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Gulabo Sitabo review: Impressive performances make this otherwise passable tale worth watching

Here's Nation Next's review of the movie 'Gulabo Sitabo' directed by Shoojit Sircar and starring Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurrana.
Ayushmann Khurrana and Amitabh Bachchan in a still from ‘Gulabo Sitabo’

 

Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Ayushmann Khurrana, Vijay Raaz, Brijendra Kala, Srishti Shrivastava, Farrukh Jafar

 

Director: Shoojit Sircar

 

An Amazon Prime Video release helmed by Shoojit Sircar under Rising Sun Films, Gulabo Sitabo is a tussle taken from an eponymous puppet show from the city of Lucknow. A narrative with two puppets, who are always at each other’s throat. It is a bickering tale between two lead characters ? the owner of a haveli (mansion) and an impoverished young man as the tenant. The haveli completes the love-hate-triangle set in the City of Nawabs.

 

The mansion, Fatima Mahal, is under the care of Mirza Chunnan Nawab (Amitabh Bachchan), who is a scraggy gaunt old man with a pronounced hunchback. Mirza wears owl-eyed glasses along with a peculiar ugly scowl on his face. He consistently dreams of owning Fatima Mahal one day. He is like Uncle Scrooge, who keeps counting his pennies with a hope that his days are not numbered. Mirzas intense avarice can be understood through his devious decision not to have progeny, so that he can be the sole owner of the haveli after his wifes death.

 

Baankey Rastogi (Ayushmann Khurrana) is a young one who runs a decrepit flour-grinder and stays in the haveli with his three sisters and his parents. He lisps and drools in a lingo, which is not only funny but has a nice chime to it. Mirza and Baankey, who for reasons known only to them are always at loggerheads – be it about rent, repairs or relationships – you name it and they are at it. At the same time, it is not all hunky-dory between Mirza and other tenants. The contentions are the living conditions, rather lack of it, between owner of the haveli and the other mute tenants in general and ever-so-vocal Baankey in particular.

 

The dilapidated structure referred to as Fatima Mahal is another lead character along with the two protagonists and the ?property? (as the English-lover lawyer puts it – ?Law mein haveli ko ?praperty? kehte hain?) is the reason for all their bickering feuds. The haveli seems a beautiful structure of yore with an ornate, though now a creaking crumbling facade and dates back to Mughal era. The haveli gives every possible impression that it has seen its better days.

 

A days decay outpacing that of summed up decades toll but it’s situated in the middle of citys upscale commercial part. It’s of interest to realtors as they keep harping they are looking for only three aspects in a ?property? – location, location and location. For once – realtors, politicians, historians and archeologists all agree – geography is destiny.

 

The tug of war gets going when a part of wall of a weary washroom comes down with a shove of rage from Baankey. It does bring in all the hidden agendas to fore. The caretaker-owners wish to usurp it all with his wife, Fatima Begums demise, which he wishes with every breath he takes; the lead tenant, Baankey who harbors a dream of becoming the default heir of the childless-loveless owner couple; and then there are sidekicks to the greed-usurp shit-show in the form of an archeology department government officer ? Gyanesh Shukla (Vijay Raaz), who never ceases to announce that he is archaeology? and a lawyer ? Christopher Clarke (Brijendra Kala), who is self-declared expert in cases of property disputes. The movie rolls on with small instances and interactions among these cast of characters at times with dry and at times with wry humour. Gyanesh wishes to seal Fatima Mahal as a historical monument in turn to sell it to a petty out-of-power politician and Christopher desires to push off the property to a shady builder, while all the tenants just wish to hold on to what is theirs for the taking.

 

Amitabh Bachchan as Mirza keeps hitting the high notes in this out-of-sync orchestra and he keeps you engaged with his croaky voice, awkward gait, shabby attires, and a demeanor bursting with greed at all its seams. He delivers a magical performance and lives the part as if that’s what he has been doing all his life. He successfully treads and balances the path of being very greedy without being evil.

 

Bachchan is the lynch pin along with ever dependable Ayushmann Khurrana as Baankey. Ayushmann gets his dialect bang on (but surprisingly not Lucknawi) and creates a lisp, which adds the hiss to his serpent like character. Both these characters physicality has been created with an eye for detail. They spar, jab and box each other in corner with verbal spats, which are a treat to watch and are the high point of the movie. It is the chemistry and the concoction that they conjure up with their screen presence, which saves this movie from drowning into depths.

