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'Rangoon': An impressively immersive film ( **** )

Film: 'Rangoon'; Director:Vishal Bhardwaj; Cast: Kangana Ranaut, Shahid Kapoor, Saif Ali Khan;

Bairavaa review

Rangoon is director Vishal Bhardwaj's monumental and rewarding work. It is a classic, weighed and measured by the style and manner of its narrative. Adapted from the English film "Casablanca", it is a simple romance triangle set in India, circa 1943, against the backdrop of World War II.

The plot, a trifle to hang the emotions on, involves an ex-actor turned film producer Rustom Billimoria aka Rusi (Saif Ali Khan), his lover and muse Julia (Kangana Ranaut) and the army personnel Jamadar Nawab Mallik (Shahid Kapoor) who is assigned to protect her during an arduous journey to the border, where she is deputed to entertain the Indian Army, serving under the British.

It is during this journey that the inevitable happens, she falls in love with Nawab Malik and soon realises that she is torn between the two.

The screenplay is well-designed. The narrative begins in a dispassionate tone but gradually during the course of the narrative, it emotionally hooks you on, making you root for every character.

The characters merging from various spectrums of society are deep, yet believable. They are well-etched and their backstories make them wholesome.

"Rangoon" is Kangana's canvas. She is the soul of the film as the perky actress modelled after the yesteryear's heroine Fearless Nadia. Her role is more difficult than it might appear. What she does here is as extraordinary in its own way as Nadia did during her times.

Her on-screen chemistry with Saif and Shahid is palpable. Kangana is downright luminescent and dives into her character's varied and heightened emotions with aplomb.

She has the chutzpah and spunk of Julia which seems natural. There are many scenes where she shines brilliantly. But the most striking of them all is the comic scene when she dances before the Japanese soldiers hoping to break the ice with them.

Shahid portrays Nawab Malik with all earnestness. With natural ease, he internalises his character and communicates his affection through his intense gaze. He is equally flawless in the action scenes.

Saif does not have much to do. As Rustom Billimoria, he plays the aristocratic producer with elan. He is convincing as the chauvinist lover yet deeply in love who is willing to go to any lengths to get his lady-love back.

British actor Richard McCabe as Major General Harding is spot on with his dialogues peppered with Hindi. He leaves his mark on-screen with flourish.

The rest of the supporting cast too are pitch perfect and some of their scenes, in their own ways are equally tender and stirring, be it when Zulfi, the make-up artiste and Julia's confidante, is mercilessly shot, the Japanese soldier held captive by Nawab and Julia makes a desperate attempt at a getaway and when the woman soldier is killed before her son.

Visually, the look and feel of the film is magnificent yet simply realistic. The landscape is beautifully exploited and the period created by Production Designers Subrata Chakraborthy and Amit Ray along with Dolly Ahluwalia's striking costumes captured by Pankaj Kumar's cinematography, are rich and rewarding.

The songs "Bloody hell" and "Mere miyan gaye England" are beautifully choreographed as well as picturised, while "Yeh ishq hai' is soulful. Also, Bhardwaj's lavish score tugs at your heartstrings as it complements the visuals.

Overall, "Rangoon" masterfully weaves a drama that keeps you enraptured till the very end.

'Dangal': Phogat's Sake, Can't Help Falling In Love With Dangal ( ***** )

Film: 'Dangal'; Director:Nitesh Tiwari; Cast: Aamir Khan, Sakshi Tanwar, Fatima Sana Shaikh, Sanya Malhotra

Dangal review

There are outstanding films. Then there is "Dangal". A film so rich in the flavours of homegrown emotions you feel you are floating in a field of aromatic sensation for close to three hours without feeling manipulated. You come away from this experience so moved and so much wiser that you wonder why cinema can't be so rewarding more often.

But then again, if every other film was a "Dangal" how would we know the difference?

There I go, raving about a film which, let me state right away, will be remembered by posterity as one of the landmarks of Indian cinema in the same breath as, say "Mother India", "Sholay" or "Lagaan". Yes, "Dangal" has that kind of an impact. Not because it has anything new to say. On the surface it is another rags-to-riches sports film where a girl, Geeta Phogat, from a small dusty town of Haryana brings the gold medal in wrestling to India.

