Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Movie Review: Airlift

The Story Frame:

Airlift is the story of an estimated 1,70,000 Indians stranded in Kuwait when Iraq attacked Kuwait in August, 1990.The protagonist Ranjit Katyal's character is inspired by those business men who played a major role in the biggest civilian evacuation in aviation history. It is also the story of a man who had to choose between the safety of his family first or the safety of his countrymen first.

Raja Krishna Menon's Airlift is an action packed story with ample emotions, touching scenes and uncertainty. He has successfully presented Airlift after his 'Bara' Aana in 2009.   

Cast: Akshay Kumar (Ranjit Katyal), Nimrat Kaur (Amrita Katyal), Inaamulhaq (Major Khalaf Bin Zayd), Lena (Deepti Jayarajan), Fery Wazheir (Tasneem), Purab Kohli (Ibrahim Durrani), Prakash Belawadi (George Kutty), Kumud Mishra (Sanjeev Kohli), Abida Hussain (Ranjit Katyal's Daughter)

Genre: War Thriller

Direction: Raja Krishna Menon

Produced by: Nikhil Advani, Monisha Advani, Aruna Bhatia, Madhu G Bhojwani, Bhushan Kumar, Krishan Kumar, Vikram Malhotra

Production Company: Abhudantia Entertainment, Cape of Good Films, Emmay Entertainment, Hoari Om Entertainment, T - Series

Written by: Raja Krishna Menon, Suresh Nair, Rahul Nangia, Ritesh Shah

Cinematographer: Priya Seth

Music: Amaal Malik, Ankit Tiwari

Film Editing by: Hemanti Sarkar

Distributor: Prateek Entertainment

Theatre Release: 22nd January, 2016

Language: Hindi

Duration: 125 minutes
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Reviewer's Thumb Mark

Raja Krishna Menon's Airlift portrays the indomitable spirit of a bunch of Indians under the leadership of Ranjit Katyal, a businessman in Kuwait, who becomes the reason for the largest civilian evacuation ever carried out in the aviation history during 13th August to 19th October, 1990, when an angry Saddam Hussein unleashed his powerful military force on Kuwait for not toeing his line against the US.

The attack was the result of the growing animosity Saddam had with the 'Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and in particularly with Kuwait. He wanted these countries to reduce the oil production in order to create a pseudo situation of oil scarcity which would result into spiraling of oil prices in the international market. Saddam desperately wanted this to happen because for him it was the only easy way out to deal with Iraq's debt of Fifty Billion Dollars which Iraq had incurred due to its prolonged conflict with Iran.

Saddam's army marched into Kuwait and with lightning speed the whole Kuwait was under siege. Kuwait was left in lurch by the royal families who fled for their lives and took political asylum in Saudi Arab. Like Kuwaitis, many other nationals and almost 1,70,000 Indians became shelter less and were at the mercy of Iraq. The nation plunged into anarchy, plunder, and merciless killings of civilians. The fate of people stranded there in Kuwait away from their respective homelands was in the hands of peace negotiators and International Human Right Agencies, who were equally aghast and were yet to come to terms with the sudden political developments in the Middle East.

Ranjit Katyal, a self-made successful businessman with excellent business acumen is found happy to call himself a Kuwaiti rather than an Indian suddenly find himself caught in the political turmoil his country is in like any other ordinary citizen. Moreover, the Iraq attack becomes a dampener to his success party on his recent achievement of clinching a crucial and significant business deal. He realizes that his business clout and connections in the political echelon doesn't help him much when he is dragged out of his luxury car and is pinned down by gun-wielding Iraqi army men. A man like Ranjit Katyal, who was cynical about India and Indians was found pleading for his life's safety and telling that he is an Indian and not a Kuwaiti. His cynicism was to such an extent that he would taunt his Keralite driver Mr. Nair to stop playing Indian songs and ask him to play Arabic music.

Ranjit Katyal is devastated to find his longtime aide and driver Mr. Nair brutally shot dead in front of him while pleading for Ranjit's safety. Reeling with guilt and helplessness, Ranjit a self-centered, shrewd business man slowly transforms into a Messiah for lakhs of Indians in Kuwait.

Airlift is the story of those unsung heroes and hapless refugees who saw hope in the midst of political turmoil. Raja Krishna Menon has deftly crafted this movie portraying the war-torn Kuwait with complete fairness. He has very well captured the hardship of the refugees. The plight of the refugee camp set up by Ranjit Katyal and his friends are heart rendering like - the hope, fear, emotional outbursts, self-doubt, helplessness, and the high handedness of some refugees like George Kutty (Prakash Belawadi) based on their financial, caste and religious status etc.