 

Vijay Raaz as Gyanesh Shukla is his usual self and he slips in character as liquid into a container. He plays it natural and catches the pulse of the government servant in safari suit with finesse. The other characters who fill in the universe are also at the top of their game – be it the lawyer Chritopher Clarke with broken English played by Brijendra Kala, who plays it sly and underhand. Srishti Shrivastava (Guddo) as Baankeys grown up amorous sister is also fantastic and she puts her all to not only get into the skin of her finely sketched character but also stands out well in such an august company of proven performers. Last but not the least is Farrukh Jafar (Fatima Begum), who even when she chides or insults her harried husband does so with her nuanced Lucknawi grace and etiquette. Her Urdu-laced accent is to die for! She does not get much of the screen time but is more than handful when she does and she holds on to her own.

 

Gulabo Sitabo is a character driven vehicle, where the plot takes a back seat. Though the script and dialogues do act as skilled navigators but the journey is passable to say the least. Shoojit Sircar (Director) and Juhi Chaturvedi (Writer) did create the milieu, characters, events and happenings very earnestly but every now and then, the vehicle careens off the track and it is only the high octane calibre of the performers which holds it on to the path it aims to ride on.

 

The team creates a universe of utter misery and malice in a city known for its cheery and benevolent outlook. It’s paradoxical to discover the greedy aspect of this carefree town. The last time we experienced Lucknow in all its regal splendour and glory was Satyajit Rays classic Shatranj Ke Khiladi? and Rays influence on Shoojit Sircar is very well chronicled and known. He recently shared that while shooting for this movie, he stayed where his idol stayed – Hotel Clarion, when he directed the aforementioned classic.

 

Gulabo Sitabo is certainly not the best of the Shoojit Sircars work till date. The movie hurtles from one episode to another in a jerky way and events do not flow as smoothly as Sircar is known for. Another interruption, which one keeps noticing is the background score (not songs), which is jarringly repetitive and boringly one-dimensional and is highly unexpected from the talented Shantanu Moitra. The movie is a typical Shoojit-Juhi formula that they have mastered – present a slice of life story with acutely examined incidents and experiences.

 

Overall, the movie is a sonorous sojourn saddled with bumps – a ride worth taking but can get tad jerky and juvenile at places. A tepid affair from a seasoned director; salvaged dutifully by competent team of actors. In the hindsight, it can be safely said that an online release will turn out to be a blessing in disguise for the offering. It’s more a fit for such digital platform than a big screen multiplex viewing. Give it a go for some non-ROLF banter, great performances, deft camerawork and lively locations.

 

Stars: 3 on 5

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Cargo review: Vikrant Masseys sci-fi flick is innovative and worth a watch

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Dr Jitendra Sharma | Mumbai

Vikrant Massey in a sill from 'Cargo'

Vikrant Massey in a sill from ‘Cargo’

Director: Arati Kadav

Producers: Navin Shetty, Shlok Sharma, Arati Kadav and Anurag Kashyap

Starring: Vikrant Massey, Shweta Tripathi, Nandu Madhav, Konkana Sen Sharma

Streaming Platform: Netflix 
Cargo is a grounded shoe-string budgeted sci-fi movie with astronomical agendas and aspirations. Arati Kadav, the debutant director holds on to her own and punches way above her weight not only with limited constraining resources but she skillfully scrapes well with inconsistent rise and ebb of the plotted story, albeit her own.

It is year 2027, Vikrant Massey is Prahastha, a homo-demon who receives dead people referred to as Cargo? in his space ship 634A. Prahastha is an ultra-modern take on mythical Yamraj, the harbinger of death – with a subtlest of reference on his coffee cup – a bull, the preferred vehicle of the Lord of Death. 

His job for years has been the same where he acts to receive, heals them with his tacky contraption of a device and then erases every bit of the subjects memory only to be then sent back again to life from where they arrived. The motto of IPSO (Inter Planetary Space Organization) is Let us make afterlife better. 

Prashatha is an epitome of loneliness and aloofness; nothing ever moves him. He goes through his tasks like a humanoid in a very non-chalant way. The only connect he has with the world down there is Nitigya (Nandu Madhav), who is a man made up of more pixels and sound bites than flesh and blood. He is 634As bridge to the planet earth.

Enter Yuvishka Shekhar (ShwetaTripathi), a college topper with a sprightly and spirited attitude towards both personal and professional life. She is exact opposite of Prahastha – he is dull and dreary, she is dandy and dramatic; he is monotonous and mechanical, she is lively and emotional; he is unsocial and avoids internet, she is affable and has foot prints all over web; he avoids company, she looks for one. 