No. It is not the theme. It's in the heartbreaking directness and artlessness,the absolute absence of artifice, in the narrative that we discover that mysterious oft-abused entity known as the Real India. These are places and people with real dreams and ambitions. These are characters whom we live with, sometimes within ourselves. It takes a Mahavir Singh Phogat and his mulish obstinacy to pull India's perverse patriarchy dragging kicking and screaming out of its heavily cordoned lair and to say, enough is enough.

It takes an Aamir Khan to bulk up to the extent of looking like a tired but undefeated has-been to play the wrestler whose determination saw his daughters break through the masculine bastion of wrestling to prove women can do anything men can. Aamir lives the role of Phogat, sternly manoeuvring his daughters' destiny to a glory denied to a lot of women in this country. Is this his best performance? Can't say whatever he has done earlier pales into insignificance.

Significantly, "Dangal" doesn't play the feminist card at all. There are no speeches tirades and pushy homilies on feminism. The men in fact are not shown to be excessively sexist for the sake of aggrandizing the dramatic impact of girls' ultimate victory. While Aamir plays the epitome of gender equality, Aparshakti Khurrana who plays Geeta and Babita Phogat's goofy kind-hearted cousin is a feminist even without knowing what the word means.

And Sakshi Tanwar, who plays Aamir's quietly capable wife blends so beautifully into the film's finely-threaded fabric that we hardly notice her. Ditto all the characters who appear to be so in-tune with the milieu they seem born to the soil.

No one in the cast and crew - not even the eternal attention-seeker Aamir Khan and not Sethu Sriram's cinematography - seeks attention here.Not even when fighting so ferociously in the wrestling akhaada. These people do what they have to. They fight inner and outer adversaries because - well, they are there and they must be fought.

"Dangal" neatly and nimbly avoids all classifications and isms and emerges as one of the strongest cinematic statements on women's empowerment in recent times. The performances go a long way in imbuing a sense of unrehearsed classicism to the simple tale of a simple father whoA lives out his sporting dreams through his daughters.

As simple as that.

And such doughty daughters! The two sets of actresses who play the younger and older versions of Geeta and Babita Phogat are so liberating in their spontaneity that they at some point, cease to draw attention to their skills at character assumption and simply invite us to follow the girls' journey to victory.

While the younger Phogat daughter Babita played ably by Suhani Bhatnagar and Sanya Malhotra does have her say in the expansive script, this is clearly the other elder daughter Geeta's story, her blow-hot-blow-cold relationship with her father and her ultimate triumph in the wrestling ring.

Aamir and Zarina Wasim/Fatima Sana Shaikh (the two girls who play Geeta) play against each other with vivacious credibility. While we watch Geeta wrestle her way to the gold medal - and she fights her opponents in the wrestling ring like a true pro - we also watch Geeta and her father wrestle in ways that are not manifested physically.

Geeta's change as she becomes famous is mapped with no judgmental regret. This is not a film that wastes time trying to slot judge or condemn human failings. It breathes with the characters and lets them exhale at their own will. That is the real beauty of "Dangal". It is what it is not because it tries to be greatA but because the story it has to tell is effortlessly ensconced in excellence. Director Nitish Tiwari simply plucks the fruits of a tree whose roots go deep into our culture penetrating societal biases towards the girl child, with a cluck of the tongue that is barely audible.

The climactic wrestling bout shot with adrenaline-pumping immediacy could have avoided reducing Geeta's coach to a scheming villain. Neither the film nor Aamir's timeless portrayal of Mahavir Phogat needed to be propped up and peppered with scriptural spice.

On the whole, "Dangal" has no patience with judgement values. It is so precious and so valuable because it lets us look at home-truths with wisdom rather than cunning. This film will be remembered by posterity as one of the landmarks of Indian cinema, not because it tries to be one.

Thank you Geeta Phogat, Nitesh Tiwari, Aamir Khan. India is proud of you.

Phogat's sake, "Dangal" must be watched.