Prakash Belawadi as an irksome typical Malayali has played his role par excellence. Purab Kohli (Ibrahim Durrani) as a distressed husband in search of his missing wife and as a silent protector of a Kuwaiti mother and child is convincing. Nimarat Kaur as Mrs. Katiyal has done well. But could have been better may be because of the kind performance she had delivered in 'Lunch Box' may have raised the bar of expectation of the audience. It also could be that the character of Amrita Katyal may not have been etched out well  to play a significant role in the whole unfolding of the events. Yet Amrita's showdown with George Kutty who is strongly opinionated is a good watch.

Inaamulhaq as the Iraqi Major Bin Zayd is outstanding. His many encounters with Ranjit Katyal on the negotiation table are quite interesting and watchable. Kumud Mishra as Sanjeev Kohli, the loner pulling the threads in India in the Ministry of External Affairs is a show stealer. Though, reluctant initially like any other lackadaisical government servant he slowly emerges as a significant game changer in the execution of the massive civilian evacuation.

I wish Raja Krishna Menon could have justified the role of many other officials and government machinery  who had played a major role in the evacuation operation by adding some more scenes and characters. In the absence of this it is hard and less convincing to believe that only one government servant like Sanjeev Kohli was involved in pursuing the cause of Indian refugees in Kuwait.
Priya Seth's cinematography is commendable and he ensures that the audience live every moment virtually the tragic event. Songs like 'Tu bhoola jise', Dil cheez tujh' and 'Tanu mai itna pyar kara' are too good. Amaal Malik's and Ankit Tiwari's music are quite appreciable and noteworthy.

Akshay Kumar as Ranjit Katyal has given a terrific performance. He with great ease slips under the skin of a Kuwaiti business man and ensures his super stardom doesn't creeps into his acting and dialogue delivery. He fails, he stumbles, he withdraws into shell and bounce back like an ordinary man not as a hero. Akshay has left the audience wanting more and more after every new releases' of his.

In short, Airlift is the triumph of human hope and unity in adversities. It is a reminder that each one of us need to be socially and morally responsible as human beings and as citizens of our country. It also tells us that a country other than your motherland may give you power, fame and success but that doesn't mean that you belittle or be cynical about your nation.

Every scene of Airlift teaches us that 'Turbulence in Life is Temporary and What we Learn out of it is Permanent'. So go and watch Airlift and be proud to be an Indian and celebrate the success of all those unsung heroes who brought their countrymen back home.

Life Connoisseur Movie Rating: 4/5

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Movie Review: Jugni

Image Courtesy:
The Story Frame:

Jugni is Shefali Bhushan's debut movie as a director. Prior to this Shefali was hosting and running a website 'Beat Of India". The website made many lesser known and obscure musicians from small towns and villages reach  a larger audience. Jugni is inspired from her innumerable interactions and musical experiences she drew from those musical talents she met for 'Beat Of India'.

Vibhavari the protogonist of this movie is a music director who is working on her first break in Bollywood. She reaches a village in Punjab in search of a sufi singer Bibi Saroop and her interactions with Bibi Saroop and her singer son Mastana changes her life course leading to dramatic twists and turns to all related to her life. The music is composed by Clinton Cerejo and also have contributions from Vishal Bhardwaj and A.R. Rahman.

Cast: Vibhavari (Sugandha Garg), Bibi Saroop (Sadhana Singh), Mastana (Siddhant Behl), Preeto (Aniruta Jha), Siddharth (Samir Sharma), Jeeta Jazbaati Chandan Gill

Genre: Musical Romance

Direction: Shefali Bhushan

Produced by: Karan Grover, Manas Malhotra, Shefali Bhushan

Production Company: Dhun Productions

Distributor: PVR Pictures

Written by: Shefali Bhushan

Cinematographer: Divakar Mani

Music: Clinton Cerejo

Film Editing by: Navnita Sen

Theatre Release: 22nd January, 2016

Language: Hindi

Duration: 114 minutes

Image Courtesy: (L -R) Shefali Bhushan, Sadhana Singh, Siddhant Behl, Sugandha Garg, Anurita Jha
Reviewer's Thumb Mark

Jugni is riveting! It brings in a freshness that is unpredictable. It is a musical love story where the city lights finds in roads to reach the mundane life of a village  singer. Vibhavari (Sugandha Garg), a struggling music director who is looking for a big break in Bollywood is creatively stuck because she is not able to meet the creative expectations of her movie director whose movie is underproduction. Vibhavari is also in a live-in relationship with her boyfriend Sid (Samir Sharma) shouldering the load of the EMI of their newly bought apartment. It seems that Sid is financially stable as a Television Serial Actor than Vibhavari and therefore, she appears to be dependent on him financially to some extent.