She goes about her task of doing the same routine, which he went through, in a more involved and invested ways. She possesses the special gift of healing? people of their aches, pains, agony and injury. She unearths the letters-written-but-never-sent and forcefully establishes the connect between Prahastha and her erstwhile non-recipient of those unsent mails, Mandakini – played by Konkana Sen Sharma in a cameo and in her usual fine fettle. 

Vikrant Massey and Shweta Tiwari are a hoot, but somehow the characters are not well-done, they are like Nitigyas super power, he can vanish and go invisible 87% of himself. Their characters are cast in the same mold where they lack the nerves and sinews to move and some certain percentage of their character always stays uncooked and underdeveloped.

Also read : Raat Akeli Hai review: Nawazuddin Siddiquis film will keep you on your toes

The movie is made with limited budget and it shows in the way – the whole sci-fi ultra-modern spaceship and its attendant consoles and monitors are depicted. It looks a deliberate attempt to showcase the frugal Shaktimanseque? tacky sets. But this never jars the rhyme and rhythm of the narrative – it plays strongly and the message is driven home in more ways than one. 

It questions our daily grind for more, it puts us humans in race with demons, whom we keep dissing but in the end the lines gets blurred and the humans end up playing demons and demons deals disarmingly with dead. It interrogates us mankind and demands answers to our very own existential purpose. 

Cargo is an honest attempt to unravel the futility and finality of fatal human existence; it uses death as a metaphor to hammer home the point. We are in a never ending karmic cycle of materialistic and emotional attachments; there is sly underhand humor at play. The pace is slow and steady; few set pieces do not fit in and could have been sacrificed at editing table. 

Take twenty minutes of it and it goes terse and taut. The work is highly contextual in this pandemic scenario where what we are doing and why is being asked from every nook and corner. No, it neither answers any of these nor makes an attempt to do so, but it raises right questions and issues humankind needs to ponder. 

Permanence is one such riddle that it throws up. The movie could have been more gripping and engrossing but for the sedating sideshows, which never add to anything other than the ordeal and length. All said, Cargo is not that agile and moves in varying pace – at times swift and at times like a snail. However, it reaches where it intends to. Go for it, if you like slow burn cinema that is serene and subtle.

Rating: 3 on 5


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Raat Akeli Hai review: Nawazuddin Siddiquis film will keep you on your toes

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Dr Jitendra Sharma | Mumbai

Nawazuddin Siddiqui in a still from 'Raat Akeli Hai'?

Nawazuddin Siddiqui in a still from ‘Raat Akeli Hai’?

Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Radhika Apte, Khalid Tyabji, Aditya Srivastava, Ila Arun, Shweta Tripathi, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Shivani Raghuvanshi, Nishant Dahiya, Swanand

Kirkire

Director: Honey Trehan

Raat Akeli Hai – a Netflix release is a respite amongst the movies that are getting dropped on OTT platform. Though it’s dark and disturbing but it’s a lesson in several modular arts of movie making. It takes things by scruff of the neck and jolts them. However, the end is a bit hurried and tepid in relative? sense. The work is akin to an alchemy of Vishal Bhardwajs bold unapologetic tragic universe meeting Shridhar Raghvans intriguing world of edgy suspense.

A debutant director (Honey Trehan – casting his net wide and far) at the helm with a stellar cast – the concoction he conjures up is heady and he is able to keep you in high spirits not only till it lasts but it has its own after taste for those who can savor. A ?whodunit? with a twist and turn like a slippery slalom, it begins with two brutal highway homicides – as it turns out the last ride for the car travelers before the tannery travel.

Cut to – five years later is another part of the same dark world but this night time is with bright wedding lights and shine. That’s what you get to see externally but next few scenes are about to introduce us to the malicious murky world within. It’s a mansion with oddball occupants and there are a host of them, each with a weirder story than the other. 

Here the celebration is for the wedding of the much married man-of-the-house Raghuveer Singh (Khalid Tyabji). The old lecherous patriarch is getting hitched to his young caretaker and as we know overtime only the grand old man is happy with the arrangements. At around midnight when revelry is at its ebb he is found murdered with a shot through his chest and a battered face incessantly oozing life-fluid.

Enter our protagonist who is a policeman assigned to this case. Inspector Jatil Yadav (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) is typical browbeaten cop who neither shoots from hips and nor from lips. He goes about his job in a no-nonsense and almost unassuming manner. He visits the mansion and is minding his own business but is not allowed to. He is confronted with the devious and deviant inhabitants of the house. 

