sport scenes. His speed, agility and physique lend credibility to the character. However it’s Zoya Hussain’s acting that really leaves a mark. The subtlety with which she’s portraiyed the character of a mute woman is commendable. Never once would you notice that her disability is an impediment to her communication, something that’s truly remarkable. Her character also benefits from some good writing. It rises above focusing on the character’s disability.

Amongst the rest of cast, Ravi Kishan does a fine job as Kumar’s coach. He’s calm and delivers a measured performance. However, Jimmy Shergill’s delivers a strictly one dimiensional performance as the movie’s “Villain”, and that’s primarily because his character lacks depth. It’s a character that’s just touched upon instead of being explored. In Shergill’s character, Kashyap fills all the wrong doing you that’s shown in the movie. He is casteist, he’s corrupt, he hinders the growth of younger boxers, he’s got no shame in harming those whom he considers beneath him. But why? Why does he do that? What’s with his red-eye look? These are questions that the movie never bothers to go into. The result is a character whom you’d hate, but also one that’s perplexing.

The movie also benefits from a fine soundtrack. Most of the songs are well placed, and are well written, to match the story’s narrative. But too many songs, hamper the screenplay. It’s especially in the romantic sub plot that the movie falls prey to the cliche of filling it with songs. At one point, we get a “pre-wedding song” (It’s almost insanely uncharacteristic of an Anurag Kashyap movie), I wondered as to whether it was just an invitation to a non-existent mass crowd? Seriously, I’m not sure who that particular song was for. The audience seemed eager to get over with it rather than indulge in the nitty-gritties of a pre-wedding event. It’s this song and a couple of other clich├ęs that are some of the weaker points of the movie.

Minor blemishes aside, Mukkabaaz is still a powerful story. It’s great in areas that matter the most. Kashyap juggles through the three major themes carefully. Seldom does the plot goes astray. Moreover, I’m happy that we’ve finally got a Hindi movie that manages a complex script without the entire screenplay falling to pieces.

Unlike most of the other sports films, Mukkabaaz is not a rags to riches story, it’s not even a story of hope! It’s a cold portrayal of the pettiness that plagues Indian sports, it’s one where caste and politics are as deeply intertwined with sports, as skill itself. Anurag Kashyap has a lot to say here, and all of it is worth paying attention too.

Rating: *** ½ (Worth watching)

— P.S. Oh! and don’t miss the Nawazuddin special appearance in the movie. He seems to be having a lot of fun in the couple of minutes of visibility he gets. And it’ll also remind you of one of his other special appearances, from an older Anurag Kashyap movie.