Vibhavari's creative block and the stress related to it seeps into their live-in relationship and disturbs the equations slowly. Her hunt for a unique voice and fresh music turns her into a sojourner. She reaches one fine morning in Hassanpur a nondescript village in Punjab in search of Bibi Saroop (Sadhana Singh) a sufi singer with an earthy voice that she believes will set her career soar high in Bollywood.

Her interactions with Mastana (Siddhant Behl) the equally talented son of Bibi Saroop and following their friendship based on music being the common interest alters their life beyond their imaginations. Mastana who silently cherishes the desire to move out of the shadow of his much talented mother and make his own mark finds Vibhavari's visit to his home as a blessing in disguise. Watching Bibi Saroop and Mastana live and breathe music and sufi songs, prolongs Vibhavari's stay in their village. And one fine day Mastana and Vibhavari's visit to listen to Sufi songs at a Dargah and their stay in an old dilapidated house binging on Gulabo (a locally made alcohol) takes them to a trance.

What happens to Sid and Preeto (Anurita Jha) the village girl who is blindly in love with Mastana. How do they manage to disentangle from the web of guilt? Jugni the movie under production makes Vibhavari a known entity? What happens to Mastana? Does he accept Sid and continue with Preeto? What happens to Sid and Vibhavari's live-in relationship? There are so many interesting twists and turns which I would love you to watch on screen.

Sugandha Garg as Vibs is outstanding and has given an awesome performance convincingly. Siddhant Behl as a chatterbox is unflinching as an actor. He is successful in making his presence felt and has undoubtedly made a mark on screen through Jugni. Clinton Cerejo's music is a blend of Punjabi folk, Sufi and mainstream ballad. He has played it so well that it makes one swoon with musical joy. The tilte song and Dillan De Saudey by Javed Bashir, Lakhon Salaam by AR. RahmanZarre Zarre mein noor bt Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and the super 'Hatt Mullah' western-Sufi fusion are some of the high moments of Jugni one would experience while watching it.

Jugni is unapologetic, it is meant for all those free-spirited souls who love to live life on their own terms. Who believe that their passion is their career and one day that will make them reach their promised land. Is Jugni is the making of music and the unmaking of relationships? Go and watch this little firefly (Jugni) illuminating your life with Bulleshah inspired Sufi-western musical freshness.

Life Connoisseur Movie Rating: 3.5/5

Monday, January 18, 2016

Movie Review: Chalk N' Duster

Image Courtesy:
The Story Frame:

Jayant Gilatar's Chalk N' Duster highlights the commercialization of our educational institutes and its consequences. It focuses on teacher-student relationship and the role of management in running one of the most holy and noble institutes. It portrays the importance of teachers in everybody's life and reminds one to give back them the honor and respect they deserve.

Cast: Shabana Azmi (Vidya), Juhi Chawla (Jyoti), Zarina Wahab (Indu Ji), Divya Dutta (Kamini Gupta), Upasna Singh (teacher), Girish Karnad (Husband of Vidhya), Sameer Soni (Husband of Jyoti), Aarya Babbar (Anmol), Adi Irani, Rishi Kapoor (Quiz Master), Jackie Shroff (Head of a rival school), Richa Chadda (TV Journalist), Kabir Arora, Akshita Arora, Gavie Chahal, Naveen Sharma

Genre: Drama

Direction: Jayant Gilatar

Produced by: Amin Surani

Production Company: Surani Pictures

Distributor: Sony Pictures Entertainment

Written by: Ranjeev Verma, Neetu Verma

Cinematographer: Baba Azmi

Music: Sandesh Shandilya

Theatre Release: 15th January, 2016

Language: Hindi

Duration: 131 minutes 
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Reviewer's Thumb Mark

Chalk N' Duster relies on the age-old adage : "Acharya Devo Bhavah" (Teachers are Akin to God). It is a movie with a great theme and with a bunch of fantastic actors but ends up treating the theme very superficially without going into the depth of a very serious concern of our current educational system i.e. "The commercialization of the most holy and noble institution - The School. The poor execution dampens the spirit of the audience who are there to watch and laud some power-packed performances and thought-provoking dialogues from some versatile actors like Girish Karnad, Shabana Azmi, Zarina Wahab, Juhi Chawla.