The mansion is replete with host of relative – blood ones and bloody ones. Almost no one is mourning the departed soul but everyone is trying to kick out the bride-turned-widow. There are sons Nitesh Kumar as Karan and Gyanendra Tripathi as Ravi Sisodia, daughter-in-law (Shweta Tripathi as Karuna Singh), brother-in-law (Swanand Kirkire as Ramesh Chauhan) along with an extended family (Padmavati Rao as Pramila Singh, Nishant Dahiya as Vikram Singh and Shivani Raghuvanshi as Vasudha Singh) with few more in fray along with a hapless maid – Riya Shukla as Chunni). 

Each one with their intent and acts inadvertently hell bent on proving that they are bigger suspect than the others. Jatil Yadav goes simplistic and announces his intention of getting to the bottom of truth even if he has to dig dangerously deep. He gets headlong into it – initially with a sense of duty and then as he gets more entrenched and invested in the murky affairs of the mansion, he gradually gets swayed and driven more by his conflicted heart than his confounded mind. And he has a conscious-keeper as a partner Narendra Singh aka Nandu (Shreedhar Dubey), who helps him to rise above when he is all but drowning in his own deeds.

Inspector Jatil Yadav interrogates one and all. In this process of unearthing the murderer in the mystery, he unravels few more intertwined threads, which leads him to the door steps of a local MLA Munna Raja (Aditya Shrivastava). One thing leads to another and he is able to hammer few more nails in the coffin but not without facing the crooked long arm of the law (lessness) through his superior SSP Lalji Shukla (Tigmanshu Dhulia). The path to the real culprits is laden with hefty henchman, gangster goons, reckless relatives, crooked cops and pugnacious politicians. It is a cesspool out there and the wriggle is wrought with threats not only to his job but it reaches on to his very earthly existence. 

The murder mystery shares its DNA with Knives Out? (an Oscar entry) although it is very difficult to draw parallels but somewhere down the line the subtle influences cannot be missed. Nonetheless, the movie stands on its own and straddles very tall not only in terms of treatment but its tone and texture too screams that it is going to go down as a milestone in Indian Cinema. 

Raat Akeli Hain signifies stars but here the characters are ensemble of high grade actors, who not only perform at their peak but are right on the money with their subtlety and body language. A special mention must be made of Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Jatil (actually Jatin but for a typo in birth certificate) – he is the one who usually plays gangster roles swims the opposite tides with so much conviction and ease that he erases his gangster image from your psyche in the very first scene itself. 

Others are on the ball and play it to perfection. The lens work by Pankaj Kumar is a lesson in cinematography with every palette blending seamlessly with mood of the scene and the unfolding narrative. The screenplay by Smita Singh and editing by A Sreekar Prasad keeps the movie steadfast on-track and never allow the viewers interest to sag, barring the closure. 

Raat Akeli Hai is a genre of its own and Raat here refers to the darkness around and within everyone. It’s more figurative than literal and the caper conveys it with a punch in the gut along with a scalpel through the skin.

Stars: 4 on 5 (An extra half-star for the talented director of this maiden venture for tone, texture and treatment).


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Movie Review: Anurag Kashyap’s Netflix film ‘ Choked:’ Paisa Bolta Hai

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Dr Jitendra Sharma | Mumbai

 

Here's Nation Next's review of the movie 'Choked: Paisa Bolta Hai' directed by Anurag Kashyap and and starring Saiyami Kher and Roshan Mathew.
Roshan Mathew, Saiyami Kher and Amruta Subhash in a still from ‘Choked’

 

Cast: Saiyami Kher, Roshan Mathew, Amruta Subhash

 

Director: Anurag Kashyap

 

A lockdown premiere on Netflix by JAR Films, ‘Choked: Paisa Bolta Hai’ takes you to a world where Sai Paranjapes (Kathaa) simple staid shelters crosses path with Danny Boyles (Slumdog Millionaire) stumbling struggling space. A bewitching crossover genre offering from Anurag Kashyap’s stable, but this caper is its own beast tamed and helmed adroitly by the director.

 

It’s an off-beat genre for him where he puts rest to his sense and sensibilities but still is on the ball. It is astonishingly not-so-dark but at the same time never crosses into the make-believe shiny world of Bollywood. A fleeting take on Demonetization? is also attempted but turns out to be more of a prop than a premise.

 

A middle class narrative in chock-a-block ramshackle boxes of some non-descript suburb Mumbai. Here, money (rather its absence) is something, which runs as the common thread through one and all. It is a universe where even little money makes the world go round; at least it sputters up few lives of this lower middle class universe. And there comes a point, where ?filthy? (in more sense than one) money makes it move in circles. Paisa (money) is a character in this movie and yes when it speaks – every one of them hears it – loud and clear.