'Dear Zindagi': A silent masterpiece with lots to say( **** )

Film: "Dear Zindagi"; Director: Gauri Shinde; Cast: Alia Bhatt, Shah Rukh Khan, Kunal Roy Kapoor, Ali Zafar, Angad Bedi;

Remo Movie review

It isn't easy being Gauri Shinde. Not when you have made "English Vinglish" as your debut film, for God's sake! Where do you go from that dizzying summit of achievement?

Clearly and unconditionally, in her second film, monumental in its own right, Gauri is not bogged down by expectations. She is, in that sense, exactly like her protagonist in "Dear Zindagi"(played by Alia Bhatt).

Not eager to be liked by all, unafraid to appear unconventional, fiercely prideful about her emotional space and passionately attached to her individualism, Gauri Shinde, like her fey protagonist, Kaira, grooves to her own beat.

"Dear Zindagi" , as the title suggests, is a letter written in retrospective languor, to life. The life, Gauri's brave and fabulously heroine Kaira has chosen to live may not be the one you or I have love, or would choose to live. But heck, who gives us the right to judge Kaira? She obviously doesn't care what we think of hera or does she?

There is a disarming question mark, followed by a don't-care-a-damn exclamation mark to every sentence from life's Book Of Experience that Kaira punctuates with her passion. She is a woman of whimsy, a child of caprice, waking up to a new dawn of desires every morning, and damned if she doesn't live out her daily desires to the brim. She may break into a jig with a lovely cultured house help(the maid servants in Gauri Shinde's and herA husband Balki's films deserve a separate review) or burst in a confessional outburst in front of her(embarrassed) parents and their (stunned) guests.

Alia Bhatt has been there, done it before in Imtiaz Ali's "Highway". You know, the rebellious child from a privileged family hiding a deep dark childhood secret. Only, this time the secret turns out to be not so dark, though equally deep. Alia brings a deeply-felt vigour and vitality to her character. Writhing in self-pitying pain one minute, walking defiantly into the jostle of her ambitions the next minute, Alia brings to Gauri's heroine's all-too-human flaws a kind of flawless candour , not seen in any actress in the last 20 years.

The camera and Alia share a supremely symbiotic relationship. She doesn't try to hide any of her character's feelings and failings from the camera. Gauri's splendid cinematographer Laxman Utekar captures Alia's cinematographer's character as a portrait of luminosity.It is like viewing the very core of Karia's being without wanting to look away.

No one makes a broken heart look as eminently reparable and restorative as Alia. This is where Shah Rukh Khan comes in. Casting him as Kaira's shrink....okay, therapist.... is a stroke of genius. The part required someone whom the broken and hurting Kaira (and by extension the audience) can immediately accept as authoritative in a "cool" kind of way. Mr Khan is all of that. The therapy sessions that take up a lot of the playing-time require immense inbuilt magnetism to hold the audience.

Our inhouse superstar provides ample magnetism in these conversations with odd(not to be confused with God).Alia makes a terrific listener,imbibing the designer-gyan with a mix of bemusement and comprehension. Wisely the director strips the therapy sessions of extraneous props and trappings. None of Amit Trivedi's enchanting sound of the soul's music plays in the background when the master-therapist is in session with his stunningly befuddled patient.

Here too, Alia , is radiantly patient. Her pleading eyes at their last session when, alas the patient must be torn away from her seductive guru , followed me out of this fabulous film. Alia is indeed magical in "Dear Zindagi". In a role far less sympathetic than what Sridevi played in "English Vinglish", Alia embraces all her character's flaws and makes us love Kaira all the more for them. Ironically she plays a girl who must confront her silences in a film that has a lot to say.

Oh, there are other remarkable performances too.Ira Dubey and Yashswini Dayama as Kaira's besties.they look like they've known Alia all her life. Ali Zafar shows up in the second-half as a musician who thinks and talks only in music, whom Kaira becomes vaguely attracted to. No one gets it wrong in "Dear Zindagi". It's the kind of silent masterpiece where all the actors, even the habitually out-of-rhythm Aditya Roy Kapoor (in a concluding cameo) puts their best foot forward.

Courtsey: IANS