Having said this, the movie is still a onetime watch because of the ensemble of talented actors present in it. Kantaben High School is run by a board of trustees and Indu Ji (Zarina Wahab) is the Principal. She is a value driven, ethical and a fair administrator and a role model. She is regarded highly for her credibility and authenticity. But then there is always a black sheep in the community and here it is Kamini Gupta (Divya Dutta), the deputy to the Principal. Kamini Gupta is the bridge between the teachers and the top management and therefore she rules the roost with an iron hand. The Principals message and directions are manipulated to meet Kamini's interest and convenience. She expects the teachers to behave like bonded labours.
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Kamini Gupat is ambitious and flamboyant. Her ambitious wings get her the sky when she happens to meet the new chief of the board of trustees Mr Anmol (Arya Babbar) who is a foreign return MBA Graduate who is equally ambitious. Her growing proximity with him bags her the most cherished chair of the principal and Indu Ji's head rolls as an aftermath of the board's decision.

It takes no time for Kamini Gupta to turn the school into a garrison. All the perks, subsidies, fee concession, complementary tea are snatched away. Last moment meetings, juggling of subject teachers, harrasment, victimization becomes the order of the day.

A string of unpleasant incidents and encounters between the staff and the stooges of Kamini Gupta and herself leads to the illegal termination of one of the most senior and reputed Mathematics teacher Vidya (Shabana Azmi) from the school.  She is known for her unconventional and creative ways of teaching Mathematics. What happens to Vidhya and how and why she lands up in the ICU of a hospital need to be watched on screen.

Jyoti, another science teacher played by Juhi Chawla decides to enter into the ring of combat with the management. Her rebellious fervour gets a new ammo when a television journalist Bhairravi Takkar (Richa Chadda) contacts her to get a news bite on the issue of Vidhya's termination and the ongoing tussle between the teaching fraternity and the School Management.

The exclusive interview of Jyothi on a national channel leads to a mass movement. Did Jyoti succumb to the pressures of the management? Does Jyoti's initiative and open rebellion help regain the honor and respect of the teaching fraternity? These are some questions I would like to leave for you to figure out by yourself in a nearby theatre.

Girish Karnad have no role apart from playing a wheelchair-bound husband of Shabana Azmi. Rishi Kapoor as the quiz master is good but then the climax scene is too superfluous and far from reality.

In short, Jayant Gilatar's intention as a Director is good and well founded but somewhere he stumbles and falter in its execution and under utilizes powerful and talented actors.

Chalk N' Duster is in no way a Munna Bhai MBBS or a Taare Zammeen Par, which were superb and well crafted movies that dealt the issue of commercialization of our educational system with great finesse. Nevertheless, Chalk N' Duster brings back our fond memories of teacher-student relationship and is successful to some extent to evoke the right kind of feelings of "Acharya Devo Bhavah". So go to a nearby theatre read what's written on the white board and do not forget to use the duster as it is a one time watch.

Life Connoisseur Movie Rating: 2.5/5

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Movie Review: Chauranga

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The Story Frame:

Chauranga is the debut feature of Bikas Ranjan Mishra which portrays caste politics and violence as theme. The story is inspired by a true incident of a Dalit boy in Bihar bludgeoned to death for writing a love letter to an upper-caste girl. The movie features some terrific actors like Sanjay Suri, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Dhritiman Chatterjee, Anshuman Jha.

A four-colored pen of a Dalit boy becomes a metaphor to tell the heartrending story 'Chauranga'. The film is produced by Sanjay Suri and Onir.

Cast: Sanjay Suri (Dhaval), Dhritiman Chatterjee (Bilnd Cleric), Tannishtha Chatterjee (Dhaniya), Anshuman Jha (Raghu), Riddhi Sen (Bajrangi), Soham Maitra (Santu), Arpita Pal (Nidhi), Ena Saha (Mona),

Genre: Social Drama

Direction: Bikas Ranajan MIshra

Produced by: Sanjay Suri, Onir

Written by: Bikas Ranjan Mishra

Cinematographer: Ramanuj Dutta

Production Company: Anticlock Films

Theatre Release: 8th January, 2016

Language: Hindi

Duration: 86 minutes

Image Courtesy:
Reviewer's Thumb Mark

Bikas Mishra's 'Chauranga is a movie that speaks volumes even in its silence about the half-dead half-alive castiest division in our society and how brutal it is even after so many years of our independence. The four-colored pen of a boy is so strikingly used to lucidly convey that we are still living barbarically in many parts of the country, where democracy has reached on papers and as elected representatives but it is so farcical that it mocks the very whole system of freedom and equality that our constitution and so called leaders trumpet about.