 

A middle class family with a husband – Sushant Pillai (Roshan Mathew), who does not earn any money but only scorn and debts and a wife ? Sarita Sahasrabuddhe (Saiyami Kher) who does. He is into job hopping but is very averse to stick to them and she works as a teller in a small cooperative bank. It is the wife who wears the pants in the house and it is the husband who bears the butt of jokes about the arrangement.

 

For it is not an arrangement that they dreamt of: he always wished to be a musician and she always desired to be a crooner. While travelling back in time, the movie teasingly unravels their past where the female protagonist ?chokes while performing on a tacky singing reality show. In this deafening silence of her choked voice, the man of the house with a guitar in hand and dreams in head on the stage besides her, hears loud crashing of his dreams getting shattered. The knot is set and as time passes by it gets more entangled causing their marital life to be murkier and messier.

 

The fights and verbal duels between the lead pair is stuff, which lower middle class goes and sees through almost all their lives. Anurag makes it more poignant by throwing in a hapless child – Sameer, who cannot decide which side he is on – as the tug of war goes on. Mostly, it is about money or the utter lack of it.

 

Also read: Paatal Lok Review: Jaideep Ahlawat shines in this gripping thriller produced by Anushka Sharma

 

The cubicle like boxes of the locality resides varied characters, who fleet in and fleet out but not without leaving an impression. There is the first floor lady Sharvari (Amruta Subhash), who is struggling as a single parent to get her social media obsessed daughter married. She can be caring, chirpy, cunning and crass all the more at the same time.

 

Then there is a so-called business partner of Sushant, who always ends up saying and doing things he should not. The women of the building binds together with daily gossip and occasional kitty parties with food, music and tombola to boot, it is their way to collectively escape the grappling humdrum engulfing their lives.

 

In their dull dreary life in matchbox like houses, lurching locals, cramped offices, and ever shrinking space – things begins to spiral-up and the kitchen sink drain pipes gets clogged and after few days of spewing only filth and dirt, it every now and then begins spewing rolled up currency notes wrapped and packed in plastic, and the game starts.

 

The housewife who was regularly asking for plumber suddenly goes quiet and takes it upon herself to take care of the ‘filth’ coming out of drainage. The cat and mouse game begins between husband and wife, between filthy money and clean bank money, between the restaurant owner who loaned money to Sushant and Sarita, between neighbors and the money movers. Every floor has its own filthy money-spewing drains, which spirals up and down and this has a direct correlation with inhabitants lifes ups and downs.

 

The operation ?laundry? is going out smooth as Sarita not only gets hold of money to deposit in bank but partially keeps the small time loan-sharks at bay by throwing a few wads at them. Meanwhile, a failed attempt is also made to rope her services in laundering but she is able to stall it. And just when everyone has understood the rules of the game, there comes The Announcement? from PM Modi about Demonetization? and the whole world moves topsy-turvy. Most are happy, they expresses it through gigs and gyrations. The sub-class divide of haves and have-nots even within a bunch of ?pure-have-nots is sub-textual and powerful.

 

Roshan Mathew (Sushant) as the husband is sincere and has not many colors to dab his act with. His character is one dimensional and he plays it with aplomb. Saiyami Kher (Sarita) is the bulwark of the art work and she deglamorizes herself to fit the bill and boy she delivers! There is not a false step in her act. She plays the edgy at-times-tough and at-times-vulnerable to perfection. Anurag lets her rediscover herself. She is at the top of her game in every frame she appears.

 

Amruta Subhash (Sharvari) is her usual natural self. She is a part of Kashyap’s universe and she knows what he expects and lives up to them without a blink. She delivers a good performance but at times has a tendency to go overboard by turning character into a caricature. Others, who inhabit the camera space are as good as they are, and there’s an imprint of a veteran director who knows his cast. The camerawork (Sylvester Fonseca) is dynamically first class and the background score by Karsh Kale keeps it alive and pulsating.

 

Anurag Kashyap slaloms well in this atypical terrain. He sheds his natural skin and dons a new one without anyone noticing as he slips in this new avatar. Although the film scores high on all factors but lacks his signature throb and thump. Demonetization looks and appears like an afterthought and is given a half-hearted treatment, although you get to witness both the hope and despair of that dreaded Nov 8, 2016, random call about legality of few tenders.

 

May be the makers missed a trick or two in en-cashing the abrupt big-cash de-notification. What it missed was the fleshing out of meta-plot about the spewed money – dirty, black and filthy. The climax is more hurried than pacy and does not suit the sustained and substantive build up. All said and done, though it lands its deliveries right on the money? and it definitely ?chokes the flow of runs but in the end it fails to uproot the stumps.

 

More of a middling attempt on middle class.  Give it a go, won’t choke you!

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