The movie portrays love that blooms in a village boy who is an untouchable and is devoid of the consequence of falling in love with the daughter of the village chieftain, who actually runs the village as his fiefdom. Perched on the top of a tree looking at the zigzag Kacchi Sadak (dirt Road), his dream girl on her scooter whiz by everyday to her school and back home; the boy in his  dirty brief and the well-dressed school girl depicts what awaits us as an audience.

Amidst this beautiful childhood infatuation the camera never forgets to focus on a black shiny long cobra amongst a heap of dried fallen leaves which hiss past discreetly to show the impending danger on the marginalized, the brutality and exploitation the upper-class are indulging in. In this nondescript village the chieftain Dhaval played by Sanjay Suri is everything - the lord, messiah and the final authority. He is a sweetened candy which is actually bitter at the core and he unapologetically displays it too when it comes to safeguard his power and supremacy as an individual and as a representative of the upper-class. Backed and advised by a blind-cleric. His sexual escapades with the lower caste help "Dhaniya' and his selective generosity to her elder son to let him enroll in a government school to study show how the elite use the downtrodden even when they are rightfully entitled to avail many things constitutionally in our country. It's not just Dhaniya but also the villagers at large are fooled and the public funds are misused and marginalized are wooed and silenced by distributing 'Bhoondi' (a local sweet).

Dhritiman Chatterjee the versatile actor has done complete justice to the character of the blind cleric as a warm, holy person but shockingly cruel, violent  sexually repressed within. His pet goat 'Kajri', Chieftain's teenage daughter (Ena) and his wife (Arpita Chatterjee) at various instances reveals the darker side of the blind cleric. Dhritiman has played the nuances so well that the audience fret when he appears and is constantly cautious of his intentions next.

And there in this story is a beautiful lower caste untouchable woman 'Dhaniya' who is also the mother of the two young boys, who is having an illicit relationship with the chieftain and she trades in return for the betterment of her children's well-being and education. Tannishtha the fabulous actor has again proved her prowess as an actor on the screen. Her love and affection for her children and her pain when she finds her pet 'Motki' (Pig) who also becomes prey to the elite class just because it dared to wander into the holy cleric's courtyard moves us and one can feel the anger simmer and the vulnerability within along with Dhaniya.

Bindu and Me with Sanjay Suri at Mumbai for the Preview screening of Chauranga
I can't resist appreciating the child artists and the kind of work they have done to make this movie so joyfully enduring and beautifully engaging for the audience. Riddhi Sen as Bajrangi the elder brother of an innocent rebel Santu (Sohum) catches your attention with great ease. Bajrangi who is lucky to avail the nicety of the village Chief is always made to bow with folded hands before him by his mother who knows the real reason why Dhaval is so kind to him. He also goes through the bullying of the village upper-class youngsters who have backing of Dhaval.  Every frame of Riddhi Sen and his brother Santu generates love and affection for both of them. The brothers also have some comic moments, for instance Bajrangi reading out aloud to Santu the anatomy and the various stages of adolescence in a girl and the changes she goes through in her appearance physically.
With the Producer Onir
Sohum as Santu is a silent rebel who is not willing to bow before the chieftain and not ready to succumb to the bullying of the village boys. He is found hitting back when he grabs an opportunity in the melee. Santu is the questioner of all so called beliefs, an innocent rebel, there is a kind of inquisitiveness in him that makes Santu watchable and lovable. He makes us find the rebel within us who many times though feeble has raised his/her voice and was silenced by Dhaniyas, Dhavals or some other bullies and finally stayed tuned to them for the rest of our lives. His unconditioned mind clubbed with a childlike curiosity make him tread into those territories where the lower caste are restricted and this makes him unveil the underbelly of the upper-class and the custodians of religion and spirituality.
With Tannishtha & Anshuman Jha
Anshuman Jha as Raghu, the village bully has done his job well. After his X : Past is Present, Anshuman though not the main lead here is successful in making his presence felt in the movie. It is appreciable to find him continuously exploring and experimenting with various roles.

In short, Chauranga is another feather on the cap of Indian Cinema which is witnessing a new kind of storytelling and is successful in challenging the so called box office hit formulas by catching the attention of cinema lovers. Bikas Ranjan Mishra's debut feature is commendable for its theme and also for its courage not to have a specific beginning, middle and an end in this movie. The whole plot is the protagonist here. He has successfully left the audience to decide what is right and what is wrong, and to imagine what could be the future of Santu.
With the Director Bikas Ranjan Mishra
 Go and watch Chauranga not for any commercial content but to have an appointment with our conscience in the darkness of a nearby theatre along with Dhaval, the blind cleric, Dhaniya, Bajrangi and Santu.

Life Connoisseur Movie Rating: 3.75/5